The cases for canning — or keeping — Bill O'Reilly
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Vroom, vroom! That's the sound of two big advertisers saying auf wiedersehen and annyeong — namely goodbye — to Bill O'Reilly.
Germany's Mercedes-Benz and South Korea's Hyundai are pulling ads amid (another) sexual harassment scandal at Fox that raises the question of whether the network will stick by its No. 1 star.
So far, Fox has paid about $13 million to settle sexual harassment complaints against O'Reilly, who makes $18 million a year, according to The New York Times. There are millions more in other harassment settlements and, now, a Fox News contributor's lawsuit against former Fox king Roger Ailes and Bill Shine, the network co-president.
The O'Reilly mess in part highlights the market-driven ways of television, which print journalists are often very ignorant about. For sure, if anything vaguely like this enveloped a reporter at a major newspaper, he'd be long gone.
But it's a different culture, with more immediate metrics to assess performance. That was underscored when I granted anonymity to several current and former high-ranking TV executives to lay out the pros and cons of keeping O'Reilly.
Call it a Talking Points Memo on TV personnel practices.
"It's not just about ratings. The calculus is more complex," said one current broadcast executive when I said that keeping him was all about ratings.
If Fox dumped O'Reilly, what might it cost?
There would be a fat exit deal for him; the likelihood of some lost ratings and advertisers; the possible risk of lousy performance by whatever program replaces Fox's top show; the possibility that some of the audience and advertisers would move to whatever media platform O'Reilly would surely decamp to; and a perception to some, perhaps those it sought to recruit, that Fox is spineless in supporting employees.
There's also the possible damage inspired by whatever the garrulous O’Reilly would say publicly about Fox, even if he signed one of those often legally porous no-blab provisions (what if he starts getting nasty and naming names?).
What are the possible benefits of canning him?
They'd seem pretty straightforward: a publicity boost among a lot of women, a far smaller number of men and a few advertisers like those two car companies; saving a lot of dough as you bid adieu to an idiosyncratic employee; and the chance to come up quickly or develop over time a replacement while the network's ratings are very strong (just check how well Megyn Kelly's replacement Tucker Carlson is doing).
What happens if you keep him?
Downside: an exit of some viewers and advertisers (perhaps not much beyond Mercedes and Hyundai packing up); lots of pressure from women both inside and outside Fox's headquarters; more settlements from others who may now claim he's victimized them; some decline of the Fox brand with certain advertisers and investors; turning O'Reilly into even more of a loose cannon; and assuring a tricky time at the company in dealing with others who may exhibit similarly gross behavior.
Upside: the ratings juggernaut proceeds apace; an image of being a Clint Eastwood-like tough guy with regard to criticism of your top talent; and the big-mouth star doesn't complain about you in the court of public opinion.
So, as a friend puts it, there's the math. Do it yourself. The Murdoch family sure is doing it. Fox News, for its part, has put out a statement noting that ads pulled from the O'Reilly Factor have appeared elsewhere on the network.
“We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about The O’Reilly Factor," the statement reads. "At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other FNC programs."
With at least Mercedes and Hyundai exiting, and more lawsuits to defend, one assumes they perceive the unseemly mess they've got. As Nell Minow, a corporate governance expert, puts it, "The indications that this is a persistent and pervasive problem, and that concerns raised by female employees are seen as an annoyance and not as a call to action, raise critical questions about the company’s commitment to understanding and complying with the law, not to mention their commitment to ensuring a safe and productive workplace or even basic decency."
A few things are impossible to debate, as a former executive put it for this special edition of Talking Points Memo: "It's clear Fox News management and its HR (Human Resources) staff enabled atrocious behavior for many years."
As for O'Reilly's claim that no one complained to HR about him, and thus he's like an innocent babe, that's "an absurd defense."
He didn't mention the matter last night. But, for sure, he's now a suitable topic for another of his regular segments, Unresolved Problems.
Mayer's Yahoo era nearly over
"According to sources, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will not be continuing with the new company that was announced today prematurely in a tweet by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong. The new Verizon-owned entity is called Oath and is the combination of AOL and Yahoo." (Recode)
No surprise, it will be run Armstrong who, says acerbic reporter Kara Swisher, "is now apparently Oath-in-Chief."
