In November, television host and political commentator Bill O’Reilly released his children’s etiquette book, Give Please a Chance. Six months later, the New York Times reported sexual harassment claims against O’Reilly including “verbal abuse, lewd comments, and unwanted advances.” Let’s just say O’Reilly should’ve read his etiquette book a lil’ more carefully.
Who is Bill O’Reilly?
You’ve probably heard of his Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor.” Bill O’Reilly is a glorified bully, and he has been that way since his show first aired in 1996. The two-decade-long survival of this show demonstrates O’Reilly’s strong influence among factions of Conservatives; however, he is more well-known for making outrageously racist, sexist comments. To get a sense of how offensive this guy is, he said that black people are “ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads.” It doesn’t stop there.
In March, O’Reilly spewed racist comments at U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, saying that he couldn’t pay attention to her because he was distracted by her “James Brown wig.” In 2016, O’Reilly criticized Democrats for “wanting to take power away from the white establishment.” He even had the nerve to criticize Michelle Obama’s flawless DNC speech. O’Reilly retaliated against Obama’s slavery condemnation, affirming that slaves who built the white house were “well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.”
What were the accusations against O’Reilly?
So, O’Reilly isn’t exactly the definition of admirable. That doesn’t mean the American public wasn’t shocked and frightened to learn that O’Reilly paid five of his female employees $13 million to prevent them from making sexual harassment claims against him. O’Reilly’s victims said that before he started sexually harassing them, they “considered [him] to be a good friend and a person from whom [they] sought career guidance.” Television personality and “The O’Reilly Factor” guest, Wendy Walsh, spoke to the New York Times about her experience after she rejected O’Reilly’s sexual advances:
“He became hostile, telling her that she could forget any career advice he had given her and that she was on her own. He also told her that her black leather purse was ugly.”
It is evident that O’Reilly uses his professional power to manipulate women. Soon after the incident, Walsh was fired from “The O’Reilly Factor.” This behavior is a common yet disconcerting example of workplace harassment, a crime that is officially reported 15,000 times per year. These statistics are astonishing.
How did O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox respond?
In O’Reilly’s statement, he labeled his victims as “individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity.” Deny guilt? Check. Blame victim? Check. This is sounding eerily familiar. Let’s congratulate O’Reilly on his impressive ability to sound exactly like Donald Trump. What a time to be alive.
Legitimacy of a claim cannot be dismissed when a victim fails to report harassment immediately
Soon after the allegations surfaced, 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, issued a statement that “no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly.”
At first glance, this statement might seem harmless. But when 21st Century Fox exhibits doubt, some people will start to think “hmm…maybe he didn’t do it.” The statement also alludes to O’Reilly’s innocence based on the lack of immediate responses from victims. The tendency to doubt and blame victims is the precise fear that prevents victims from reporting harassment.
The legitimacy of a claim cannot be dismissed if a victim fails to report sexual assault immediately; oftentimes, he or she will be in a state of great distress and vulnerability following harassment. As a collective society, it is unreasonable and unsympathetic to require a victim to instantaneously share a highly personal account.
The discourse that 21st Century Fox perpetuated in their statement often leads the American public to doubt sexual assault claims. The same rhetoric also led the American public to ignore harassment accusations against Donald Trump and to elect him as our President.
Within this mess, there does exist a fragment of hope for O’Reilly’s victims and for the American public.
21st Century Fox finally comes to its senses
After the accusations, O’Reilly lost more than half of his advertisers in one week. This was a huge blow to “The O’Reilly Factor” and 21st Century Fox. As of Wednesday, nearly three weeks after the allegations surfaced, Bill O’Reilly has been forced out of his position as a prime-time host at Fox News. Despite the problematic delay of this decision, it will send an urgent message to men in power that workplace harassment leads to consequence.
It is natural to wonder whether 21st Century Fox’s decision was driven by disapproval of O’Reilly’s actions or economical interests. The show’s decline in advertisers would have been a disaster for the company, so O’Reilly’s dismissal is no surprise. Nonetheless, it is unacceptable that 21st Century Fox, a company of great prestige and influence, stood by O’Reilly’s side for so long.
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Cover image via Slate.