ViacomCBS employees are asking the media company to drop a streaming channel carrying a new show by former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, the latest pushback against TV hosts and programming seen as insensitive to issues surrounding the death of George Floyd.
The conservative talk channel, called the First, is offered on Pluto TV, the ad-supported internet-based video service that ViacomCBS acquired last year for $340 million, The petition asks that the service remove the channel unless O'Reilly's program, which began running on the First on June 2, is dropped.
The petition, first reported by the Information website, says O’Reilly has “a well-documented history of making racist comments, denying the existence of systemic racism, undermining the efforts of Black protesters and insulting Black public figures.”
Numerous networks are being pressured to reassess their programming in response to simmering nationwide outrage and protests over the death of Floyd, the unarmed Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
ViacomCBS announced Tuesday that its Paramount cable network would no longer run the reality series "Cops," as pop culture portrayals of law enforcement are under close scrutiny. WarnerMedia has removed the 1939 classic film "Gone With The Wind" from its HBO Max streaming service until it can be presented with historical context on its depiction of Black people and slavery in the South.
O'Reilly was the most popular host in cable news and the tentpole of Fox News Channel's primetime lineup until a series of sexual harassment claims and settlements with female employees and contributors to the network surfaced in 2016. He was fired in April 2017 following an advertiser boycott of his program.
O'Reilly has been producing his own program, "No Spin News," in recent years and offers them for streaming on a subscription basis. The content from those programs is being reused on the First.
In a statement to The Times, ViacomCBS said it has no plans to drop the First, saying the company does not interfere with the programming decisions of the channels carried by Pluto TV.
"Pluto TV, by design, is a service that makes available a wide variety of channels programmed by third parties, and we think it is critical to represent a diversity of viewpoints, even those we disagree with," the company said.
The company added that it is in the process of reviewing its standards for content and channels available on Pluto TV.
Pluto TV carries more than 200 channels and its offerings include left-leaning talk programs such as "The Young Turks."
ViacomCBS has the power to discontinue any channels now that it owns the Pluto TV service. But the service operates independently; "Cops" continues to air on its own streaming channel despite being dropped by Paramount.
The First channel, which reaches about 25 million households, is also carried by Xumo, an ad-supported streaming service that Comcast Corp. is acquiring. Xumo is a Pluto competitor.