Advertisers Back Away From Bill O'Reilly
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Advertisers are not the only ones backing away from Bill O'Reilly. More than 50 companies, as you may have heard, have said they would rather not be seen on O'Reilly's Fox News program right now. It turns out that some of his female colleagues are not happy either after O'Reilly - and his employers - acknowledged paying $13 million or so to settle at least five sexual harassment suits against him. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what are you hearing from inside the company?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's a lot of anguish, distress and concern among employees at Fox News, particularly women, about the fact that Bill O'Reilly has been allowed to continue almost unrebuked by his employer seemingly. Let's remember - nine months ago, during the summer, the chairman, the really propulsive force behind the success of Fox News, Roger Ailes, was ousted - with a huge payday but nonetheless ousted - after a series of explosive allegations of sexual harassment against him, all of which he denies.
You know, the Murdoch family that controls the parent company, 21st Century Fox - Rupert Murdoch oversees Fox News directly now. They said it's a new day, a new climate. They'll take concerns of female employees very seriously, a bunch of changes in store. And yet, Bill O'Reilly, as this fresh attention from The New York Times and other places showed, is being allowed to continue despite the fact there had been multiple accusations of sexual harassment against him by former colleagues and in fact that they were so serious that they totaled these payments out in the many millions of dollars.
INSKEEP: Is the angst that you're hearing about Bill O'Reilly, or is it really about the company's response?
FOLKENFLIK: It's really both. There's sort of a contempt for O'Reilly from some of his colleagues, particularly female colleagues. And there's a cynicism about the degree of sincerity with which the Murdoch family and the top executives are operating.
You know, the only statement put out by 21st Century Fox since The New York Times offered fresh focus on this last weekend was simply to say, we've talked to Bill. He's assured us that he takes our commitment to a welcome workplace for all employees seriously. You know, I wonder why women at the network would take that particularly seriously. And in fact, the women at the network say they don't - that they're not convinced of it.
One of O'Reilly's defenses is - hey, they haven't taken advantage of the call-in hotline to make complaints; none of the women who have accused me did that. They say, why would we be convinced that that would be taken seriously when the network's human relations executives, top lawyers and even president, in the past, haven't taken our complaints seriously?
INSKEEP: And if I'm not mistaken, the company has also repeated that line about nobody called the hotline, which implies that none of these claims were really that serious. Now, the thing that's made headlines the last couple of days, though, is advertisers pulling out of the show. Does that really hurt the network?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's certainly something the network can relatively easily weather in the short term if the numbers don't keep growing. That is - most of the advertisers are shifting their commercials to other parts of the day. They may have to be given extra spots, extra commercials to make up for the premium that they paid to get into Bill O'Reilly's show in the first place in most cases. But that's weatherable.
O'Reilly certainly has had scandals in the past. And in fact, you know, his first sexual harassment claim against him that got public was more than a dozen years ago, and he certainly survived that after making a major payout.
INSKEEP: OK. So that's the short term. But can Rupert Murdoch, who's been overseeing Fox News, ride this out in the long term?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, the real question, in some ways, lies in the hands of federal prosecutors. There's an inquiry right now taking place into whether payments to women who made sexual allegations against Roger Ailes and perhaps Bill O'Reilly too, somehow that those payments were masked from investors. That could be a violation of federal law, and that could be a quite serious result as well.
INSKEEP: David, thanks as always.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
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