So, I'm about to discuss advertisers pulling ads for controversial figures that do not think they should be controversial. It's worth saying: nobody has a duty to express an opinion they don't deeply hold. If they're just sort of going with the flow, they have no duty to continue pretending an opinion. But that's different than cowardice, which is a true vice – that of being cowed by a threat which is, itself, pathetic, or beneath the seriousness of your task.*
Of course, advertisers approach their task of sponsorship with an utter lack of seriousness, only a determination to spend money. Because American values won the world, a desire to get rid of money will always be met. Of course, then they're aghast, shocked, scandalized by something that doesn't matter much at all, when they have many options (the "Most Unnecessary Outrage" category is pretty competitive – with his recent re-hire, James Gunn seems like the best example), and must immediately pull support from the creator. But if it's Logan Paul, it might take days or weeks to pull ads – just because he laughed at the corpse of someone who committed suicide doesn't mean they shouldn't pay him to get the precious, limited attention of tweens – does it? To say I am skeptical of outrage driving these decisions is an understatement – I'd be willing to call an executive involved with some of these incidents a liar if they claimed their conscience drove them to act.
Recently, tapes of Tucker Carlson were released where he's expressing bananas views on a shock jock program from a decade ago. Now, if you're like me, Carlson is beneath your attention – the one rambling, incoherent clip of him saying government should help manage people's personal lives, the one popular months ago, was touted as some of his best work, which made me pretty confident I wasn't missing anything. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the tapes didn't change much for me – his opinions weren't worth listening to before, and that seems unlikely to change after his decision to not even apologize for these old comments.
It's worth saying, not for the first or last time here, that shame and regret are appropriate, pro-social responses to mistakes. Not everything is a strange signalling game where everyone who disapproves of you is actually a bad-faith attacker bent on destroying everything you stand for. Sometimes, it's just people listening to a thing you said and shaking their head, muttering, "Tucker Carlson..." like I did. Don't get me wrong, Media Matters was potentially acting in bad faith – aren't they openly partisan? – but the majority of their audience wasn't.
Anyhow, now advertisers are pulling out and we are almost missing an opportunity to talk about how advertiser sponsorship is even lazier than partisanship. It's important to remember these sponsors didn't back a conservative firebrand who went too far before the show they put money into. They paid for an audience, and sort of don't want anything to do with nonsense he dribbles out of his mouth. It's fine, but if people suddenly care about him being an embarrassment, that's too much.
You'd think, in an age of overwhelming options for entertainment, the people selling advertisements would have to make a stronger pitch, but outside Podcasts and YouTube they haven't even returned to e.g. the news anchor reading the advertisement. It's not really an endorsement from the host they trust, it's a low-effort, low-value "brand marketing" exercise. And "their brand" sometimes doesn't like their extremely tenuous link to the show that plays between the ads.
I'm not sure these ads are that effective, compared to actual, direct-into-camera pitches from the hosts (which it's possible we'd now call Native Embedded Video Advertisement, because everything is elaborate), but that's somewhat beside the point. By going with the more streamlined, higher production value interchangeable 15- or 30-second spots, they pretend they aren't actually endorsing the show's creation. TV is just a mold they pour their strange advertising goo into, it flows where it needs to go, and doesn't intersect with the program. By creating the divide between the program and the ads, they can (sort of) disavow each other.
But I think being aware that this structure is a fabrication (or abstraction, depending on your view) is woke in the best possible way. Be aware of who has power, even when they pretend not to have it. Carlson shouldn't be fired, if people want to listen to what he has to say – but you shouldn't listen, because it's a stupid program, and you shouldn't endorse or support his lazy, blithering work.
* Interesting note: so far as I can detect through online sources, being cowed and being a coward share no etymology.