Bill O’Reilly and the Market-Driven Approach to Halting Sexual Harassment

Note: Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News on 4/19/17 after an advertiser revolt stemming from pubilcity surrounding his settlement of five sexual harassment lawsuits. “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, said in a statement. The departure of O’Reilly, who was Fox’s biggest money-maker, is yet another example of the devastating risk that employers take when they tolerate an abusive workplace.  More than 50 advertisers withdrew from his prime-time show, and 21st Century Fox asked a law firm to investigate a complaint from a woman who said O’Reilly dropped efforts to make her a contributor in 2013 after she turned down his invitation to visit his hotel room

In one sense,  Bill OReilly and Fox News work for the corporations that buy commercial time on”The O’Reilly Factor.” There would be no O’Reilly Factor without commercial advertising.

It is significant that  more than 20 corporate advertisers withdrew their advertising dollars from The O’Reilly Factor after the New York Times reported that Fox and O’Reilly paid $13 million to five women to settle allegations of sexual harassment.  This is evidence of a simple but effective strategy to address human rights abuses in the workplace.  Corporations promise to only purchase products from employers that maintain highly ethical, humane standards in the workplace.

This  “market driven model”  has been surprisingly successful in other contexts.

For example, beginning in 2011, members of the Fair Food Standards Council,  including McDonald’s and Walmart, pledged to only buy tomatoes from farm growers who implement a human rights-based code of conduct that is monitored and enforced by the Council.  Judge Laura Safer Espinoza a retired New York State Supreme Court justice who is director of the Council, told the EEOC in 2015 that the market-driven model had  in “four short years” ended decades of impunity for perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual violence Florida’s tomato growing industry.

It probably won’t take four years to change the environment at Fox News. Former CEO Roger Ailes was ousted from his job last summer amid lawsuits and allegations of sexual harassment and now O’Reilly is on the hot seat.  Fox would be less than shrewd if it was not addressing what appears to be a toxic top-down culture at Fox.

According to CNN, the following companies have withdrawn their commercial advertising dollars from The O’Reilly Factor: Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, BMW of North America, Mitsubishi Motors, Lexus, Constant Contact, Bayer, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, Orkin, Untuckit, Allstate, Esurance, T. Rowe Price, , Sanofi, Credit Karma, Wayfair, TrueCar, the Society for Human Resource Management and The Wonderful Company. They all pulled ads from the O’Reilly Factor, though most of their advertising dollars were moved to other programs on the network.  British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc said it was temporarily suspending its advertising on the Fox channel.

O’Reilly may survive because”The O’Reilly Factor” is Fox News’ most watched program, averaging four million viewers.  But if more corporations follow the example of GlaxoSmithKline and withdraw their advertising dollars altogether from Fox in reaction to the station’s sexual harassment problem,  O’Reilly may find himiself out of a job.