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Sponsors pull back from FOX News show over sexual harassment scandal

April 4, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
There's new fallout over sexual harassment allegations at FOX News. Several sponsors on Tuesday pulled ads after a New York Times investigation found that the network had paid $13 million to settle lawsuits against Bill O'Reilly for alleged inappropriate behavior. Judy Woodruff talks to Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times and Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: New fallout today over allegations of sexual harassment at FOX News Channel.

At least nine companies have pulled their ads from the FOX News program “The O’Reilly Factor” after an investigation by The New York Times revealed five settled lawsuits against its host, Bill O’Reilly, for alleged inappropriate behavior.

Last year, a related scandal led to the ouster of then-FOX News chairman Roger Ailes.

To help us catch up on all this, I am joined by Michael Schmidt, who reported on this for The New York Times. And Noreen Farrell, she’s the executive director of the civil rights organization Equal Rights Advocates.

And we welcome both of you to the NewsHour.

And, Michael Schmidt, to you first.

What is the latest on the number of advertisers who are saying they’re pulling out?

MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, The New York Times: Well, what happened yesterday is that Mercedes was the first to go. They said that they’re pulling.

And then since, we’re up to the number about 14. It seems like we’re adding them at about one an hour. FOX itself just put out a statement saying it’s trying to assuage the concerns of its advertisers and that the ads have been moved to other shows on the network.

They haven’t said anything else since our story came out on Saturday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are the advertisers saying? Are they explaining why they’re doing this?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: They’re not really explaining. Some are saying, look, women’s issues are obviously very important to us, and we need to send this message to our clients, to our customers, and to our employees.

But, besides that, they don’t really want to wade into it. For Mercedes, it was sort of a way of getting attention on this issue. They certainly have been praised a lot by groups that are calling for Mr. O’Reilly’s ouster.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And FOX News Channel, you’re saying, in large part has just not addressed this?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Correct.

For our story, we sent them dozens and dozens of questions. And they gave us a statement, which we included in it, in which they said they had addressed these issues with Mr. O’Reilly. They didn’t go any further than that. They didn’t answer whether he’s been disciplined.

And since then, the only thing they have said was this statement today. They have also sent out an e-mail to their staff about how to report in different types of workplace issues that they may have, sort of a reminder to the folks about what to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, based on — Michael Schmidt, based on your reporting, any reporting you have been able to do inside FOX, the FOX News organization, can you tell what the reaction is inside?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, we have talked to some folks in the newsroom who say that people are pretty worked up about this. There’s cuts at FOX News currently going on, and they want to know why…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean job cuts?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Job cuts going on right now.

And they want to know why the money is going to pay these women. It’s millions and millions of dollars that have gone out the door, and people there are losing their jobs.

They’re also disheartened by the fact that this is another issue for the network. As you remember, last summer, Roger Ailes was sued by one of the hosts, and it was a real scandal at the network. And they had to get rid of Mr. Ailes.

And while they thought they had put that behind them, there was an internal investigation, the company pledged to clean itself up, once again, they’re now facing these issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Noreen Farrell, I’m going to turn to you now.

How much — how common is the kind of thing we’re hearing and these accusations from these women?

NOREEN FARRELL, Executive Director, Equal Rights Advocates: You know, unfortunately, it’s incredibly common.

I think that sexual harassment very much remains the price of a paycheck for women across the country in hundreds of industries, no matter if they’re a low-wage worker or a high-wage worker, which we have seen a lot of news about.

And I think that this — this reporting really shows the pattern, not just of multiple complaints within a company, but how often one person can receive many complaints and remain in the embrace of a company, like Mr. O’Reilly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, based on The New York Times’ reporting, none of these women who made these charges against — legally raised these charges against Bill O’Reilly have — and then the cases were settled — have gone on to work in television news again.

In other words, it has had an impact on their livelihood. Is that something you typically see? What do you see in that regard?

NOREEN FARRELL: You know, I think that when people talk about sexual harassment, they minimize it to a particular occurrence or one day or a bad act.

But what we have seen from the fact that these women are not in TV news is that it can impact the entire trajectory of somebody’s career, which has an incredibly chilling effect on more women stepping forward.

And so, from our perspective, the fact that these women are not — no longer in the industry is as problematic as the fact that they were harassed in the first place, because clearly retaliation and blacklisting is in play, not just in news, but in many industries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the other question, I think, that of course is on all of our minds, Noreen Farrell, is, what advice is there for women at whatever stage of their career?

If they encounter, if a woman encounters sexual harassment — or a man, for that matter — what is the right recourse, because for these women, the few that we know about, the outcome wasn’t good? I mean, they lost their job.

NOREEN FARRELL: I think that especially The New York Times’ article revealed the power of the collective, because, if you’re alone, you feel like you’re an isolated incident.

But if you talk about what’s happening to you, not just to human resources departments, which sometimes don’t escalate the problem as they should, as we saw in Uber, for example, but if you also talk to you colleagues, if you document what’s happening, if you seek legal help from organizations like Equal Rights Advocates to help you assess your claims and whether or not you should go forward, these are all things that women should do at any stage of their career, but most especially as they enter the workplace and are trying to navigate, which is — sometimes are often hostile workplaces.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I should say — I said they lose their jobs, but, of course, they have experienced the trauma of what they have gone through.

Michael Schmidt, I want to come back to you.

What is the FOX policy toward women or men who raise their hand and say, I have been sexually harassed, something has happened to me?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, what FOX would say is that now, if there are issues, we would want to know about them. We want to investigate them, and we want to protect those that come forward to make these accusations.

The problem is, is that FOX has a history of not doing that. So women don’t feel secure coming forward to do that, and they don’t — and they look at a story like ours, and they see what’s happened to other folks, and they say, I don’t want to come forward and make a complaint. This is too risky of a thing for me to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Noreen Farrell, in terms of companies, employers having policies to address sexual harassment, how out in the open is that typically when somebody goes to work at someplace? Is that the kind of question people should be asking?

NOREEN FARRELL: Well, you know what happens with these policies. They get thrown in a drawer and they gather dust.

And I think that if you have — all the policies in the world are great if they’re on paper, but the problem is, when you’re giving your high performers, when you’re giving the leaders of your company a free pass again and again in a very public way, the message is, it doesn’t really matter what our policies say. Sexual harassment is tolerated in this workplace.

And that’s really damaging to the culture of a workplace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying that’s the message that’s being sent here?

NOREEN FARRELL: Without a doubt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Schmidt, New York Times, Noreen Farrell, we thank you very much.

NOREEN FARRELL: Thank you.

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