The headache for Fox News presenter Bill O’Reilly keeps getting bigger and bigger, as does the list of companies that have announced they will pull advertising from his incredibly popular nightly O’Reilly Factor.

The recent New York Times revelations that O’Reilly has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by five women, coupled with the fact that he and Fox’s parent company 21st Century Fox have paid out over $13 million to settle with the women, has sparked quick public outrage.

  • The number of companies withdrawing advertising has risen to 41, and counting.
  • However, ratings for the show have skyrocketed, with more than 3.76 million tuning in on Tuesday, a 20% jump from the previous week.
  • The O’Reilly Factor generated around $446 million in advertising revenues from 2014 to 2016.
  • O’Reilly is paid $18 million annually, and has a thriving publishing empire.

How did Fox News themselves respond? By renewing his contract immediately.

Jenny Craig, Subaru, Ancestry, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, BMW, Mitsubishi Motors, Lexus, Constant Contact, Bayer, Orkin, Untuckit, Allstate, GlaxoSmithKline are among the companies that have dropped the Fox News star.

Glenn Beck, a former Fox News darling was only dropped by the network after hundreds of advertisers abandoned his show due to continuous salacious comments about Obama and just about everything else.

O’Reilly has dismissed the claims, saying they lack merit. “Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity. In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline,” he said in a statement released Saturday.

Groups are committed to derailing the show

The National Organization for Women, Color of Change, and the organisers who put together the Women’s March are already calling for advertisers to drop O’Reilly’s show, or for Fox News to drop O’Reilly. These calls for boycotts can succeed where economic leverage exists in the balance.

The growing list of uneasy advertisers has been the result of activism on the part of these national and grassroots progressive groups.

NOW released a strongly worded statement in the wake of the Times report, condemning O’Reilly for “a pattern of predatory, misogynistic behavior” and excoriating the “larger culture that condones the harassment and objectification of women at Fox News,” while Color of Change focused on the advertisers themselves.

The biggest problem however, comes with the cable providers. Companies like Comcast and Time Warner pay stations like Fox a “carrier fee” – payment for the privilidge of being able to broadcast Fox News programming to their subscribers. This is where a large amount of the revenue comes from – not just advertisers. And with the O’Reilly Factor’s huge audience, Fox can argue that this is indispensible.

Rashad Robinson, the Color of Change’s executive director talked about the pressure that’s possible, or not, to apply to these cable providers, “Those are utility companies—and they often don’t have a lot of competition. To get people to go after cable companies that already keep them on hold when they call? They can’t get them to do anything even when they’re already paying customers.”

Robinson is convinced that current pressure on advertisers will suffice. “Fox doesn’t want to lose any money,” he said. “The more we can make them in need terms of resources, the more we can damage their brand and make negotiations harder – the more we do damage to affiliations and relationships.”

Perception is just as important as the bottom line, so if Fox begins to feel as though having O’Reilly on the air is damaging their core brand, then perhaps the King of Cable could be toppled.

It is possible that advertisers are going to peel away from Fox and not just Bill O’Reilly. Just go back to January 21st. That was an extraordinary outpouring of support for women’s rights as human rights. That drew millions and millions of people – men and women – to demonstrate. That kind of upwelling was not controlled by any one organization. Advertisers ignore that at their peril.

Rotten culture

People in leadership positions set organizational culture; once a culture of harassment, threat, abuse of power, objectification of women is established and perhaps, normalized, it is hard to shake things up unless the organization (Fox News) in truly committed.

By protecting and even enabling powerful peoples’ predatory behaviours, organizations like Fox News and Uber are complicit. PR spins cannot whitewash toxic workplace cultures.

Sexual harassment, at the end of the day, is like many other forms of harassment and abuse. It thrives in situations in which it is tolerated, and toleration comes from the top down.

Andrea Tantaros, previously of Fox News remarks, “Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”

Friends in high places

Of course, there is one person who is defending poor old Bill… the President of the United States, Donald J Trump. He called him “a good person” and even said, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” By the way this is the same President that just gave a not to sexual assault awareness month and touted the need to “protect vulnerable groups”.

Yes, this is yet another contradiction by Trump that is not only sickening, but makes no sense. But unfortunately at this point, it comes as no surprise. The President has defended sexual assault many times, and has blamed the victims, many times.

This is of course the same man who Billy Bush on the now infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tapes about moving on a married woman “like a bitch.” He explained that he carries Tic Tacs “just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

He gloated about how he loves to “grab ’em by the pussy” and that “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Bill O’Reilly is a star, so naturally he, too, “can do anything.”

Trump also defended Roger Ailes, the now former chairman of Fox News who resigned amid another sexual assault scandal. He said, “some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them.”

You can look further back in to the past with defences of Donald Sterling, the LA Clippers owner who was banned from the NBA for life when the public heard him telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to the games. And Trump’s defense of Mike Tyson, “It’s my opinion that to a large extent, Mike Tyson was railroaded in this case.”

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