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'Fox News' Bill O'Reilly will be replaced by another big mouth, cheering Trump on'

The fact that the advertisers pulled out of the O’Reilly show doesn’t mean that they have withdrawn their money from Fox, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

A FEW DAYS ago, an explosive New York Times report revealed that Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had paid a total of $13 million to five women to settle cases they had taken against him for sexual harassment over the years.

Their complaints include: “verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr O’Reilly was masturbating”. That’s a serious reputational hit for Fox News, the Republican Party’s mouthpiece in the American media.

O’Reilly would first be nice to the women and promise to help them in their careers. Later, he would make sexual advances towards them and retaliate when rebuffed, by doing whatever to stall their careers.

The allegations go back to at least 2002, and Fox News knew about them because there have been other lawsuits against O’Reilly. But Fox didn’t care, recently renewing his contract.

Similar complaints

This comes in the wake of other similar complaints against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes who was fired following accusations that he had sexually harassed staff. Around ten women have come forward to reveal stories of inappropriate conduct by him.

For example, Julie Roginsky, a Fox contributor, said that Ailes once told her that she should “engage in sexual relationships with ‘older, married, conservative men’” and that that they would get into “so much trouble” if he took her “out for a drink”. Very attractive indeed.

The O’Reilly case is interesting for a number of reasons. An obvious one is harassment of women in the workplace, which seems to be common at Fox, but happens in many other places to various degrees.

Another reason is money and the media.

The part money plays in the media

Consider this. O’Reilly’s show attracts 4 million viewers a night. Every weekday at 8pm, he brings guests in and comments on current affairs in a fiery fashion.

From 2014 to 2016 his show generated $446 million in advertising revenues for Fox. This makes him a tremendous asset to the company. That’s why Fox pays O’Reilly $18 million a year.

But now, more than 60 advertisers have pulled out of his show, to dissociate themselves from the sex charges. There is an up-to-date list of all advertisers who have left the show and those remaining there.

Among the big names leaving are Mercedes-Benz, which spent some $1.9 million in ads on the show last year. Also Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Lexus, Bayer, Pfizer, H&R Block, and many others.

This is important because advertisers make TV shows possible

A show that attracts no advertisements brings in no money to the media company and will likely be eliminated. The O’Reilly case reveals the power advertisers have to influence content: if they don’t like a show, they will pull out and the show won’t be sustainable.

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This is why it’s hard to run progressive shows that challenge the establishment, of which advertisers are part and parcel. Advertisers won’t sponsor programmes that constantly attack their corporate values, for example.

But Bill O’Reilly and his show are ridiculous. It’s a bunch of conservative, right-wing nonsense—just like Fox News in general. If O’Reilly and his show weren’t supported by massive amounts of corporate money, he’d be a nobody and you’d never have heard of him.

Advertisers didn’t have the same issue with his wild, right-wing claims

So it’s ironic that the many companies that pulled ads from the show because it now hurts their corporate image actually made the show possible in the first place. They had no problem with the wild right-wing claims O’Reilly makes, but it became too uncomfortable now that he has been outed for sexual harassment.

But the fact that the advertisers pulled out of the O’Reilly show doesn’t mean that they have withdrawn their money from Fox. In fact, they may simply place their ads on other Fox shows. If that’s the case, Fox will not have been hurt too much.

O’Reilly may end up being forced to leave, or maybe not. If he goes, he will be replaced by another big mouth just like him, who will say the same crazy stuff that will foster all sorts of injustice in the US, and who will cheer on Donald Trump when he fires missiles at Syria or wherever.

Julien Mercille is an associate professor at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille.

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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