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Why Fox News has agreed to run an unflattering ad

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Fox News has a message for its critics: Your money – and your message – are welcome here.

The cable channel has accepted an ad that takes on Fox’s parent company, News Corp. The ad is from Media Matters for America (MMFA), a progressive watchdog group.

The spot’s point: News Corp. made a $1 million donation in June to the Republican Governors Association to help defeat Democratic candidates.

Fox and MMFA had tussled for several weeks over the exact wording in the commercial, and three “redos” took place. The resulting 30-second spot will run once during the prime-time “O’Reilly Factor,” which currently averages an audience of some 3 million viewers. The airdate hasn’t been finalized yet, but MMFA is hoping for the next few weeks, says Ari Rabin-Havt, the group’s vice president for research and communications.

The media buy is costing the nonprofit $35,000, which will be paid for through an e-mail fundraising drive and money on hand, according to Mr. Rabin-Havt. The group has not yet cut the check.

MMFA considers this a serious and practical effort, not symbolic, Rabin-Havt says. Fox News’s prime-time programming has not discussed the donation except for one brief mention, he maintains, while other networks have granted it more coverage.

“We thought this was a message that the prime-time audience of a major broadcast television audience ought to hear,” Rabin-Havt says.

As a public-relations move, Fox News is the winner here, says Brendan Kownacki, senior digital strategist at Spectrum, a Washington public-relations firm.

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“Fox is willing to take on the challenge of those who believe something different from them,” he notes. Fox went back several times with suggested changes and revisions to the ad to make fit within broadcast standards for the network because it supported airing this opposition message, he says.

“We have seen over and over again when a candidate or politician won’t even acknowledge the viewpoint of their opponent, and it only moves to make the opponent look correct. Fox is taking the contrary approach,” he says.

“For the public, I think this represents the transparency that people are craving in today’s political system,” he adds.

But the actual ad may have little impact, says Helene Solomon, co-founder and CEO of Solomon McCown & Co., a corporate-communications and crisis-management firm in Boston. For one thing, the conservative-leaning audience that Fox News attracts will not be surprised to learn that Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., cut a check for a Republican cause, says Ms. Solomon.

Of greater concern, she suggests, may be the scenario of a network being involved in the content of an ad. “I never think it’s a great thing if an outlet is involved in editing an ad,” says Solomon, adding, “I think it’s just wrong.”

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