Two weeks ago, the New York Times broke a story about five women to whom 21st Century Fox has paid out around $13 million to address allegations of abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of Fox News star Bill O’Reilly. In addition to these five women who reached settlements, there have been at least two more who also allege experiencing sexual harassment by O’Reilly. Two of the sexual harassment suits reported in the Times were settled after the departure of disgraced former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, an accused serial abuser who was sent away with a $40 million severance package.
According to the report, these women all either worked for O’Reilly or appeared on his show. They allege a variety of inappropriate behaviors—ranging from lewd comments to unwanted advances—and all depict a predatory pattern of O’Reilly using his power and influence in an attempt to manipulate or extort these women for sex.
Last week, President Trump defended O’Reilly, saying he was a “good person” and saying he doesn’t think “Bill did anything wrong.” The President’s comments follow in a long tradition of men discounting the experiences of women in the world and dismissing harmful predatory behavior as “locker room talk.” O’Reilly’s own claims that the allegations are without merit hold about as much weight as 21st Century Fox’s insistence that they have “addressed the issue.”
If 21st Century Fox was truly recommitted to turning the corporate culture of Fox News into one that doesn’t tolerate the disrespect of women, they would have already fired O’Reilly. Given that between 2014 and 2016, The O’Reilly Factor generated more than $446 million in advertising revenues, it is fair to assume that their lack of action has been profit-motivated. In response to nationwide horror over the allegations against O’Reilly, over 70 companies have pulled their advertisements from his program. Yet he remains on air, with ratings higher than before the scandal broke.
It would be absurd to think that this corporate culture—from which there are consistent allegations of women being demeaned, humiliated and abused—does not permeate into the on-air product that Fox News provides. Not only is 21st Century Fox enabling an alleged abuser and fueling a toxic work environment, they are also giving O’Reilly a massive platform from which he can spout misogyny and breed a generation of men who hold women in as low regard as he does.
It is disappointing and sobering to think of how many talented, intelligent women might have had their careers stalled or destroyed because of the actions of O’Reilly and the inactions of 21st Century Fox, which has made a shameless habit of covering up the crimes of abusers in the name of profit.
O’Reilly’s presence on air isn’t just disgusting and offensive. It reinforces to girls and young women that when you challenge rich and powerful men, you lose. That 21st Century Fox wonders why no women disclose their abuse through the company “hotline” is inconceivable.