Accusations of sexual harassment and million-dollar payouts to silence accusers have tarnished Bill O’Reilly’s image in the past week and caused dozens of companies to pull their ads from his show. But if the ratings are any indication, the man once dubbed the “King of Cable News” hasn’t lost any of his loyal subjects.
More than 3.71 million people tuned into “The O’Reilly Factor” last week, giving him a 12 percent bump from the viewership he attracted the week before, and up a staggering 28 percent from the same week in 2016, the Nielsen company said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
A New York Times story said O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox had paid out a total of $13 million to five women who had filed harassment lawsuits.
The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.
The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.
The National Organization for Women has called for O’Reilly to be fired. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — O’Reilly stirred controversy earlier this month after he said the black legislator’s hair looks like a “James Brown wig” — told MSNBC that O’Reilly should go to jail and that Fox News was “a sexual harassment enterprise.”
O’Reilly has said that he settled the lawsuits to “spare his children the pain of messy public ordeals” and that he was targeted because he is famous. President Trump told the New York Times, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
“Saturday Night Live” even poked fun at the president’s comments in a skit that featured Alec Baldwin playing both O’Reilly and Trump. Baldwin’s O’Reilly asked the fake Trump how familiar he was with the case, to which Baldwin-as-Trump replied, “I’m more familiar with this case than, say, health care, but I really didn’t look into it much, no.”
Since the accusations came out, nearly 60 companies have pulled their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor,” one of Fox News’s most dominant shows, according to CNN. Other companies have said they want to pull their ads from the show but can’t because of contractual obligations.
Among the defectors: Carmakers Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and BMW and the crowdsourced review site Angie’s List, GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly.
In a statement, Paul Rittenberg, Fox News’s executive vice president of advertising sales, said “We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about ‘The O’Reilly Factor.’ At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other programs.”
The news network didn’t immediately return inquiries Saturday.
But the ratings boon presents a quandary for those advertisers that have objected to O’Reilly’s actions. Their ethical stands come at the expense of more than 3 million opportunities to sell products every night. Many of the companies have not said how long their boycotts would last.
Advertiser boycotts are hard to sustain, especially for a loyal audience, The Post’s Paul Farhi reported.
“Rush Limbaugh proved resilient when facing advertiser defections in the wake of his disparaging comments about birth-control advocate Sandra Fluke in 2012,” Farhi wrote. “Many of the initially reluctant advertisers eventually came back to Limbaugh.” After African American and Jewish people called for a boycott of Glenn Beck’s show in 2011, his show slowly went belly-up.
It’s unclear how long The O’Reilly Factor boycotts would last, as none of the advertisers have put a time limit on theirs.
This post has been updated.