President Trump is defending Bill O’Reilly following a report that the Fox News host and his network reached settlements with five women who had accused him of harassment.
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump said Tuesday in an interview with the New York Times.
The president's defence comes as 15 advertisers have pulled commercials from O'Reilly's prime-time show.
The paper, which Trump has often described as “failing,” reported over the weekend that O’Reilly and the cable news network paid about $13 million to five women who had accused the O’Reilly Factor host of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump said.
And for the president, it’s familiar territory.
Trump, who declared April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, was accused by more than a dozen women of inappropriate touching or harassment in separate incidents dating to the early 1970s.
The accusers came forward after the second presidential debate, in which Trump said that his bragging about kissing and touching women without their consent — caught on a hot mic in an explosive 2005 video — was “locker-room talk,” and that he never actually groped anyone.
During the campaign, Trump said that their allegations were part of a media conspiracy spearheaded by the Hillary Clinton campaign — at one point suggesting that some of the women weren’t attractive enough for him — and threatened to sue them after the election. He never followed through on the threat.
O’Reilly, Trump told the Times, “should have taken it all the way.”
“I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” the president said.
Trump’s vocal support for O’Reilly comes as Fox News faces a growing list of advertisers boycotting his primetime show. According to CNN, more than 30 companies pulled their advertising from from The O’Reilly Factor since the Times report was published.
“This man has got to go,” Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March, wrote on Twitter. “Corporations should have a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. Women unite to force Fox to #DropOReilly!”
“Mr. O’Reilly’s case is part of a larger culture that condones the harassment and objectification of women at Fox News,” NOW president Terry O’Neill said in a statement Tuesday. “Men like Mr O’Reilly and Mr Ailes will never be stopped as long as their behavior is allowed to continue, even supported, by their employer.”
“We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about ‘The O’Reilly Factor,’” Paul Rittenberg, Fox News’ executive vice president of advertising, said in a statement to Yahoo News. “At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into our FNC programs.”
In a statement posted to his website, O’Reilly said he is vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want him “to pay them to avoid negative publicity”.
“In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline,” O’Reilly said.
“The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel.
"Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children. My primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.”
At a press conference on Monday, Lisa Bloom, an attorney representing one of the accusers featured in the Times report, scoffed at O’Reilly’s claim that he is a “target”.
“Bill O’Reilly, you call out whiners as delicate snowflakes,” Bloom said in a statement. “But you’re the one whining now.”