Advertisers are leaving Bill O’Reilly en masse after a New York Times report revealed that his employer had paid millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment and misconduct suits pending against the popular talk-show host.
Big businesses announced they’d be cutting ties with O’Reilly on Wednesday following the Times’ revelation. Among the advertisers canceling contracts are automakers Hyundai and BMW. Allstate Insurance, financial firm T. Rowe Price, Constant Contact, and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline have also declared they’ll follow Mercedes-Benz in pulling commercials and content from the show.
The New York Times reported at the beginning of the month that 21st Century Fox has paid out over $13 million to plaintiffs who brought O’Reilly to court. Over the course of at least a decade, five cases were brought against Fox News’ most brazen personality. Two settlements came in the wake of Roger Ailes’ dismissal; Ailes is the former chairman of Fox News, driven out of his position by allegations that he too had acted inappropriately with his female colleagues and subordinates.
Following the Ailes scandal, Fox News released a statement saying it doesn’t tolerate behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
All of the women who settled with O’Reilly either worked alongside him on The O’Reilly Factor or appeared on-air. The New York Times says claims against him ranged from the occasional lewd comment to verbal abuse and “unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating.” The information comes from documents and interviews the newspaper had uncovered and conducted.
A pattern was purportedly outlined, which traced a disturbing series of trends: O’Reilly would leverage his position as an influential newscaster by offering women “advice and promising to help them professionally.” Soon after, he’d begin to pursue sexual relationships. The implication foisted upon his victims was that they’d either have to oblige the Fox News big-shot or sacrifice the steps they’d made forward in their careers.
Fox News hasn’t commented on the accusations which have been levied against O’Reilly, but did compose a statement which was subsequently released to the Times.
“21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously,” the statement read. “Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility. Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.”
Legal experts consulted by The New York Times said that sometimes companies are willing to settle cases which may have little merit just to avoid prolonged courtroom battles capable of generating negative press and unwanted headlines.
Nevertheless, advertisers weren’t willing to take any chances.
“The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” said Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Donna Boland.
Representatives for companies like Allstate echoed Boland and have either canceled advertising agreements with Fox or relocated their spots away from The O’Reilly Factor to other programs.