More than 30 advertisers have fled the airwaves of “The O’Reilly Factor,” the most popular cable television show on the most popular cable network, after a New York Times report on previously unknown sexual harassment allegations against the host spurred yet another woman to step forward.
Big brand names like Eli Lilly, Mercedes-Benz and Allstate are among the companies seeking distance from O’Reilly in an unusually bold snub that could create financial woes for the conservative firebrand and his bosses.
In its statements about pulling its “O’Reilly Factor” advertising, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai both called the allegations “disturbing.” Credit Karma used the word “concerning.” And many companies said they prioritized “diversity,” “a respectful and inclusive workplace environment” and only advertising on programs consistent with their “core values.”
But one company has publicly announced the opposite, reported CNN Money.
Angie’s List, the Indianapolis-based online community that functions like a high-end Yelp, has said it will not self-censor, but instead let its customers think for themselves.
“We do not have plans to change our ad buy,” the company said in a statement. “The advertising strategy we have long used at Angie’s List is meant to reach as many people as possible with news that our service exists and is available to them. We place ads across a wide spectrum of venues intending to reach as many viewers/listeners/readers as possible without taking a position on the viewpoints of the venues themselves.”
“Just as we trust members to make their own hiring decisions,” the statement continued, “we trust them to make their own media consumption decisions.”
Like so many companies that have bucked the trend of caving in to “political correctness,” Angie’s List was met with swift online contempt, incurring the wrath of #GrabYourWallet advocates who threatened to cancel subscriptions to the site and claimed the company’s position was effectively an endorsement of O’Reilly’s alleged actions.
“Sexual harassment is not a ‘viewpoint,’ ” wrote one woman on Twitter, tagging the company. “You’re not spending your ad money wisely and we’re paying attention!”
Several other companies, like Trivago and Expedia, have declined to comment on their ad buys related to “The O’Reilly Factor,” but none have solicited the same fierce backlash as Angie’s List.
The company’s stance seems different from its outspokenness in the recent past, most prominently when then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said opened the door for businesses across the state to discriminate against the LGBT community.
Angie’s List was among several influential and Indiana-based companies (the NCAA, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly) to protest Pence‘s action by pulling out of business deals, arguing the law would harm job growth and turn off top talent from settling in Indiana.
Bill Oesterle, a co-founder and the first chief executive of Angie’s List, was a deep-pocketed Republican donor in the state who served as campaign manager for former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (R) and donated at least $150,000 to Pence’s 2012 gubernatorial race.
His public outrage at the “Religious Freedom” law — and decision to halt the expansion of Angie’s List headquarters in Indianapolis — caught the attention of state leaders, who later revised the bill.
Only weeks after he called the law’s passage “very disappointing,” Oesterle resigned so he could become more “civically involved” in the state.
Months later, former Best Buy executive Scott Durchslag was named the new chief executive of Angie’s List.
It’s unclear if the company’s decision not to flee from O’Reilly and Fox News was a political or business decision, but this isn’t the first time the company has been publicly flogged for refusing to pull advertising from the airwaves of a popular but controversial conservative pundit.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh in 2012 came under fire when he called a female college student and birth control advocate a “prostitute.” A widespread campaign urged advertisers to pull support from his program. Many did, but Angie’s List refused. It wasn’t until its year-long contract expired that it decided to cease sponsorship.
Both then and now, the company’s decision to stand by a program linked to offensive behavior against women perplexed some subscribers, who argue that a business founded and named for a woman — Angie Hicks — should be a better ally.
A New York Times investigation, published over the weekend, spurred the O’Reilly boycott. The Times report found that the prime-time host and his bosses at Fox News had paid $13 million to five women to settle sexual harassment allegations. Three of the payouts had been previously unreported.
On Monday, psychologist Wendy Walsh, a radio and TV personality who once starred in a regular segment on O’Reilly’s show, detailed a sexual harassment allegation of her own during a news conference in Los Angeles. She claimed O’Reilly tanked her career opportunities at Fox News after she refused to join him in his hotel room following a business meeting.
Walsh’s lawyer said she was inspired to speak out after a Times reporter told her other women had been silenced by gag orders related in settlements.
That same day, Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky filed another sexual harassment lawsuit against former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, who was fired last summer, and accused Fox’s current management of trying to cover up his behavior. Her lawsuit claims that Ailes — whom O’Reilly has defended — would insist upon greeting with kisses before meetings and require her to bend over so he could look down her dress, reported the Associated Press.
Roginsky claimed in her lawsuit that she missed out on a permanent role at Fox after she refused Ailes’s advances.
Ailes’s lawyer Susan Estrich told NPR that Roginsky’s allegations were “total hogwash.”
Fox News has said it is working with its advertisers to address concerns, and O’Reilly said in a statement posted to his website April 1 that he was “vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity.”
“The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel,” O’Reilly said. “Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children.”
And though dozens of advertisers are fleeing him and few have publicly defended O’Reilly, the TV host apparently has an ally in the president of the United States.
In an interview with the New York Times published Wednesday, President Trump said he thought O’Reilly was a “good person” who should have avoided settling the harassment claims and “taken it all the way.”
“I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” Trump said.
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