Ever since the New York Times reported a series of sexual harassment settlements surrounding his workplace behavior, Bill O’Reilly has attempted to ride out the crisis through minimal acknowledgement. Sure, he issued a statement implausibly blaming the settlements — five of them, for sexual harassment and simple abuse — on his status as a big, fat target for complaints. On his program on Monday and Tuesday nights, however, the King of Cable News refrained from addressing the matter, an omission suggesting that O’Reilly has no good defense.
Advertisers, meanwhile, are making their voices heard. As of last night, 21 companies had pulled their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor,” though their business may be migrating to other Fox News shows. Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, BMW of North America, Mitsubishi Motors, Lexus, Constant Contact, Bayer, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, Orkin and UNTUCKit are among those retreating from the program, according to CNN’s Tom Kludt. An ad executive at Fox News actually used the term “re-expressed” to describe how some advertisers are finding other Fox News destinations for their dollars.
Some news outlets are calling the moves a “boycott,” a term about which O’Reilly himself has expressed some interesting thoughts in the past. In March 2012, for instance, O’Reilly denounced a movement to strip Rush Limbaugh of his sponsors after the radio host famously used vile and sexist terms to describe Sandra Fluke. “There’s something very fascist about all this — shut down your opposition; don’t let them speak. . . . In every totalitarian state in the world, that is tactic No. 1: silence the opposition.”
Here was another anti-boycott soundbite: “The entire boycott movement is garbage. The far left threatening sponsors who advertise on programs they don’t like is flat-out un-American.”
Now the anti-American garbage is getting dumped right in O’Reilly’s office. Who knows — perhaps O’Reilly was denouncing these tactics with full awareness that someday they could be turned against himself. His reasoning, as per usual, is shallow and dumb: Boycotts are expressions of collective will and protest that are facilitated by constitutional protections. They are, therefore, highly American and democratic.
In any case, O’Reilly has shown situational flexibility on this matter. In December 2012, O’Reilly denounced Mexico for its treatment of Marine veteran Jon Hammar, who had ventured into the country with an antique shotgun and ended up in prison — where he’d stayed in substandard conditions since August of that year. Calls to release Hammar appeared ineffective, so O’Reilly lashed out: “If Mexico doesn’t release the corporal by Christmas, I’m going to call for a boycott of Mexico. Nobody goes,” said O’Reilly on Fox News.
Such drastic action was unnecessary, as Hammar was indeed released before Christmas. “Bill O’Reilly saved my son’s life,” Olivia Hammar, the mother of the released Marine veteran, told the Erik Wemple Blog nearly three years ago. So perhaps no one understands the power of a boycott better than the fellow who’s now a target of one.