O'Reilly sexual harassment claims scare off advertisers from his Fox News show

Thomas URBAIN
 

Major advertisers have begun cancelling spots on America's most-watched cable news show on conservative network Fox News following reports of sexual harassment involving its star host Bill O'Reilly.

US insurer Allstate and French pharmaceutical maker Sanofi (LSE: 0O59.L - news) became the latest to exit on Tuesday, following the lead of a handful of auto brands dropping ads for "The "O'Reilly Factor" news show.

Allstate spokesman Justin Herndon said, "Inclusivity and support for women are important Allstate values. We are concerned about the issues surrounding the program and we have suspended our advertising."

A Sanofi statement said the group had "reallocated" its ads.

"The controversy around The O'Reilly Factor program and allegations made against Bill O'Reilly are matters that we take seriously and will continue to monitor," Sanofi said.

The moves came after a New York Times report saying the cable news giant and O'Reilly had paid five women a total of $13 million in the cases spanning 15 years, in exchange for their silence and agreeing not to pursue litigation against Fox News, a favorite among conservatives.

While two of the cases were previously known, the Times said it had unearthed three more cases of harassment, two of a sexual nature and one alleging verbally abusive behavior by O'Reilly.

Companies previously dropping advertising included BMW North America, Mercedes (Xetra: 710000 - news) -Benz and Hyundai, according to statements to AFP.

"While it's hard to tell what the facts are, the allegations are disturbing," Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Donna Boland said.

"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."

- Cash generator -

"The O'Reilly Factor" is the most widely viewed US cable news show with an average of 3.98 million viewers in early 2017, according to Adweek.

From January 2015 to September 2016, the program pulled in some $297 million in ad revenues, according to the research firm Kantar Media.

A BMW (EUREX: BMWE.EX - news) spokesman said the German auto giant was suspending ads for the program "in light of the recent New York Times investigation."

Hyundai said it had no current ads on the program but had scheduled some.

The South Korean firm is "reallocating them (to other Fox programs) due to the recent and disturbing allegations," according to a statement to AFP.

"As a company we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity," Hyundai said.

"We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions."

A Toyota spokeswoman said Lexus ads appearing on the O'Reilly Factor were "part of a wide ranging media package, with ads appearing on a variety of cable television programs" and that the Japanese auto giant would "monitor the situation."

"We take our duties as a responsible advertiser seriously, and seek to partner with organizations who share our company culture and philosophy of respect for all people," the statement said.

Media reports said as many as 12 brands had decided to drop ads on the show as of Tuesday.

The reports on O'Reilly came as Fox News and its ousted chief Roger Ailes were hit Monday with a fresh sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female contributor who says she was denied a job after refusing the chairman's advances.

The lawsuit by Julie Roginsky, a political strategist who was a contributing commentator, came eight months after Ailes, a confidant of the cable network's founder Rupert Murdoch, was forced out over an earlier harassment suit.

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