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Why Rush survived pressure on advertisers while O’Reilly didn’t
Apr 20th, 2017 at 6:18am
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1.  Conduct (O’Reilly) versus Words (Limbaugh)

Conduct was at issue with O’Reilly. Multiple alleged instances over a long period of time involving demands for sexual favors in return for career advancement (or threats to damage careers) simply is more abhorrent than saying mean things to someone who testified on Capitol Hill about a political issue. Though O’Reilly never was proven to have engaged in the conduct, the notion of multiple high figure settlements worked against any presumption of innocence, even though lawsuits are settled all the time even if the accusations are not true. That O’Reilly never publicly and forcefully defended himself created the impression that there was a there there.

2. Company Man (O’Reilly) versus The Company (Limbaugh)

When interviewed by AP early after the Times article about O’Reilly, I noted that O’Reilly was not bigger than the corporate interest:

“At some point, even the most popular TV personalities are expendable,” said Cornell’s Jacobson.

And so it was. O’Reilly was a big cog in the Fox News wheel, but he wasn’t the company. He was replaceable if what was at stake were greater corporate interests. Limbaugh, by contrast, was the company. There were no replacements for Limbaugh, he was the franchise. While Limbaugh wasn’t the radio network, few people focused on the radio network. They might have known the local radio station, but not the entity syndicating the show.

3. Centralized (O’Reilly) versus Dispersed Advertising (Limbaugh)

There was a relatively small stable of advertisers on O’Reilly, since it was just a one hour show on a single network. The advertiser base presented a relatively well defined target. With Limbaugh, by contrast, he was on hundreds of local radio stations, and a high percentage of the advertising was local. So the anti-Limbaugh forces had thousands of advertisers to deal with, from national brands to the local tire store. While Limbaugh’s national advertisers were targeted, they were less of a factor than the attacks on O’Reilly advertisers.

4. Non-Ideological (O’Reilly) versus Ideological Advertisers (Limbaugh)

O’Reilly was a television personality, Limbaugh was (and is) an ideological leader. That many of those national advertisers had ideological motivations with Limbaugh, but not O’Reilly, also helped. Corporate advertisers abhor controversy, particularly controversy involving hot button social issues. That worked more on O’Reilly’s national advertisers, who were non-ideological name brands. Users of Limbaugh’s advertisers also had ideological motivations, as was witnessed by the damage to Carbonite after it very publicly parted ways with Limbaugh.

5.  No Apology (O’Reilly) versus Apology (Limbaugh)

Limbaugh quickly apologized for the Fluke remarks. That matters. People make mistakes. It provided cover for advertisers. O’Reilly, by contrast, never publicly apologized, and indeed, his lawyers were tone deaf as the controversy escalated by claiming that left-wing groups were smearing O’Reilly.

Conclusions

Early on after the Times article I recognized that O’Reilly likely would not survive.  The allegations were too serious, and the pressure tactics on advertisers were designed to work in just such a situation.

The use of organized attacks on advertisers will continue, and will be used against conservative personalities who are not accused of anything near what O’Reilly was accused of. There’s blood in the water now.

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