Business Insider had the scoop on the new name. But Swisher offers "a free Recode T-shirt for anyone who tweets the best joke about that new brand to me in the next 24 hours with the hashtag #MockTheOath. (No, Tim Armstrong, you cannot play.)"
Frustrating finale for March Madness
The CBS announcers last night only hinted vaguely at the sub-par officiating during last night's North Carolina victory over Gonzaga. They talked about how a lot of foul calls slowed down the game.
It took a tweet from a former star sportswriter in Los Angeles to nail the reality.
"This is the worst officiated championship game in #NCAAFinals history. The only salvation is it is equal opportunity incompetence," wrote David Israel, onetime reporter for the Chicago Tribune before splitting for Hollywood.
Tucker Carlson, profiled
There's a good and sympathetic profile in The New Yorker, where Carlson takes the writer to the same restaurant he took another writer for a recent Atlantic profile. He comes off as a fairly appealing mixture of effete, populist and sardonic. It includes this from Andrew Ferguson, an editor at The Weekly Standard and himself a droll figure who "remembers once marveling at Carlson’s ability to turn out well-wrought magazine prose, but he is not a fan of the show."
“'He’s on a network that I think is kind of disreputable, and I think he’s better than that,' Ferguson says. 'To me, it’s just cringe-making. You get some poor little columnist from the Daily Oregonian (sic) who said Trump was Hitler, and you beat the shit out of him for 10 minutes.”
Writer Kelefa Sanneh concludes, "In conversation, Carlson often returns to an unusual disclaimer: 'I’m not a deeply moral guy.' Maybe this is his way of playing the rogue. Maybe this is a debater’s ploy — a way of insisting that some principles are so clear that even he can see them. But with Carlson it is wise to consider another possibility: Maybe he means it. And maybe he is right."
Decline in local reporting
Three decades ago, Paul Moses covered cops in Queens County, New York for Newsday and now returns to check out New York area reporting for the Urban Reporting Program of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
"I found that core news-making institutions such as police headquarters, City Hall, and courts in Manhattan and Brooklyn are still covered, as are key beats such as education and transportation. But there is a kind of journalistic version of climate change best seen on the periphery, much as global warming’s impact is most visible in distant places like the Arctic and the South Seas."
"The remaining New York City-based daily newspapers — three of the country’s 10 biggest — have long since receded from covering the Long Island suburbs to the east and media-parched New Jersey to the west, and now their retreat is visible within the city itself, in Queens. It’s symptomatic of a larger shrinkage in newspapers’ local coverage across the country." (The Daily Beast)
Good choice, bad choice at Georgetown
Georgetown University had the nerve to can the coach of its basketball team, himself the son of a legendary Georgetown coach, John Thompson. But is hiring alum and former NBA star Patrick Ewing, a former player for the legend, a good idea?
"It took Georgetown just a few weeks to figure out which idiot will replace John Thompson III as the 'Totally Real Head Coach That Isn’t Just a Puppet of Big John' of the Hoyas: 'A Taller and Totally Real Head Coach That Isn’t Just a Puppet of Big John.'"
The "Great War" revisited
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I, which makes The Washington Post smart for "The U.S. joined the ‘Great War’ 100 years ago. America and warfare were never the same."
And, "Tens of thousands from their generation would perish on the battlefield — 25,000 in one six-week period alone — and many thousands more would die of disease. Others came home physically or emotionally broken."
Anther bottom line: "Along with staggering death tolls, it generated memorable literature, geopolitical upheaval, hope, disillusion, Hitler, the Russian Revolution and the seeds of World War II."(The Washington Post)
Chimp steals camera
It's obviously not your dad's New York Times anymore, with even the tech press impressed: "The New York Times is offering a cute video captured at a Chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya showing one of the chimps stealing a 360-degree camera for a closer look." (Upload)
"It is a pretty fantastic nature clip that also highlights some of the difficulties of 360-degree video. Despite being filmed in a format explicitly designed for viewing in VR, I wouldn’t want to see more than the first few seconds in an actual headset because of the way the chimps jostled around the view. That said, the clip likely wouldn’t have as much meaning if it was filmed with a traditional camera that only captured part of the action."
