NRATV’s future is in jeopardy.
On Wednesday, ad agency Ackerman McQueen announced that it has moved to end its decades-long relationship with the National Rifle Association. It is the latest domino to fall in an ongoing legal fight, one that could ultimately mean the demise of the gun group’s affiliated, pro-Trump TV network.
“Today, faced with the NRA’s many inexplicable actions that have constructively terminated the parties’ Services Agreement, Ackerman McQueen decided it is time to stand up for the truth, and formally provide a Notice to Terminate its almost four-decade long relationship with the National Rifle Association,” the ad firm said in a statement.
“The turmoil the NRA faces today was self-inflicted,” the statement continued. “It could have been avoided. We deeply regret that it wasn’t.”
Ackerman McQueen has worked with the NRA for decades on some of its most prominent public relations campaigns, playing a key role in building the gun group’s brand as a political and cultural powerhouse. But those days have ended as the two sides find themselves embroiled in an increasingly acrimonious legal fight. In using the legal term “constructive termination” in Wednesday’s statement, the ad agency is alleging that the NRA made it impossible for it to hold up its end of the contract.
Such a development makes NRATV’s future uncertain. The NRA pays Ackerman McQueen to run NRATV programing, meaning that people at the network technically work for the ad firm. The agency’s announcement that it was severing ties with the gun lobby group caught NRATV staff off-guard on Wednesday morning.
Many staffers and talent at all levels of NRATV had no idea this statement was coming, and found out about it when the rest of the public did, including through social media, according to a source familiar with the situation. That source added that many NRATV employees and hosts were left wondering if they even had jobs anymore.
After the statement was made public, NRATV staff received internal guidance—in the form of a two-sentence email sent by Ackerman McQueen’s CEO Revan McQueen and addressed simply to “Everyone.”
“Please see the attached,” read the internal email, obtained by The Daily Beast, which referred to the public statement. “We will have future internal discussions as we are able. Best, Revan.”
As of 12:30 p.m. ET, mid-level managers at NRATV were still instructing staffers to keep working as if it were a normal day, per the source. As of Wednesday early afternoon, NRATV was still streaming content.
In the internal email, McQueen did not specify when future discussions would occur. And spokespersons for the ad firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ackerman McQueen has referred to strict confidentiality rules regarding the NRA in court filings, which may have informed its decision not to notify NRATV staff of the move before notifying the NRA itself.
In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Bill Brewer of Brewer Attorneys & Counselors, who represents the NRA, said it was "not surprising that Ackerman now attempts to escape the consequences of its own conduct.”
“Although today’s announcement by Ackerman is welcome news, it does not resolve the NRA’s legal actions against Ackerman,” he added. “The Association will pursue its legal rights and hold Ackerman accountable for any damage it caused the Association. The agency was a longstanding vendor of the NRA. But like any other vendor, it will be held accountable – in the best interest of all NRA members.”
Andrew Arulanandam, chief of NRA public affairs, hinted in a statement that changes may be coming to the group's public relations work.
“The NRA can now begin transitioning various communications functions,” he said. “The NRA is eager to return the focus of its messaging to our core mission – the Second Amendment and our steadfast fight to protect America’s constitutional freedoms. This is an exciting time for the NRA and our members. We have an opportunity to elevate our brand, communicate with a broader community of gun owners, and press the advantage in the upcoming 2020 elections.”
For months, NRATV has been part the legal battle between Ackerman McQueen and the NRA, which are suing each for millions of dollars. Those fights have since erupted into public view.
Last month, the gun group sued Ackerman McQueen, demanding documents relating to its public relations work for the NRA. The NRA claimed in court that the firm refused to open its books, suggesting Ackerman McQueen had engaged in wrongdoing. Earlier this month, the NRA filed another suit against Ackerman McQueen—first reported by The Daily Beast—alleging that the ad firm had leaked confidential information and tried to stage a coup against NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre. That second lawsuit seeks tens of millions of dollars in damages.
Ackerman McQueen responded with a counterclaim, alleging that the NRA tried to take out its then-president, Oliver North, in a coup of its own. While serving as president, North also worked for Ackerman McQueen on NRATV, according to court filings. He also hosted some of its programming.
Launched online in 2016, NRATV churned out aggressively pro-gun, culture-war content and offered flattering commentary about President Donald Trump and his administration. Top hosts have included conservative activist Dana Loesch and Dan Bongino, a Trump favorite and Fox News regular who left NRATV late last year.
In one particularly notorious segment on Loesch’s show, NRATV tried to make a point about political correctness by putting Thomas the Tank Engine characters in Ku Klux Klan hoods.
The days of the NRA’s participation in the culture wars may be coming to a close, as metastasizing internal fights threaten to hobble the once-formidable gun rights group.