LOS ANGELES — Bill O'Reilly's Fox News Channel presence in recent days has sparked social-media outrage and advertiser defections. If he goes off the air for a while, will calm return?
The popular Fox News Channel host raised that very question when he told viewers during the last few minutes of his "O'Reilly Factor" broadcast on Tuesday night that he would take a few days off as part of a pre-planned vacation even as controversy swirled around him. He explained that he often takes vacation around the start of spring. "We all need R&R. Put it to good use," he told viewers. He is expected to return to the air April 24.
"The arrangements, including airline and hotel reservations, for this vacation were made last October. The vacation involves a group of people, and the timing coincides with the period Mr. O'Reilly often takes off in and around his children's spring break," said Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for O'Reilly, in an emailed statement. "Other than the vacation guest hosts, The Factor broadcast will remain unchanged until Mr. O'Reilly's return post-vacation."
Executives at Fox News will no doubt see whether the move gives the network some breathing room. O'Reilly has been under scrutiny since April 1, when the New York Times detailed the host's settlements of harassment allegations with five women totaling at least $13 million. In a statement, O'Reilly denied wrongdoing and said his high profile in TV made him a "target for those who would harm me and my employer."
The fallout from the story has been swift, with calls being issued for O'Reilly to step down from the program he has hosted since 1996 and dozens of advertisers moving their commercials out of his show and into other Fox News programming. In the month prior to the Times report, "O'Reilly Factor" carried an average of 33 national ads totaling more than 14 minutes in an average broadcast, according to data from Kantar Media. On Friday, the show included just seven spots totaling 4 minutes and 40 seconds of air time. Fox News has been running the program in recent days with eight to 10 minutes of extra content.
Tuesday night's broadcast appeared to contain at least 10 national commercials from smaller sponsors and direct-response advertisers, including Rosland Capital, TheraBreath, the Gotham Steel Crisper Tray and Gravely mowers.
Keeping O'Reilly on the air and as a viable personality has been critical for Fox News Channel. The anchor regularly attracts more than 3 million viewers to his 8 p.m. program, setting up an audience that can be funneled throughout the cable-news outlet's primetime lineup. Since the election, O'Reilly's audience has soared. His "Factor" program attracted an average of more than 3.9 million viewers in the first quarter of 2017 — compared to an average of 3.3 million viewers for all of 2016.
The scandal hits as the network's parent, 21st Century Fox, has tried to move its cable-news network to new heights. Ratings have generally increased since the election. Fox News is an integral part of the overall company and generates a significant chunk of the parent's operating profit.
On Monday night's broadcast, O'Reilly had hinted he might take a break. "I like to take some time off around Easter," he said. "It's calming."