Two major companies, Mercedes Benz and Hyundai, have announced that they will no longer advertise their products on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News after revelations of multiple, repeated sexual-harassment cases that have ended in roughly $13 million in payments to victims.
“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,” a Mercedes spokesperson explained.
(UPDATE at 1 p.m.: The number of advertisers dropping O’Reilly’s show has grown to five with BMW, Untuckit and Constant Contact announcing their withdrawal.)
(UPDATE at 5 p.m.: The number of previous major advertisers blackballing O’Reilly is now nine with the addition of GlaxoSmithKline; T. Rowe Price; Allstate; and Sanofi Consumer HealthCare.
(UPDATE at 6 p.m.: According to CNN, the count is now at 15, with Mitsubishi Motors, Lexus, Bayer, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, Allstate, Esurance and Wayfair joining the list.
In fact, it’s pretty stunning that the fallout has taken this long to develop. In most modern corporate environments, one sexual-harassment case ending in a major payout would be considered extremely serious; two would be enough to end not just a job but a career. So far, O’Reilly has been involved in at least five documented cases in which either he or the network agreed to pay major damages. In most of those cases, O’Reilly is accused of using his power and visibility to pressure women into unwelcome sexual relationships in return for professional favors.
Other women, such as former O’Reilly guest Wendy Walsh, have also come forward with their stories even though they have no intention of filing suit. As Walsh noted in a press conference Monday, the women who have accepted previous settlement payments from Fox or O’Reilly are usually not allowed to speak publicly about their experience as a condition of those settlements.
“Nobody can buy my voice,” Walsh said. “My truth is not for sale.”
This goes well beyond questions of morality; it is outright predatory and apparently compulsive behavior by O’Reilly. Most men, having survived one or even two such workplace scandals, would have dramatically changed their behavior, particularly if they hold such a high-profile job. Even if they believed themselves innocent of the charges — especially if they believed themselves innocent — other men would take steps to ensure that they would never again be in a situation where credible claims could be made against them.
Not our Bill. Not at Fox News. Something in that corporate environment convinced O’Reilly that such caution was unnecessary, and it’s pretty clear where that “something” originated. Just last summer, Fox News was forced to oust its legendary longtime head, Roger Ailes, after multiple well-documented allegations that he too had repeatedly, grotesquely used the power of his office to extract sexual favors.
The tipping point came when longtime anchor Gretchen Carlson publicly alleged that she had been fired for refusing Ailes’ sexual advances, and when Fox News star Megyn Kelly reported that early in her career, Ailes had also pressured her to exchange professional advancement for sexual favors. At that point, Fox News had no choice but to part way with Ailes, although it gave him a $40 million buyout for doing so.
In responding to these most recent revelations, both Fox News and O’Reilly have made it a point to note that no complaints have ever been filed against the host through the company hotline or human resources department, as if that is exculpatory in some fashion. It is not. Instead, it supports allegations of a poisonous culture within Fox News in which female employees understood very well that any official complaints they might make would be ignored and in fact would make them targets for retaliation. Instead they suffered in silence, some perhaps succumbing to the pressure, others deciding to take their talents elsewhere.
(A new lawsuit filed Monday against Ailes by former Fox commentator Julie Roginsky describes that retaliation and environment in distressing detail.)
Naturally, defenders of Fox News and O’Reilly will cast all this in exclusively political terms; as they have in the past, they will try to call upon the strong tribal loyalty among conservatives to protest against this outbreak of “political correctness,” as if repeated and sustained predatory sexual behavior is something that only liberals would find objectionable.
But neither Fox nor O’Reilly are the victims here. To the contrary, the powerful role that Fox plays in conservative politics has insulated it from deserved criticism and to a degree enabled the predation by Ailes and O’Reilly. I have a hard time imagining any other major American corporation in the 21st century tolerating such a long record of unpunished misogyny and harassment and treating it as the price of doing business.