President Trump expressed support Wednesday for Bill O’Reilly as advertisers continued to flee over revelations that the Fox News star settled claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior made against him.
Trump defended his longtime friend, calling O’Reilly a “good person,” and said he should have fought the claims.
“Personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office with New York Times reporters. “Because you should have taken it all the way; I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
O’Reilly and Fox News paid a total of $13 million in settlements, even though the combative commentator believes the accusations were without merit and said he made the payments to spare his family from bad publicity. He said his high profile has made him a target for lawsuits.
O’Reilly is the top-rated personality on Fox News, the favored network of Trump’s supporters during the presidential campaign and the outlet where the president receives the most staunch support for his policies.
But major advertisers of “The O’Reilly Factor” are steering clear of the program in light of the report that first appeared in the New York Times and led the National Organization for Women and other advocacy groups to call for Fox News to fire O’Reilly.
As of Wednesday, 35 advertisers had distanced themselves from “The O’Reilly Factor,” most asking Fox News to move their commercials to other programs on the channel, which has the highest ratings in cable.
One early holdout, weight loss and diet company Jenny Craig, announced late Tuesday that it suspended its ad buys on O'Reilly’s program, joining such major brands as Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Lexus, Allstate Insurance and Coldwell Banker that have moved their commercials out of the show. More than 33 advertisers have left the program since Monday.
The Jenny Craig defection shows how dire the situation has become for Fox News. Marketers of weight-loss products are typically not sensitive about where their commercials run.
The commercial breaks running on “The O’Reilly Factor” have been filled by what is known in the TV industry as per inquiry ads. The payment sponsors are charged for those ads is typically based on how many viewers respond to a toll-free number.
Ads for only a handful of national brands appeared on Wednesday’s program, including Angie’s List, a website for reviews of local services; Takeda, a pharmaceutical company; and Stein Mart, the discount retail clothing chain.
Fox News appeared to have shortened the breaks between segments on “The O’Reilly Factor,” most likely as a way to minimize the use of the per inquiry ads, which do not always have the same high production values of spots for major brand advertisers.
Viewers are continuing to support O’Reilly. On Tuesday, his program averaged 3.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. As usual, it was the most watched cable news program of the night. The audience size was also in line with the program’s average in the first quarter of 2017 — an all time high.
April 6, 10:50 a.m.: This article was updated with information about the advertisers on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
April 5, 6:20 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the commercial breaks on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
This article was originally published April 5 at 3:30 p.m.