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University of Minnesota pulls ads from Breitbart.com

University of Minnesota students protested a speech by Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopolous. Now, alumni are protesting the whole site.

University of Minnesota students protested a speech by Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopolous. Now, alumni are protesting the whole site.

 Breitbart.com is a scary place to hang out.

Even for the people who want to be there.

Consider a few headlines from this Monday morning news cycle: "Berlin's New Secretary of State: Pro-Sharia Conservative Muslim"; "Migrant terror suspect used Amazon Gift Cards to Purchase Bomb Components"; "ACLU sues Indiana town over cross on top of Christmas Tree"; "Motel raid yields stash of 15 illegal migrants."

Read those, and it makes sense for Breitbart to provide its startled readers with a list of "Six great pocket guns for your Christmas wish list." And these aren't even as bad as the one DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken highlighted last month.

But now picture you're sifting through some of those spooky stories and come across something you least expected: The University of Minnesota's logo. 

This very experience happened recently to a Minnesota local, a U of M graduate. Horrified to see her alma mater subsidizing the alt-right, the woman took it upon herself to end the school's affiliation with the website started by Andrew Breitbart and published, until mid-2016, by Steve Bannon, now a top adviser to president-elect Donald Trump. 

The woman who first spotted the University of Minnesota ad reached out to University President Eric Kaler, as did several other concerned alumni, in a small but vociferous email campaign over the first weekend in December. They wanted the school to stop advertising of any kind on Breitbart.com.

Last week, at least one got a reply from someone in Kaler's office. "I agree with you completely," Kaler wrote, saying the school had pulled its advertising from Breitbart immediately.

The U of M representative explained that the school had contracted out its ad buys to a "media buyer," and therefore did not know that it was taking out ad space on this particular site. 

"We have also removed Breitbart as an option so that no University of Minnesota advertising will appear there in the future," reads the email.

University of Minnesota spokesman Chuck Tombarge tells City Pages the school got a "small number of emails" expressing concern about the Breitbart ad, which he says was trying to sell tickets to Gophers sporting events. 

"Neither the University nor Gopher athletics made a proactive decision to advertise," Tombarge says. "When groups buy digital ads, it's generally part of a large and diverse ad buy. Through the Google Display Network -- I'm told by our marketing department and Gopher athletics -- that network reaches 90 percent of users across more than 2 million different websites."

That is, the University doesn't know where to look for its potential market; Google does. If that ad was showing up on Breitbart, it's because Google had determined at least some people on that site might want to buy University of Minnesota sports tickets.

By explicitly instructing its media buyer to exclude Breitbart, the U joins a growing list of companies that want no ties with the site, including Kellogg's cereals, medical device manufacturer Novo Nordisk, the San Diego Zoo, and Warby Parker, makers of designer eyeglasses.

Breitbart has already stirred controversy on the U of M campus this year, as dozens of students protested a talk by contributor Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative commentator who rails against political correctness and has said "rape culture" is an invented concept.

Will the U ever have ads on Breitbart again? Tombarge says the University is weighing its options.

"We're still having discussions about it," he says. "We're taking a broader look at media advertising overall. It’s probably too early to speculate about what we will and won’t do. At this point, we are continuing to have that conversation."

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated alumni had received an email back from University president Eric Kaler; the post has been updated to reflect that the email came from Kaler's office, but not Kaler himself.