When Fox News failed to hold former anchor Bill O’ Reilly accountable for his prejudicial banter on the network, Color Of Change (COC), a racial justice advocacy group, decided to organize against O’Reilly and his plaftform.
The organization, which dedicates itself to issues of racial inequality, took issue with O’Reilly’s ongoing race-baiting, particularly, a 2006 broadcast in which he claimed he was attacked during the LA riots.
When O’Reilly’s story about the riots was reputed by his several of his former colleagues in 2015, COC began an advertising boycott that March urging companies to pull ads airing during “The O’Reilly Factor.” The campaign, which fluctuated in momentum throughout its first two years, gained traction last month after O’Reilly inappropriately remarked that Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ hair looked like a wig that the late James Brown would sport.
But months prior to O’Reilly’s comments on Waters, a wave of allegations that he sexually harassed former Fox employees began to make headlines. After these allegations were made public, a former black Fox employee came forward alleging that O’Reilly would “grunt” at her “like a wild boar” and addressed her as “hot chocolate.”
With the added momentum, the campaign became even more effective in persuading companies to pull their advertisements from the program. Just two weeks ago, Nutrisystem told COC that they had no plans to buy ad time during “The O’Reilly Factor” after corresponding with the organization.
The organization’s executive director Rashad Robinson told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that O’Reilly’s belittlement of Waters and the allegations of sexual harassment “signified a new moment” for the campaign.
“In many ways, it was just one more example of the dehumanizing way that he treats women and black people,” Robinson told HuffPost. “You have a person who does these types of things off-air and then goes on-air and talks about people who don’t work.”
Despite the first instance of O’Reilly’s alleged sexual predation being bought to the company’s attention in 2002, he remained on-air. But O’Reilly’s knack for prejudicial rhetoric wasn’t an off-air matter.
As COC members worked on behalf of issues of racial injustice across the country, Robinson said they couldn’t ignore O’Reilly’s problematic nature because of the sheer ubiquity of Fox programming.
“The thing about Fox News is it’s such a powerful and visible platform,” he said. “It’s not just something that people have to sort of seek out, but it’s on when you’re in the airport in some places, it’s on at the gym...”
Which, Robinson said, is exactly why O’Reilly’s rhetoric was so dangerous.
“What people see and hear in the media has a tremendous effect on what they do every day as well as what’s accessible and allowed in the media space sends a powerful message about the rules of our society,” Robinson continued.
Robinson said that before mobilizing against corporations, they first reach out to company executives through phone and email to urge that they act with accountability. When this effort failed with Fox, they realized they’d have to force the Murdoch family (who founded Fox) to make a choice between O’Reilly and the company’s profits.
“It says a lot about Fox that they end up on the wrong side of this and [we] sort of have to pay special attention [to them] because unfortunately they are engaged in a set of practice and policies at the time that put people in harm’s way,” Robinson said.
But this isn’t the first time Fox placed themselves on COC’s radar. Not only did they drive “Cops” ― another Fox program ― off the air after 25 years, the organization also played a key role in getting Glenn Beck’s program pushed out of the station. After Beck claimed Barack Obama had a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” COC launched an advertising boycott.
While the boycotts played a crucial role in both Beck and O’Reilly’s campaigns, the latter utilized a number of other unique methods as well.
COC created a petition that received 340,000 signatures over the course of the campaign and launched a 1-800 hotline to encourage other women who’ve experienced sexual harassment at Fox to come forward. They also created geo-targeted geared towards current and prospective Fox employees to ensure they were knowledgeable of the network’s disreputable culture.
But Robinson said COC’s initiatives to remove O’Reilly from the station isn’t something he solely credits the organization with. The org’s members made calls and wrote letters to advertisers and gave small-dollar donations to fund the geo-targeted ads. Partner organizations like the women’s rights group UltraViolet also played a significant role in the push for O’Reilly’s departure. On Tuesday, sexual assault survivors gathered for protests at New York’s Fox News headquarters, demanding O’Reilly be fired.
But Robinson knows COC’s work with Fox probably isn’t done yet.
“To have these types of wins that force a set of behaviors off the table...that’s important,” he said. “But in many ways, it was just a speck. There is more work that has to be done and we don’t think this fully changes the culture at Fox.”