As of this writing, according to AdWeek, upwards of 50 different advertisers have pulled their ads from The O’Reilly Factor in the wake of the recent NY Times report detailing the $13 million Fox and O’Reilly have paid out to settle harassment claims against him since 2002. Those advertisers jumping ship include Suburu, BMW, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Lexus, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, Advil, Bayer, Wayfair, Orkin, T. Rowe Price, Allstate, Esurance, Coldwell Banker, Mercedes-Benz, The Wonderful Company, Credit Karma, Orkin, Esurance, UNTUCKit, the Society for Human Resource Management, TrueCar, Wayfair, Ancestry, LegalZoom, H&R Block, Invisalign, Vision Works, Pacific Life, Old Dominion Freight Line, Touchnote, Carfax, Reddi Wip, Stanley Steemer, Jenny Craig, and others.
Imagine a future where Bill O’Reilly has to do live reads for Shari’s Berries between libido supplements. It’s nice, isn’t it? And it looks like we’re getting there, but more importantly, his advertisers running away now raises the obvious question: what did they think they were underwriting for the past decade? What, exactly, is the line of acceptable shame for a Fox News advertiser?
Of the five settlements uncovered in the New York Times piece (not including two other non-settled allegations of inappropriate behavior alleged in the same report), two were already known. In fact, the world has known about Bill O’Reilly being a sexual harasser since at least 2004. That was the year his former O’Reilly Factor producer Andrea Mackris sued O’Reilly for sexual harassment, which was especially embarrassing (or should’ve been) for the guy who was, at the time, about to go out on tour promoting The O’Reilly Factor For Kids, which is a real book that actually exists.
Fox and O’Reilly initially tried to fight back, with O’Reilly countersuing Mackris for extortion,using his lawyer to plant slimy tabloid stories about her, and hiring private investigator (and Fox News contributor) Bo Dietl to smear Mackris. The fruits of that campaign included a New York Post story about Mackris allegedly getting into an argument at a bar with then pastry chef Bethenny Frankel (who would go on to star in The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, The Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny Getting Married, Bethenny Ever After, and others) entitled “EXCLUSIVE: O’Reilly Accuser In Bar Blow Up.” The story quoted Frankel as saying, of Mackris, from whom Frankel had allegedly tried to borrow a chair, “She literally verbally attacked and abused and harassed us… like a raving lunatic.”
The Post later ran a story about Matthew Paratore, who owned a bar Mackris frequented, in which Paratore made the totes plausible claim that Mackris once tore her clothes off in front of him, telling him “If you think I’m going to f*ck Bill O’Reilly, I’m going to f*ck you even more.”
O’Reilly’s lawyer, Ronald Green, fed other charming rumors to the New York Daily News, including one in which Mackris’ nickname had supposedly been “Andrea Mattress” when she was a White House intern back in 1991.
That news cycle ended only when Mackris’ lawyers played O’Reilly’s lawyers the actual tapes Mackris made of O’Reilly’s harassing phone calls. Perhaps you remember “loofa/falafel” gate? That came from the actual audio of a phone call from O’Reilly to Mackris, included in the court documents, which went something like…
“You would basically be in the shower and then I would come in and I’d join you and you would have your back to me and I would take that little loofa thing and kinda soap up your back… rub it all over you, get you to relax… So anyway I’d be rubbing your big boobs and getting your nipples really hard, kinda kissing your neck from behind… and then I would take the other hand with the falafel thing and I’d put it on your pussy but you’d have to do it really light, just kind of a tease business…”
O’Reilly eventually settled with Mackris for around $9 million, according to the New York Times.
Moreover, the world knew all of this (the Daily News had reported the settlement as “possibly as much as $10 million” long before the Times, back in 2004). The world knew O’Reilly hired the guy pictured above, Bo Dietl, in 2012 and used his lawyers to make Andrea Mackris look like a sex-crazed lunatic (which seems counterproductive — so now we’re supposed to believe even sex-crazed lunatic Andrea Mattress wouldn’t sleep with you, her fabulously wealthy, famous boss? Nice going!), and that his actual harassment was caught on tape.
Through it all, O’Reilly’s advertisers stayed. My source for much of the above, by the way, is Gabriel Sherman’s The Loudest Voice In The Room, his biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, which came out in January 2014. That was a full three years ago. And up until this week, companies were still advertising with O’Reilly.
It’s not as if these guys are geniuses. How bad at phone sex do you have to be to call a loofa a “falafel thing,” and use the words “you’d be rubbing your big boobs” during the call? I’d like to think O’Reilly even spelled it “bewbs” in his head, chuckling to himself like Butthead. In 2004, O’Reilly allegedly told Mackris:
“If you cross Fox News Channel, it’s not just me, it’s Roger Ailes who will go after you. I’m the street guy out front making the loud noises about the issues, but Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day BAM! The person gets what’s coming to them but never sees it coming. Look at Al Franken, one day he’s going to get a knock on his door and life as he’s known it will change forever.”
Al Franken, as astute readers may note, wrotea book lampooning Fox News that was published in 2003 and famously got into a public spat with O’Reilly at a book event that same year. Despite O’Reilly’s threat, Franken has survived any attempts on his life by Fox News goons and was elected to the Senate in 2008 and reelected in 2014.
