Top-rated Fox News host has once again embroiled the cable news outfit in scandal. Even so, O’Reilly may be able to survive this, as he has on other occasions when he was accused of outrageous or offensive behavior.
O’Reilly’s current troubles began after the New York Times reported on April 1 that since 2002, he and Fox had paid out at least $13 million to women who had accused him of sexually or verbally harassing them. That long history of payouts offers evidence that O’Reilly may be able to weather the current media storm.
That’s because the business model of Fox News is dramatically different from its cable competitors, CNN and MSNBC. While the latter channel is known for its left-leaning primetime lineup, MSNBC’s actual audience is actually more centrist than that of the New York Times, the Daily Show, NPR and the Washington Post, according to .
While CNN, MSNBC and their broadcast counterparts are striving for a large, center-left audience, Fox News has essentially cornered the market on conservative viewers. While some moderates do tune in, the most loyal FNC viewers are conservatives who largely distrust other media outlets.
The net effect of Fox fans’ isolation from other media is that news about (he has denied all of them) simply has not filtered down to his loyal fans.
Orlando Sentinel TV writer Hal Boedeker provided a perfect example of this in discussing how his father, a regular “O’Reilly Factor” viewer, had not even heard about the millions in payouts to O’Reilly accusers.
While it might not be surprising that a senior citizen in rural Missouri hadn’t heard of the allegations against O’Reilly, on the same day that Boedeker published his column, House Speaker Paul Ryan also said he had never heard them.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Ryan said when he was . “I don’t read the New York Times all that often.”
Given O’Reilly fans’ low opinion of the mainstream media, it appears some of them might actually be more interested in tuning in. , “O’Reilly Factor” ratings for Monday and Tuesday of last week were up 14 percent compared to the week before.
While O’Reilly has managed to survive being accused of with a female producer and even a claim that he once (“100 percent false,” according to him), his current scandal is a bit different from ones that preceded it.
What’s different about O’Reilly’s problems this time around is that his allegedly inappropriate behavior may be causing problems for Fox News’ parent company.
Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and founder of 21st Century Fox, has long wanted to exercise contractual rights to buy up all of the shares in Sky Media, a London-based media conglomerate in which he already owns a majority stake.
This is Murdoch’s second attempt at buying out the other Sky investors. In 2011, he had to cancel a previous effort after one of his British newspapers was revealed to have spied on murder victims, a scandal that led to the complete closure of the publication and months of horrendous coverage for Murdoch’s firm just as Ofcom, the British regulatory body, was deciding whether Fox would be a “fit and proper” owner for Sky.
Further complicating that Ofcom decision is a that may be brought against Fox News executives in New York for allegedly refusing to disclose millions of dollars in payments to sexual harassment claimants in mandatory public filings to the U.S. federal government and investors.
Another major challenge facing O’Reilly this time is that he has become the target of a progressive campaign to encourage advertisers to boycott his program. It’s an effort reminiscent of an earlier campaign that, , contributed to the cancellation of Glenn Beck’s then-popular program.
That prior success has prompted Color of Change, the left-leaning group which led the effort to get advertisers to boycott Beck, to begin targeting O’Reilly’s program.
“As horrifying as these new revelations of sexual harassment are, no advertiser can claim it’s the first time they’re hearing about O’Reilly’s long, documented history of sexism and racism,” Rashad Robinson, the group’s director, told Salon.
“Now, it’s up to companies like Geico, QVC and UPS to finally take a stand against this deplorable behavior,” Robinson continued. “Fox News will continue shielding O’Reilly unless his advertisers hold the network’s feet to the fire and pull their money from his show.”
O’Reilly has also been targeted by a newer, Twitter-based group of anonymous advertising insiders who call themselves the Sleeping Giants. They’ve been encouraging anyone and everyone to contact companies via Twitter and urge them to pull advertising dollars from O’Reilly’s program.
“Our campaign, from the start, has been about making bigotry unprofitable,” one of the group’s representatives told Salon via Twitter direct message. “Bill O’Reilly and Fox News have been making huge profits while degrading women and minorities, so it more than made sense for us to take action. Advertisers should, in no way, want to support this behavior.”
Thus far, the public pressure has caused to announce they will no longer advertise on “The O’Reilly Factor.” While that’s surely an embarrassment for the program’s pugnacious star, the overwhelming number of the companies who have pulled out from O’Reilly’s show have merely reshuffled their spending to other Fox News programs. This means that Fox has not lost nearly as much money from the boycott as it might seem.
The campaign is still relatively young, however. If it persists, things might get a lot worse for O’Reilly. For now, however, Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik probably :
Unless the advertiser boycott catches wildfire, O’Reilly will weather this latest storm just like he withstood the serious challenges in 2015 to claims he made about his career as a correspondent at CBS.
Most of the advertisers who are fleeing his show are still advertising on Fox. And Fox makes a major chunk of its revenue from fees paid by cable operators — rather than from commercials. It’s going to take a lot more than 40, 50 or 100 advertiser defections to make a dent in the Fox News cash flow.
The other thing O’Reilly has in his favor is that his former rival Megyn Kelly left the network for NBC, meaning that replacing the host of its most-watched program would be a much riskier endeavor for Fox News. In the past two years alone, O’Reilly’s show brought in an estimated $446 million in revenue for the channel.
His worth is even greater than that when you consider that “The O’Reilly Factor” is the centerpiece of the Fox News prime-time lineup. When you combine the revenues of the programs that appear around O’Reilly’s (“The First 100 Days” earlier in the evening, and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Hannity” afterward), replacing the scandal-plagued host could put nearly $1 billion worth of annual revenue on the chopping block.
That’s why Fox is employing the same time-honored strategy it has used to deal with O’Reilly’s previous scandals:
Will it work this time? That may depend more on what U.S. attorneys in New York and regulatory bureaucrats in London do than on how many people O’Reilly’s left-wing critics can mobilize on Twitter.