NBCUniversal said Monday that it is pulling President Trump’s controversial anti-immigrant campaign advertisement, hours after the spot ran prominently during “Sunday Night Football.” Fox News said it decided to quit running the commercial as well, and Facebook stopped accepting it as a paid ad, although the social media giant still allows users to post the video.
The 30-second advertisement, which Trump unveiled last week, features images of long lines of people marching, evoking a group of migrants currently making their way through Mexico. The ad also contains footage of Luis Bracamontes, a man who killed two Northern California deputies in 2014 while he was in the country illegally. A voice-over on the advertisement then says: “America cannot allow this invasion. The migrant caravan must be stopped.”
The commercial, which many have branded as racist, then urges viewers to “Stop the Caravan. Vote Republican.” It concludes with a Trump voice-over saying: “I am Donald Trump and I approve this message.”
The controversy comes in the run-up to Tuesday’s crucial midterm elections, which will determine the makeup of Congress for the next two years. Dozens of governorships also are up for grabs around the country.
Trump has been campaigning strenuously in recent days, holding rallies in battleground states such as Florida, West Virginia and Indiana. The president frequently blames Democrats for the stalemate over immigration reform and has made prominent mention of the migrants fleeing Central America by making their way through southern Mexico.
The ad ran one time during “Sunday Night Football,” a high-profile matchup between the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers. “Sunday Night Football” draws among the highest ratings in television, and Sunday’s installment generated the highest ratings for a network program in more than six months, according to preliminary Nielsen numbers. Ratings estimates suggest more than 20 million viewers watched the game, which New England won. The ad also was in rotation Monday morning on cable news channel MSNBC.
Fox News distanced itself from the commercial. “Upon further review, Fox News pulled the ad yesterday and it will not appear on either Fox News Channel or Fox Business Network,” Marianne Gambelli, Fox News’ president of ad sales, said Monday in a statement.
Some other news organizations, including CNN, refused to run the spot.
Trump faced reporters’ questions about the controversy before he boarded Air Force One on Monday. The president said he wasn’t aware of the flap.
“We have a lot of ads and they certainly are effective, based on the numbers that we’re seeing,” Trump said. He also shrugged off the idea that people have complained about the commercial. “A lot of things are offensive,” he told reporters. “Your questions are offensive a lot of time.”
On Facebook’s platform, the ad reached millions of viewers before the social network decided to stop running it Monday. A Facebook spokesperson said the social network rejected the ad because it “violates Facebook's advertising policy against sensational content.” The advertising policy does not cover content posted by users, so people can still put video of the ad on their pages and share it with their friends.
NBC faced criticism for running the advertisement, which draws a direct line from immigrants to crime, even though studies have shown that immigrants do not commit more crimes. But Trump has made the correlation many times, including during his June 2015 announcement that he was running for president.
NBC began having second thoughts about airing the commercial, which was paid for by the Donald J. Trump for President campaign committee.
"After further review, we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible,” an NBCUniversal spokesman said in a statement Monday. “It will cease to air on any properties moving forward, nationally or locally.”
Trump released a longer version of the video last week. That version blamed Democrats for Bracamontes’ ability to enter the United States illegally; the version that ran during “Sunday Night Football” did not explicitly blame Democrats.
Fact checkers have noted that Bracamontes, who is from Mexico, entered the United States illegally more than once — during the tenure of President Clinton, a Democrat, and that of President George W. Bush, a Republican.
Bracamontes first arrived as a teenager in 1993 when Clinton was in office. He was deported in 1997 after serving time in Arizona for possession of narcotics for sale. By 1998, he apparently was back again; according to the Sacramento Bee, records show he was arrested in Phoenix on drug charges that year and then, for unknown reasons, released by the office of then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is a prominent Republican and supporter of Trump, and last year he received an executive pardon from the president after being convicted of criminal contempt for violating a federal court order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
Bracamontes was arrested and repatriated to Mexico a second time in 2001. He appears to have returned to the United States within a year, while Bush was president.