Meanwhile, Mackris never worked in television news again. But Bill O’Reilly still writes books for little kids, and makes $18 million a year with Fox. Who, even as the NY Times investigation was coming to light, just renewed his contract.
For the past 13 years, advertisers have continued to advertise. They continued to advertise after Fox paid Gretchen Carlson $20 million to settle her harassment claim against Roger Ailes. They continued to advertise after six more women came forward with their stories about being harassed by Ailes in the wake of Carlson’s complaint. One of those six accounts included a bit about Ailes’ penis and its resemblance to “raw hamburger.”
He reclined on a couch in a seating area under a map that had flags of all the cities they were syndicated in. He proceeded to pull down his pants and very gingerly pull out his genitals and said, “Kiss them.” And they were red, like raw hamburger.
Ailes was pushed out at Fox News in July 2016, receiving $40 million as part of his severance. He didn’t, by the way, actually have to pay any of Gretchen Carlson’s settlement out of his own pocket. Where did all that money come from? From advertisers, presumably, many of whom continued to advertise on Fox after Megyn Kelly alleged a pattern of harassment of her own in her memoir published a few months after the Carlson settlement.
Ailes, incidentally, is the same guy suspected of masterminding the infamous Willie Horton ad that took down Michael Dukakis in 1988 (at the very least it was made by two of his former employees, Larry McCarthy and Jesse Raiford, the former of whom said “I just tried to make it as if I were Roger”). He’s the same guy who gave Donald Trump a weekly call-in segment on Fox & Friends starting in 2011, a platform where Trump, the formerly pro-choice billionaire who had spoken positively of single-payer healthcare, became a right-wing hero spouting wild theories about Obama’s birth certificate (which, to be fair, he later took to CNN and everywhere else).
It’s not hard to draw a direct line from Ailes to Trump, and many have. Trump’s candidacy, which didn’t have nearly as much money as some of his opponents, notably Jeb Bush, was built on free air time, almost $30 million of which he got on Fox News alone. In a period between May and December 2015, Trump received a combined 23 hours of exposure from Fox News, a time when no other Republican candidate received more than 10. And even that doesn’t include the literal connection between Ailes and Trump — Fox reported that Ailes and Trump were speaking on the phone three times a day while prepping for the first presidential debate.
In that context, it isn’t that surprising that Trump has publicly called Bill O’Reilly “a good person” and said “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” Notably, he did this less than a week after declaring April “Sexual Assault Awareness And Prevention Month.”
So, now that the New York Times has uncovered the full scope of Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassing (which, remember, had already been caught on tape 13 years ago) and $13 million worth of settlements to victims, advertisers are finally, FINALLY starting to jump ship (one wonders how much of the free healthcare Fox’s anchors have railed against Fox could’ve personally bankrolled with that $13 million, the $20 million Carlson got, the $40 million Ailes got, the $18 million O’Reilly gets, the $29 million Hannity gets...).
Which only makes you wonder what a “last straw” even looks like anymore. Ailes, O’Reilly, and Fox’s army of bullfrog-necked lowlifes and blotchy screamers have been the tip of the misinformation spear for decades now, culminating in a president who not only influences but is influenced by their infotainment (consider this exhaustive and yet still incomplete list of Trump tweets inspired by Fox segments). And up until recently, brands — tremendous brands; classy, mainstream brands — got away with underwriting it all. Even many of the companies pulling their ads now aren’t pulling them from all of Fox News, only O’Reilly’s show.
As of Tuesday, here are some of the companies who were still advertising during the show (sources here and here), minus those whose ads appeared earlier this week but pledged to stop: Quincy Bioscience (makers of Prevagen), SCOTTeVEST, Angie’s List, Microsoft, Hulu, Trivago, National Car Rental, John Deere, Progressive.
Anyway, it’s a nice start. But why does brands’ culpability end with O’Reilly, and not the company that continues to employ him? The company that makes him a multimillionaire despite a 13-year-plus pattern of terrorizing their employees?
As O’Reilly himself said, when urging a boycott of Pepsi over an ad featuring Ludacris in 2002 (the same year Fox was paying off junior producer Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, the target of an O’Reilly screaming fit):
[To Pepsi spokeman Bart Casabona] What I’m arguing is that you’re legitimizing a man who is demeaning just about everybody, and is peddling antisocial behavior. You have no conscious qualms about that?
[…] Well, look, just because you [referring to guest Leon Wynter] think that it’s in and the bottle is off, doesn’t mean that I have to accept it as an American consumer. So I’m calling for all responsible Americans to fight back and punish Pepsi for using a man who degrades women, who encourages substance abuse, and does all the things that hurt particularly the poor in our society.
Look, I don’t know if boycotting brands that prop up Fox News and their sexual harassment payout conveyor belt will change Fox News for the better or just benefit worse brands. Maybe penis pills and fallout bunker manufacturers will just become the new Allstate and Suburu (Suburu! Can you believe the champion of robust, outdoorsy lesbianism was helping pay Bill O’Reilly’s salary?!).
But we’re through the looking glass now. We have a president who Fox & Friends helped create who now takes his policy cues from Fox & Friends. It behooves us to at least try to hold the companies who are helping to mentally poison us accountable for their enabling, just as we would companies who were poisoning us physically.