What surreal and wonderful times we live in. The reality of the endlessly roiling U.S. political arena transcends any fictional satire that television might offer. You couldn’t make up this stuff.
Certainly, nobody ever expected this bland statement from 21st Century Fox: “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”
And with that, the biggest right-wing blowhard in the U.S. media, the most influential of barking, bullying cable-news hosts, the man who was a money-making machine for Fox News, is out. Done and disgraced. A giant is toppled by his own ego and outrageous behaviour.
Me, I never expected it. I have history with O’Reilly. There was a battle and I won, but I never imagined that O’Reilly would be simply dumped by Fox News.
Although O’Reilly was with Fox News for 20 years, the end was swift. On April 1, The New York Times reported Fox and O’Reilly had paid five women a total of $13-million (U.S.) to settle sexual harassment claims. Those women either worked for O’Reilly directly or were frequent guests on his program. And soon after The Times story, others came forward with tales of O’Reilly persistently making lewd remarks to them.
Of course, O’Reilly tried to bluster his way out of the crisis. He said he had only settled with the accusers to spare his family from public controversy about him. He claimed, as he always did, that there was a left-wing conspiracy against him. Women’s groups, already emboldened by the size and heft of marches to protest President Donald Trump’s sexist attitude and statements, called on advertisers to boycott The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. And many advertisers heeded them. Companies including BMW, Allstate Corp, and T. Rowe Price, pulled their advertising.
The only question that remains to be answered is this: Did 21st Century Fox bosses, including executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, dump O’Reilly because the advertisers were fleeing or because they knew the company couldn’t stand the heat from accusations of harbouring an accused sexual predator?
The answer is likely the latter, since O’Reilly’s exit follows that of former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who was obliged to resign last July after being accused of sexual misconduct by several women. For all the money that The O’Reilly Factor brought in, an estimated $446-million a year, the stain of being tainted as a cesspool of macho sexual misconduct was too much for the Fox conglomerate.
Besides, that stain might spread. The company is waiting for a ruling in Britain on its bid, worth nearly $20-billion, for full control of all Sky services and operations. If that bid became subject to public hearings, there could be very, very awkward questions for the company about the culture of sexual harassment in its American news properties.
There is a tart irony in the circumstances that obliged Fox News to let O’Reilly go in disgrace. Fox News and O’Reilly helped Donald Trump get elected and, mostly, the channel is a mouthpiece for Trump. But the election of Trump, even with all his baggage of sexist comments, stoked the fire that fuelled protests against O’Reilly and Fox News.
In its coverage of O’Reilly’s ouster on Wednesday, Breitbart News, that vociferous pro-Trump voice, used the headline, “Activist Left Gets Monster Scalp.” That’s partly true – for many Americans who are sickened by the election of Trump, a war against Fox News is a war against Trump by proxy. But the point Breitbart misses is this: Sexual harassment in the workplace is not about left or right; it is simply unacceptable.
O’Reilly’s power, at its height, was formidable. He could unleash his viewers on others like a general ordering a massive military assault.
In 2004, I wrote a column mocking Fox News as it was due to arrive on Canadian cable. I said the channel was unintentionally hilarious. On his program O’Reilly named me and The Globe and Mail – which he called a “far-left newspaper” – as the enemy. I got thousands of abusive e-mails from his viewers. So I wrote about that. O’Reilly upped the ante, calling me names on his program. And I duly wrote about that.
The New York Times spotted the battle in progress and did a feature story about it, with some of the few printable quotes from the abusive e-mails. When the story appeared, I began to receive thousands of e-mails from Americans apologizing for Fox News, O’Reilly and his rude viewers. On his progam, O’Reilly then sneered at The Times story. But I felt I’d won.
It was surreal to be at the centre of that storm. It is surreal now that O’Reilly’s downfall is thanks to a New York Times investigation. But, really, it is thanks to his own obnoxious, unacceptable behaviour. A giant is felled and few will mourn him.
Even in a surreal era, the abuse and harassment of women in the workplace is a toxic issue and bullies will be brought down, hard. Especially the biggest blowhards.Report Typo/Error