NBC Under Fire for Airing Trump Ad That CNN Rejected as ‘Racist’

Monday morning, NBCU reversed course and said it would pull the 'insensitive' ad

The Sunday Night Football ad was a condensed version of the spot, focusing on Luis Bracamontes, that President Trump tweeted last week. Twitter: @realDonaldTrump
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TV has been saturated with political ads in the run-up to Tuesday’s election, but NBC has found itself under fire for airing one in particular: a President Donald Trump campaign spot tying an undocumented immigrant convicted of killing two police officers in 2014 to the caravan of migrants fleeing Central America.

The ad—which CNN refused to air, claiming it was “racist”—was broadcast during Sunday’s mega-hyped Sunday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers.

In the spot, Trump ties Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was convicted of murdering two Sacramento sheriff’s deputies in 2014, to the thousands of migrants in the caravan, even though there is no known connection between the two. “Dangerous illegal criminals like cop killer Luis Bracamontes don’t care about our laws,” the ad said.

After the spot aired, the network faced backlash—including Debra Messing, who stars in NBC’s Will & Grace—for broadcasting it. UPDATE: On Monday morning, NBCUniversal said it would pull the spot after recognizing “the insensitive nature of the ad.”

The 30-second spot was a shorter version of the ad Trump tweeted last week. That longer spot included false claims about Bracamontes, including that Democrats “let him into our country.” There is no evidence that suggests that Democrats allowed Bracamontes to enter the country or stay in the country illegally.

In its own coverage of the original ad, NBC News called the spot “racially divisive” and noted that even some conservatives had called it “racist.”

On Saturday, after Donald Trump Jr. called out CNN for refusing to run the ad, that network’s PR team tweeted that “CNN has made it abundantly clear in its editorial coverage that this ad is racist. When presented with an opportunity to be paid to take a version of this ad, we declined.”

NBC, however, not only accepted the ad, but aired it during Sunday Night Football, the No. 1 broadcast program in adults 18-49. This season, in Nielsen’s most current ratings, Sunday Night Football has a 6.3 rating in the demo, and is averaging 18.9 million in total viewers.

Late this morning, a NBCUniversal spokesperson announced that the company was pulling the spot: “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.”

SECOND UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, Fox News and Fox Business Network ad sales chief Marianne Gambelli said that those two networks have also stopped running the ad. “Upon further review, Fox News pulled the ad yesterday and it will not appear on either Fox News Channel or Fox Business Network,” said Gambelli.

Last night’s game—only the second career meeting ever between Patriots QB Tom Brady and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers—was expected to draw a higher-than-average rating. NBC Sports convinced Michael Jordan, who hasn’t appeared in any ads or promos since 2015, to participate in a spot hyping the matchup, which blanketed NBCUniversal’s airwaves last week.

The Trump ad sparked a social media backlash soon after it aired. NBC writer-director Judd Apatow, who executive produced the late ‘90s NBC comedy Freaks and Geeks, called it “a low point in the history of @nbc.” And Will & Grace star Messing tweeted, “I am ashamed that my network aired this disgusting racist ad.”

The spot was cleared by NBC’s standards and practices team prior to its airing during Sunday Night Football. Following last night’s backlash, NBCUniversal reviewed the spot again this morning and made the determination to pull it.

NBCU ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino has ties to the Trump administration—in May, Trump named her to serve a two-year term on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition—but the company said that had no impact on its decision to run the ad.

NBC and Trump have a long history together, as Trump presided over 14 seasons of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, but the network cut ties with him in 2015 following his derogatory remarks about the United States’ relationship with Mexico.

Trump paid for a spot on Sunday Night Football despite frequently criticizing the NFL, and its athletes, for player protests during the national anthem. “As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!!” he tweeted in September.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.