An ad created by President Trump’s campaign committee tying together Democrats, a notorious murderer and a caravan of asylum-seeking migrants in Mexico embroiled NBC in controversy overnight, prompting the network to backpedal and pull it from the air.
Critics had denounced the ad as false and inflammatory, and CNN had refused to broadcast a longer version, calling it racist. But NBC put it up during the ratings giant “Sunday Night Football.”
“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,” NBCUniversal said in a statement.
Even Fox News, which has made the caravan a staple of its midterm elections coverage, announced that it had decided on Sunday to stop running it, and Facebook removed the ad, which had been targeted at users in key electoral battlegrounds, like Florida and Arizona.
Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters on Monday before boarding Air Force One, said he was unaware of the controversy.
“You’re telling me something I don’t know about,” he said. “We have a lot of ads and they certainly are effective, based on the numbers that we’re seeing.”
Mr. Trump also dismissed the complaints over the ad.
“A lot of things are offensive,” he said. “Your questions are offensive a lot of time, so, you know.”
[Read on how Trump-fed conspiracy theories about the migrant caravan intersect with deadly hatred.]
The 30-second ad that aired on NBC was paid for by Donald J. Trump for President and stirred fear about a migrant caravan of asylum-seekers slowly making its way through Mexico that is still hundreds of miles from the United States border. It tied Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was convicted of murdering two Sacramento sheriff’s deputies in 2014, to the thousands of migrants who are fleeing Central America, even though Mr. Bracamontes is not known to have any association with the caravan.
“Dangerous illegal criminals like cop-killer Luis Bracamontes don’t care about our laws,” the ad said.
It was a shorter version of an ad that the president shared on Twitter last week, which falsely claimed that Democrats let Mr. Bracamontes “into our country” and “let him stay.” In fact, he had been deported during the Clinton and Bush administrations, but repeatedly made his way back. That longer version of the ad, which Mr. Trump featured as a pinned tweet atop his Twitter page, has been viewed more than 6.4 million times.
CNN dedicated substantial editorial coverage to the longer ad, sometimes showing clips as anchors and chyrons declared it “racist.”
The shorter version did not include the false claim about Democrats, but it still drew a direct connection from immigrants to crime, a tactic the president has repeatedly used. (Many studies have shown that immigrants do not drive an increase in crime.)
Before the ad aired during a marquee matchup between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, NBCUniversal’s standards and practices department reviewed it and concluded that it was in keeping with the network’s guidelines, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The guidelines, available online, contain a section for “controversial issue advertising,” which stated that says: “Advertisements generally will be accepted if there is a basis for the claims and such claims fall within the bounds of reasonable debate.”
The guidelines also allow the network to reject an ad if it deems its content “grossly offensive (e.g., on racial, religious or ethnic grounds).” That wasn’t considered to be the case after the department’s original review.
The ad aired once, on “Sunday Night Football,” and three times on MSNBC, a spokesman for the network said.
It quickly drew widespread condemnation. Debra Messing, an actress who plays Grace in NBC’s “Will and Grace,” protested the network’s decision in a tweet addressed to her show’s fans.
“I want you to know that I am ashamed that my network aired this disgusting racist ad,” she wrote. “It is the antithesis of everything I personally believe in, and what, I believe, our show is all about.”
Senior NBCUniversal executives reviewed the ad again and decided it should be pulled, said the person familiar with the matter.
Fox News had reached a similar decision the day before, Marianne Gambelli, the network’s president of ad sales, said in a statement on Monday. “Upon further review, Fox News pulled the ad yesterday and it will not appear on either Fox News Channel or Fox Business Network,” she said.
Facebook took action Monday, saying the ad violates the company’s advertising policy “against sensational content.” Users may still share the video on their pages, Facebook said.
Those decisions stood in stark contrast to CNN, which publicly responded last week when Donald Trump Jr. criticized the network for refusing to run it.
“CNN has made it abundantly clear in its editorial coverage that this ad is racist,” the network’s public relations account posted on Twitter. “When presented with an opportunity to be paid to take a version of this ad, we declined.”
[As the Midterm Elections near, read about how Trump is bringing up immigration as an issue.]
Mr. Trump has used the specter of the caravan crossing the United States border as a central campaign theme, describing it as an “invasion of our country” to stoke anxieties about immigration. He has ordered more than 5,000 active-duty troops to the border in preparation for the migrants’ expected arrival in the coming weeks.
The caravan was once said to have 7,000 people, but more recent estimates put the number at fewer than 3,500.
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