On Sirius XM’s Smerconish, Angelo Carusone Explains How Fox Kept O’Reilly Because They “Thought They Could Get Away With It”
Media Matters President Carusone: Advertisers Left Bill O'Reilly "Because Fox News Didn't Do Its Job"
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From the April 20 edition of Sirius XM's Smercornish:
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MICHAEL SMERCORNISH (HOST): I started my program today, and I dropped a Facebook video on this same issue as well, in which I noted, essentially, that you took him down, that Media Matters took him down, that pressure on the advertisers took him down, not abandonment by his own audience. And I find that to be significant. Why do you think that the audience hung with him until the end in the face of all of these reports?
ANGELO CARUSONE: I think there's two reasons for that. One is just a culture at Fox News as a whole. And I think we see this in play all the time when it comes to misinformation is that every other news outlet and publication is the enemy. And so any kind of acknowledgement that they're reporting facts or truth -- you just can't validate any outside reporting outside of Fox or small right-wing ecosystems. And I don't think anyone living in that kind of an echo chamber is a good thing. And so I think, on balance, that's just a core part of the Fox audience, and it's something that Fox News brags about. I was looking at their marketing materials for 2018, and they highlight the exact point that you just did, that their audience is deeply committed, and "stable" is the language that they use over and over and over again. So, one, I think that's a part of it. The second part is that I think that they overlap with the people who didn't really respond to what Donald Trump had said on those [Access Hollywood] videos. They see it. It's not that they deny it necessarily. It's just that it doesn't fit in their list of top priorities that they feel personally invested in. And I think that that's another problem, but I think it's those two things together.
SMERCORNISH: Isn't it also indicated of the siloed mentality, which, by the way, I argue exists on the left and the right. We are so Pavlovian -- not the two of us I hope -- but so many are so Pavlovian in their thinking. They just want to be reinforced with the viewpoints that they already hold. He was a master at that, and in this particular instance, therefore, they are willing to buy into the idea that the "failing New York Times," you know the "fake news" of The Times crafted this to try to bring down a cultural icon.
CARUSONE: That's totally right. I think that there is a binary that often times any ideological group bring to the table, that it has to be this or that and they see things that way. The other part, too is that -- and I think that this is just a result of the hyperpartisan world that we live in these days -- is that the only -- it's become the case that often the only way to look an issue is through a political lens, and that's not always the case. Some issues are just a human lens. Some issues are a decency lens. And when you only look at things through a political lens, it makes it a lot harder to see past the binary approach, and you end up retreating to your point, the echo chamber circles. But when you actually take it outside of, say -- because this isn't a political issue, this is not about what Bill O'Reilly stood for or was saying, but if you only see it that way, then naturally his audience is going to line up behind him in some respects, because they see it as a proxy attack on their ideology, And that's certainly a problem because it means that you don't end up having accountability, and, worse, you can actually create an environment and a system that rewards, at minimum, and enables this kind of completely inappropriate and destructive behavior.
SMERCORNISH: In the perfect world, I would have rather you make your campaign directed at the audience, instead of the advertisers, because at a certain point -- I'm going to use that "c" word -- it strikes me as being censorship, where the advertisers run for the hills because, frankly, they're afraid of putting Media Matters putting them on a press release with others who are standing with O'Reilly and they don't want to be there. It's a shame that, instead, the audience can't be convinced, "Hey, this guy's a hypocrite, this guy's not delivering in his personal life what he's saying on the air."
CARUSONE: I get that point, and there's a sensitivity when you give advertisers a certain degree of power and influence. I think that's the nature of all business associations. There is a free market component to this. It's not the case that he couldn't have done a public broadcast or something for free. It's just, are you going to be able to commercialize this? And I think when you commercialize something, you are susceptible to multiple market forces. I think the challenge is -- let's say that I take a side because I do believe advertisers were the appropriate target here, given the circumstances. But let's just take that to the side, and I wanted to adopt your approach. Unfortunately, in the reality that we live in, especially because of what we just discussed with the way that Fox News has essentially programmed its audience not to believe anything else and can't actually validate or acknowledge anything beyond it because then there's no way to persuade them.
And the other piece here, that I think is interesting though is that Bill O'Reilly himself had led advertiser campaigns, actually against publications that reported or would report on sexual harassment. He repeatedly on air -- and he used to keep a running list -- of advertisers on outlets that would report on sexual harassment against him. And I would just underlie this with one thing that I think is critical here, that Andrea Mackris, who was his producer, who had audio of him actually sexually harassing her -- there is acutally literally audio of Bill O'Reilly doing this, and he wasn't held accountable. So, I agree with you, and what I hope going forward honestly at the bottom line is that there's a sensitivity to it is that I think the leadership at places take into account the larger business context in which they're living in. Because they only reason they kept O'Reilly -- and they just resigned him so we all know this was on their mind -- is that that they knew or thought that they could get away with it. And I think if companies have a certain degree of baselines standards and values and then adhere to those best practices, then they are insulated from say the market forces that were at play here. Because advertisers left because Fox News didn't do its job. I think that's the most important aspect of all this.