And here it is.
The limits of Silicon Valley shareholder democracy
"Tech Founders Want IPO Riches Without Those Pesky Shareholders — In a growing number of stock offerings, insiders wind up with far more votes than shares; Snap’s new shareholders get no say." (The Wall Street Journal)
The new regulatory climate
"The Federal Communications Commission has voted to reverse a stringent merger requirement on Charter Communications Inc. that would have compelled the company to build out internet service to one million households already being served by a competitor." (The Wall Street Journal)
Why important? "The vote overturns one of the toughest conditions that the FCC, under the Obama administration, had imposed on Charter’s roughly $60 billion deal to buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks last year."
Repression in Hungary
"The right-wing authoritarian in charge in Hungary, which has already prompted the demise of the leading opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag, is now going after a big university by cynically exploiting the fact that's it's technically registered in New York State."
Proposed legislation would "set new requirements for foreign universities, including that they must have a campus in their home country." The Central European University does not. But 10,000 just protested in Budapest, including lots of students and academics from other universities. (BBC) Going after the press and higher education is of a piece.
New chief at White House Correspondents’ Association
Good decision: The association has hired Steve Thomma, a fine reporter and former White House correspondent and politics-government editor at the McClatchy bureau, to replace retiring Julia Whiston as executive director.
Now they just have to find a comic for its April 29 annual dinner, the one Trump won't come to. James Corden said thanks but no thanks. But how 'bout this from reader Rudy Franchi, a memorabilia appraiser, revives an old saw about Richard Nixon in retirement: Get Barack Obama. "He's tanned, rested and ready, and he might tip Trump over the edge of bonkers."
Headline of day
"Studies: New Source For Therapy For PTSD And Addiction Is Mind-Rotting Video Games" (Techdirt)
Trump's easy pickings
ProPublica discloses, "Trump can draw money from his more than 400 businesses, at any time, without disclosing it."
The previously unreported changes to a trust document, signed on Feb. 10, stipulate that it “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request” or whenever his son and longtime attorney “deem appropriate.” That can include everything from profits to the underlying assets, such as the businesses themselves.
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" was in mainstream-bashing, high conspiracy mode with "Unmasked unmasked," namely that former Obama Trump national security official Susan Rice was the person who requested the names of Trump campaign officials caught in surveillance of foreigners. But there's no evidence she leaked anything.
Steve Doocy informed that neither ABC nor NBC brought this pseudo-revelation up last night, while CBS News touched on it for 45 seconds. He showed a tweet from CNN's Jim Sciutto pouring cold water on the matter (which Sciutto did again on CNN this morning), while Paul Waldman at The Washington Post declared this was a tempest in a teapot via, "Anatomy of a fake scandal, ginned up by right-wing media and Trump."
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" was big on The Washington Post disclosure that a Trump donor met Putin ally in secret nine days before the inauguration in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. The donor calls this a "complete fabrication," while Joe Scarborough called him a liar. Oh, the donor, who heads a notorious security firm, is brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
And, no surprise, CNN's "New Day" had lot of other topics beyond Neil Gorsuch and the Senate Republicans surely using the "nuclear option" to get him through. Indeed, there was "Bill O'Reilly Silent Amid News Sexual Harassment Claims," with New York Times reporter Emily Steel and Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison detailing the wreckage so far, as well as the failed Ailes-driven spinning by Fox of last summer as it claimed it would be thoroughly transparent about such company problems.
The dogmatism of Mike Pence
It's a story broken neither by political nor food writers.
"Expressing concerns about the propriety of being left alone with a syrup container of the opposite sex, Vice President Mike Pence reportedly asked his waiter Thursday to remove Mrs. Butterworth from the table until his wife arrived to join him at a local diner."
No, it was, typically, The Onion.
This story was updated on Wednesday to include a statement from Fox News.