News & Politics

President Trump Defends Bill O'Reilly Against Sexual Harassment Allegations

In a Wednesday interview with The New York Times, President Donald Trump defended Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, whose show has lost 21 advertisers in the wake of a Times report detailing five sexual harassment lawsuits that O’Reilly settled for $13 million. In typical Trump fashion, the president attacked the media for covering the O’Reilly story rather than the Susan Rice bombshell, and praised O’Reilly as a good person who shouldn’t have settled the lawsuits.

“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump, who has appeared on O’Reilly’s show many times in the past, told the Times. The president insisted that the Fox host should not have settled the cases.

“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump declared. “Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

O’Reilly himself denied the allegations. “Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity,” the Fox host declared in a statement. He noted that “in my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.”

O’Reilly said he settled the cases privately “to spare my children” the public embarrassment of scandal. But $13 million is a hefty sum.

After the Times report came out Saturday, companies started pulling advertisements from “The O’Reilly Factor.” As of Wednesday morning, 21 companies had done so, The Hill reported.

Perhaps the most notable of these companies is Mitsubishi Motors, which spent about $2.1 million for ads on O’Reilly’s show in 2016, making it the show’s fifth-largest advertiser. “Mitsubishi Motors takes these allegations very seriously and we have decided that we will pull our advertising at the present time,” Alex Fedorak, a Mitsubishi spokesman, declared.

Nevertheless, Fox News reported that ad buys for O’Reilly’s show will be switched to run on different Fox News shows, keeping the revenue in-house. Twenty-First Century Fox also recently extended O’Reilly’s contract for about $18 million a year. Without the new contract, O’Reilly would have left at the end of 2017. But the deal also reportedly included more leverage over the host’s behavior.

The O’Reilly scandal follows a tumultuous year for Fox News. Famously, Roger Ailes resigned as CEO of the channel after sexual assault allegations, and famous news celebrities like Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren left the channel in the following months.

Trump himself is not without scandal, following the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tapes in which he memorably spoke about women throwing themselves at him and uttered his “grab them by the p*ssy” comment. Women have also accused him of sexual assault.

Finally, while Trump is right to emphasize the Susan Rice scandal — her effective confession that the Obama administration spied on the Republican nominee during the general election is huge news — that does not dismiss the O’Reilly scandal. The Times report is legitimate news, even if it’s significantly smaller news than Susan Rice.

Furthermore, by responding to the O’Reilly allegations, Trump is actually making them bigger news than they were before. If he wanted the story to go away, that’s the opposite of what he accomplished.

Even if O’Reilly is indeed innocent, Trump may not be doing him any favors by coming to his defense. But, as with so many other things, the president just couldn’t help himself.