Skip to main content

On the surface, there's not much to tie Leon Wieseltier and Bill O'Reilly together. One is a pugnacious public intellectual, a highbrow author and magazine editor. The other is a pugnacious right-wing former TV host, beloved of the aggrieved of America. What unites them is that they have both felt the consequences of a world that is finally taking sexual harassment seriously.

Mr. O'Reilly this week blamed God for his travails, which include (most recently) a reported $32-million (U.S.) settlement of harassment claims launched by a legal analyst at his former employer, Fox News. Mr. O'Reilly was let go by Fox in April, despite his enormous popularity; he and the network had privately settled several harassment claims. His talent agency, UTA, announced this week that it was dropping him as a client, though he is reportedly negotiating a position with Sinclair Broadcasting.

Next week was supposed to bring the launch of Mr. Wieseltier's new culture and politics magazine, Idea. But as the New York Times reported, the philanthropic group funding the magazine pulled the plug after allegations of harassment from Mr. Wieseltier's female former colleagues surfaced. Mr. Wieseltier apologized for "offenses against some of my colleagues in the past."

That noise you hear, above Mr. O'Reilly's lamentations? It's the sound of the system finally working as it should.

For years, many companies paid lip service to "zero tolerance" harassment policies and legal statutes meant to curtail abuse, all the while looking the other way while it happened all around. So long as the bottom line was never affected, and women (and sometimes men) were shamed into silence or ordered to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of their settlements, then a calm complicity reigned.

Those days may finally be coming to an end. In the wake of the sexual-abuse claims against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and the subsequent #MeToo movement in which women shared their stories of harassment and assault, it has finally dawned on the corporate world that harbouring such corrosive behaviour is not just morally indefensible, but a kick in the profit margin, too.

We're seeing the effects of this in Quebec, where two famous media personalities have stepped away from their careers after allegations of harassment, some of them going back decades. Gilbert Rozon, subject of numerous accusations detailed in Quebec media investigations, is stepping away from his Just for Laughs empire. Radio and TV personality Éric Salvail, also the subject of harassment claims, has also seen his shows suspended across the province. Neither has been charged with offences.

#MeToo, an informal campaign that ignited like a brushfire, has unleashed a long-pent-up need for truth telling and justice. As Marco Berardini, a Quebec-born hair and makeup artist who went public with experiences of Mr. Salvail's lewd behaviour, told Daybreak Montreal: "This MeToo movement that happened in the States is giving everybody the power to take out the garbage in their own markets." In Montreal, a sex-assault hotline set up by police in the wake of the allegations received more than 250 calls in just over two days.

Perhaps, finally, power and success are no longer enough to protect predators. Or, to flip that on its head, predatory behaviour is now seen as an economic disincentive for a company's success – not just from investors, but from the talented hires who would never choose to work in a toxic environment. Boston's Fidelity Investments recently let go two successful portfolio managers after harassment claims. The company's chairman, Abigail Johnson, has made hiring more women one of her key priorities. In a video to staff after the firings, and reported by numerous outlets, she said: "Today, I'd like to remind everyone that we have no tolerance at our company for any type of harassment. We simply will not, and do not, tolerate this type of behaviour, from anyone."

The list of successful men who might have been protected and sheltered even a few weeks ago – but now face professional consequences for their actions – grows by the day: Roy Price, forced to resign as head of Amazon Studios. Celebrity chef John Besh, who stepped down from the restaurant empire in New Orleans that he founded and which was a haven for "rampant sexual misbehaviour and harassment," according to one of more than two-dozen women who lodged complaints. Terry Richardson, the celebrated fashion photographer whose gross behaviour has long been chronicled on websites such as Jezebel, was cut off this week by Condé Nast International, which will no longer publish his photos in their glossy magazines. And, in Ottawa, chef Matt Carmichael announced he was stepping away from the running of his celebrated restaurant group, saying in a statement, "I have sexually harassed women with inappropriate comments."

I could go on. The list will certainly continue to grow. Some people will likely argue that these professional consequences constitute persecution. I'd argue they constitute justice, long delayed, and good business, too.

Interact with The Globe