NRA shuts down production at TV channel amid leadership coup attempt and legal troubles

Pro-gun association cuts ties with advertising partner and removes on-air personalities

Danny Hakim
Wednesday 26 June 2019 12:34 BST
Dana Loesch puts KKK masks on Thomas the Tank on NRA TV

The National Rifle Association has shut down production at NRA TV.

The NRA on Tuesday also severed all business with its estranged advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, which operates NRA TV, the NRA’s live broadcasting media arm, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

While NRA TV may continue to air past content, its live broadcasting will end and its on-air personalities – Ackerman employees who included Dana Loesch — will no longer be the public faces of the NRA.

It remained unclear whether the NRA might try to hire some of those employees, but there was no indication it was negotiating to do so.

The move comes amid a flurry of lawsuits between the NRA and Ackerman, and increasing acrimony that surfaced after two prominent NRA board members first criticised NRA TV in an article in The Times in March. The separation had become inevitable: The two sides said last month that they were ending their three-decade-plus partnership.

“Many members expressed concern about the messaging on NRA TV becoming too far removed from our core mission: defending the Second Amendment,” Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s longtime chief executive, wrote in a message to members that was expected to be sent out by Wednesday.

“So, after careful consideration, I am announcing that starting today, we are undergoing a significant change in our communications strategy. We are no longer airing ‘live TV’ programming.”

In a notice to Ackerman’s chief executive, Revan McQueen, sent on Tuesday night, the NRA said it “regrets that a long-standing, formerly productive relationship comes to an end in this fashion.”

Ackerman, in its own statement, said it was “not surprised that the NRA is unwilling to honour its agreement to end our contract and our long-standing relationship in an orderly and amicable manner.”

“When given the opportunity to do the right thing, the NRA once again has taken action that we believe is intended to harm our company even at the expense of the NRA itself,” the company added.

It said it “will continue to fight against the NRA’s repeated violations of its agreement with our company with every legal remedy available to us.”

The development is the latest in what has been a tumultuous year for the NRA. It has struggled to right its finances; faced investigations in Congress and by Letitia James, the New York attorney general; and witnessed a leadership struggle that pitted Oliver North, the NRA’s former president, against Mr LaPierre.

Last week, The Times reported that the NRA had suspended Christopher W Cox, its longtime second-in-command, after a legal filing by the NRA implicated him in a failed plot to oust Mr LaPierre. Mr Cox has strongly rejected such allegations.

NRA officials had grown leery of the cost of creating so much live content for NRA TV, which was started in 2016, and wondered whether it was worth the return on its investment. The site’s web traffic was minuscule, with 49,000 unique visitors in January, according to a report provided by comScore.

Some NRA board members and officials were also unnerved by the breadth of its content, which strayed far beyond gun rights and encompassed several right-wing talking points, including criticism of immigration and broadsides against the FBI. A show hosted by Ms Loesch that put Ku Klux Klan hoods on talking trains from the popular children’s programme Thomas & Friends drew outrage from some within the organisation.

But the dispute between the NRA and Ackerman goes deeper than NRA TV. It has its origins in threats by Ms James last summer to investigate the NRA’s tax-exempt status. The NRA began an audit of its contractors, and has said that Ackerman, which was paid roughly $40m (£31.5m) annually by the NRA, refused to comply. Ackerman has disputed that allegation.

Ackerman has assailed the role of the NRA’s outside attorney, William A Brewer III, over the size of his legal fees, and has seen him as its chief antagonist. The contention has a bitter family twist because Mr Brewer is the brother-in-law of Mr McQueen, Ackerman’s chief executive.

The schism between the organisations has been shocking. They had a closely intertwined partnership going back to the “I’m the NRA” campaign in the 1980s, and Ackerman came to be known as the voice of the NRA.

But by Tuesday night, splitting up was seen as inevitable.

“This is just an affirmation of what we’ve known is going to happen,” said Joel Friedman, an NRA board member.

The New York Times

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