I need to open this piece with an open declaration of bias: Bill O’Reilly repulses me more than any pundit on television or in print. Where I can dismiss the antics of Alex Jones as paranoid delusion, the vitriol of Anne Coulter as a transparent desire to pay the bills, the majority of the Fox Crew (Doocy, Bolling and their ilk) as sheer stupidity, O’Reilly’s bloviations have always struck a closer cord.
He is neither stupid nor imperceptive, and so I could never dismiss him with the rest of the rabble-rousers. It always seemed that O’Reilly knew better and was doing it anyway. Like Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, O’Reilly knew that he was profiteering from the fear and misplaced anger of old-school conservatives. He knew that he was fanning the flames of movement that has now landed Donald Trump in the White House. O’Reilly, student of government and graduate of Harvard, cemented his role in the old boys club to rake in millions and support the kind of puppets and corporate lackeys who would lower his cronies’ taxes.
He was the voice box of the educated, rich white man. The man who knows better but doesn’t want to do better.
And so it came as no shock to me when it was revealed that O’Reilly had been a serial abuser of women. Not that I want to diminish the gravity or horror of the charges against him, the suffering he has caused has undoubtedly reached much farther afield than those who have come forward, but that these revelations did not elicit surprise. More resigned disappointment and slow-burning anger at establishments that continue to protect men like this.
The signs were, of course, all there.
From the 2004 suit he settled with former producer Andrea Makris for $9 million forward, there has been an evident pattern to his behavior. No one who shells out $9 million is innocent of all charges, and no one who has brutalized their producer is kinder to people down the chain.
We need only look at the now famous meltdown to see the real character of the man. He is pathologically unable to take ownership of his mistakes. He takes out his frustration on an unerring crew because they are beneath his station and he knows he will suffer no repercussions. O’Reilly conducted his personal life like so many of the bombasts and authoritarians he loved to reference.
What did come as a shock, however, was 21st Century Fox’s dismissal of O’Reilly after 20 years of service. I was elated – first Ailes and now O’Reilly – maybe Fox news was turning over a new leaf, ushering in a golden age, maybe they were finally seeing women as whole people and not objects.
This delusion lasted for about a day until I calmed down.
Now, upon sober re-examination, O’Reilly’s departure signals nothing more than Fox’s continuing commitment to profits. When Bill was the highest rated news show on cable television, they were more than happy to support him and shell out to five separate accusers. Hell, that money didn’t even have to come out of Bill’s almost $25 million annual salary he was bringing in so much ad revenue.
However, following the corporate exodus which saw 44 companies pull their ads from The O’Reilly Factor, Bill lost his luster to the network. He was no longer a viable contributor to their bottom line, and so got the unceremonious and well-deserved boot.
But the distinction in reasoning is an important one. Fox did not sever ties with O’Reilly over some sense of moral righteousness, they did it for the money. They have proven on multiple occasions to be the kind of organization that enables the systemic abuse of their female staff, which is just fine by the higher ups provided the revenues keep coming in.
I don’t know how, in the age of presidential pussy-grabbing, the open misogyny of organizations that support him and his base still shocks me. I guess it’s because I still live in a world where there are certain inviolable conditions, certain lines that are uncrossable, regardless of age, sex or political affiliation. Sexual assault is one of them.
And that is what you, dear reader, need to bear in mind every time Fox News crosses your screen. You need to think, this is the company that silenced women and allowed men to tyrannically assault them. Allowed them to masturbate during phone calls with peers. Allowed them to call a peer “hot chocolate” as a rule, not an isolated incident. This is the network that requires female anchors to wear make-up, dresses and whenever possible to show some leg. When you watch Eric Bolling’s bloated rictus of idiocy, or Krauthammer’s creepy embalmer’s intonations, reflect on the fact that there are no women on Fox News permitted to look as they do. This network, as a whole, is hostile to half of the population and pays only the most limited lip-service to their rights or well-being.
The withdrawal of ads from O’Reilly’s show is a nice gesture, but it fails to address the mechanism of rampant misogyny that operates Fox News. If we really want to make a difference, to really force a broken system to change for the better, we have to switch to other networks and stop giving them the airtime to sell ads. By not doing so, anyone who watches Fox is a party to this abuse.