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Have you heard of this USAA-Tucker Carlson controversy? You must read this.

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Last week, a social media crowd ruled the USAA guilty of disrespecting the military, the foundation on which the Fortune 500 company was built.

The San Antonio Insurance and Financial Services Company is innocent of the charge, but we’ll get to that later.

On the night of June 24, Tucker Carlson of Fox News Channel rudely attacked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying of General Mark Milley, “He’s not just a pig. He’s stupid.”

The day before, Milley clashed with GOP congressional lawmakers during a course at West Point titled “Understanding Whiteness and White Rabies.” The general had defended the offering. Hence Carlson’s rant.

The subsequent complaint against the USAA: It did not withdraw its ad from “Tucker Carlson Tonight” nor condemn Carlson’s vile attack on the country’s top military leader.

Fred Wellman, executive director of the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump political action committee backed by former and current GOP members, launched one of the first tweets of righteous outrage.

“I can’t for life accept that @USAA still sponsors Tucker Carlson or even Fox News at all,” Wellman said in a Tweet of June 25. “How dirty do they have to smear the US military you represent before that’s enough?” Is profit more important than the honor of those you claim to support?

Many angry posts followed, including some from vet organizations – like this one non-partisan veterans for responsible leadership: “So, @USAA, is that who you are advertising with? Ask for 18 million friends.

That last sentence referred to the USAA clients, who are all affiliated with the military – although the organization got the number wrong. That’s over 13 million, not 18 million.

The company serves active duty military personnel, veterans and retirees and their families, and that’s it.

That’s the crux of the attacks on the USAA: By defaming Milley, Carlson slandered the military – and the San Antonio company encouraged this vicious cartoon character with its advertising dollars.

Except no.

Loser situation

As it turns out, the company hasn’t advertised on the Carlson show since September 2019, according to TVRev, a group that analyzes the TV commercial.

Yet the USAA remained silent as vitriol – pouring in from Twitter, Facebook, and the company’s own online community forum – gathered around it.

A flurry of reporting followed the social media turmoil, including one from the Express-News. We ran an article about the controversy Monday morning on ExpressNews.com and featured it on Tuesday’s front page under the headline “Groups: USAA Should Remove Ads.”

Before I go any further, allow me a mea culpa moment. As the business editor of Express-News, I assigned and edited the story – and blew it up. Our story was accurate as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. We reported the avalanche. We only discovered a few days later the error that set it in motion.

That’s not to say we haven’t asked USAA about their advertisement on the Carlson show. We were doing. Tony Wells, USAA Brand Director, declined to comment on our story.

It was Monday. Since then, there hasn’t been a glimpse of the company’s Pentagon-wide corporate headquarters on Fredericksburg Road – not even when I called Thursday to confirm TVRev’s report that it had not sponsored the Carlson show since fall 2019.

Why would USAA squirm and simmer in silence?

The only answer that makes sense is that the company found itself in a lose-lose situation. Yes, that could have sparked controversy from the start with a brief public statement, actually saying, “We didn’t. But taking that route would have risked inflaming clients who take Carlson’s – and, by extension, former President Donald Trump’s – word as gospel.

Tweets would almost write themselves. “USAA is TOO AWAKEN to support Tucker Carlson? !! Shameful!”

By choosing between two bad alternatives, the company apparently decided to fall back. Why open yet another front in the culture war?

Social media has infiltrated almost every aspect of our life. And we are afflicted by extreme political polarization. These two realities are linked, each exacerbating the other. They’re like giant scissor blades, and large state-owned companies often find themselves stuck in between.

USAA has been in this situation before.

Divide the difference

Four years ago, under pressure from Media Matters and other liberal rights groups, the company withdrew its advertising from Sean Hannity’s show, also airing on Fox News Network. It sparked an online uprising among its conservative clients.

The company tried to divide the difference; he took over the prime-time advertising of Hannity, but also began spending money on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Hardball” on MSNBC and the Jake Tapper program on CNN.

Two years later, seeking to avoid further explosions, the USAA quietly cut its advertising ties with national political talk shows, not just those of Carlson or Hannity. The company still advertises on Fox News, but only during the news broadcasts. It does the same on MSNBC and CNN.

As we can see from Fred Wellman’s tweet – in which he was dismayed that the USAA “still sponsors Tucker Carlson or even Fox News” – corporate advertising on the right-wing network will always be an irritant to progressives. But the business case for the USAA to advertise on Fox News couldn’t be clearer.

According to consumer analytics firm MRI Simmons USA, nearly 48% of military veterans and reservists – a huge portion of the USAA’s potential customer base – have watched Fox News at some point in the past 30 years. days. Among cable networks, only the History Channel attracted a greater share of veterans and reservists, at 52.3%.

The data provided to me by MRI Simmons USA also highlights the opportunity that USAA sacrificed in 2019.

The second most popular cable program among the military: “Tucker Carlson Tonight”.

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