Will O’Reilly survive advertiser defections?

Bill O'Reilly

NEW YORK — The rapid defection of advertisers this week from Bill O’Reilly’s show because of sexual harassment allegations raises what once seemed an unthinkable question: Can O’Reilly survive at Fox News Channel?

In just the few days since The New York Times reported that Fox News’ most popular prime-time host and his employer have paid $13 million to five women to settle allegations he mistreated them, some 20 advertisers have said they don’t want their products associated with O’Reilly’s show, drugmaker Eli Lily and Coldwell Banker among the latest. Others include Mercedes-Benz, Bayer and Allstate.

The companies appeared to be acting on their own, to the surprise of advocacy groups that usually orchestrate such campaigns.

“This is a surprisingly quick and strong exodus of advertisers,” said Jane Hall, a professor at American University’s School of Communication and a former Fox media analyst.

The key will be whether the advertisers that backed out will stand their ground. It’s not uncommon for a company to abandon a show at the first sign of controversy, then slip back a few weeks later when things quiet down.

Some of the companies that abandoned O’Reilly issued strongly worded statements that may be hard to explain if they return, said Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal watchdog Media Matters.