Mark Alexander / April 20, 2017

No Spin: Killing Bill O’Reilly

This episode publicly exposes the power and influence that advertisers have in regard to who is delivering the news.

After 21 years at Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, who entered the national media market as an infotainer with CBS’s tabloid-gossip nightly, “Inside Edition,” is out. According to Fox, “After a thorough and careful review of the [sexual harassment] allegations, the company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Bill O'Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.” In other words, after paying more than $13 million to hush sexual harassment suits in recent years, once the complaints became public, advertisers pressured Fox to can O'Reilly. Perhaps O'Reilly would have done well to follow the “Mike Pence Rule” for interacting with female colleagues, instead of the model set by Fox’s former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.

Though we have criticized O'Reilly in the past, particularly over his libelous “biography” of Ronald Reagan, he was an effective promoter of some conservative ideas, mostly by over-talking his guest victims. That effectiveness, and the fact O'Reilly had the highest rated talk show which elevated Fox News ratings over the last decade, is precisely why The New York Times exposed his alleged transgressions.

Regardless of what you think about O'Reilly, the real story here is the calculation by the Times that exposing O'Reilly would result in advertisers boycotting the show — and the network. Thus, Fox News, which is first and foremost devoted to maintaining market share (a.k.a. advertising revenues), had to fold its hand. Fox already has to blast now-ubiquitous “Fox News Alert” banners, ad nauseum, in order to keep its viewers interested through their 24/7 news cycle. As that tactic wears thin, so will ad revenue, and the network could not afford to keep O'Reilly on.

While this episode publicly exposes the power and influence that advertisers have in regard to who is delivering the news, the question every consumer of news from any commercial outlet should ask is this: How often do editors make decisions about what news to cover, and how, based on their concern for how advertisers will respond? The answer: Every day, all day.

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