O’Reilly blames his fame when he really should be blaming his ego
By Rachel Poe
Bill O’Reilly has been a staple on cable TV for almost as long as I’ve been alive. For two decades, The O’Reilly Factor has not only raked in billions in ad revenue but has been the “No. 1 Program in Cable News” for most of that time. But Bill O’Reilly now is on the verge of falling from his conservative pedestal as a The New York Times investigation found that O’Reilly, Fox News, and their parent company, 21st Century Fox, have collectively dished out $13 million in settlements since 2002. These settlements, The Times reported, were to ensure that five women did not speak out, press charges, or pursue further litigation in regards to their sexual harassment allegations against O’Reilly. These women have either worked for O’Reilly or appeared on The O’Reilly Factor. Two of the five were previously known.
These allegations cover a wide range of inappropriate behavior on the part of O’Reilly which includes verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances, and phone calls during which O’Reilly might have been masturbating. According to The Times, there seemed to be a pattern to his actions. Since O’Reilly is an influential figure at Fox News, he used that power to his advantage, creating a bond with the victims, offering them advice, and promising to help them professionally. Once a professional relationship was established, he would attempt to “pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.”
Of the previously known settlements, the first happened in about 2004 which came to about $9 million with a producer. The second, which was settled last year, involved on-air personality Juliet Huddy. Documents of the settlement reveal that Huddy was paid somewhere in the high six-figures for her silence and agreement not to sue. O’Reilly’s lawyers denied her claims of harassment. The three newly discovered settlements involved two sexual harassment claims and a verbal abuse claim related to an encounter between O’Reilly and a young producer in which he “berated” her in front of newsroom colleagues. In addition to the five women who have reached settlements, two other women have spoken out against O’Reilly. 21st Century Fox is already preparing for more allegations to surface.
O’Reilly’s statements on the matter say that his fame has left him vulnerable to attacks just like this. He claims his decision to settle came from the desire to protect his children and did not stem from any sort of guilt. These sexual harassment accusations against O’Reilly were revealed not long after former Fox News chairmen, Roger Ailes, was dismissed for his position last summer due to his own sexual harassment scandal. Fox News has so far reached settlements with six of the women with claims against Ailes but a significant number of women have come forward with similar accusations, including former Fox News host Megyn Kelly. During that scandal, Fox News said that they had no tolerance for behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
Clearly, regardless of 21st Century Fox’s statements, there is a pattern here of men in influential positions within Fox News taking advantage of that power for their own sexual exploitation.
21st Century Fox has stated that it “takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously,” but “denies the merits of these claims.” According to them, none of the women used a company “hotline” to report the abuse and harassment. Former Fox News anchor Alisyn Camerota, who now anchors CNN’s New Day, said on air on Thursday that this “hotline” does not exist. It is a very real possibility that these women felt like they could not go to Fox News or 21st Century Fox, out of fear that the issue would have been swept under the rug in favor of the more prominent member of their community. Current and former members of the network have expressed their concerns with the media and with legal counsel regarding Fox News and its parent company’s ability to handle workplace sexual harassment. Lisa Bloom, who represents Wendy Walsh, one of the five women who have reached a settlement, is calling for an independent investigation.
Still amid all this controversy, O’Reilly’s $18 million contract has been renewed. Or, at least, it is no longer due to expire at the end of this year. This is mostly likely a show of support from Fox without having to explicit about it.
The backlash was almost immediate after the story broke right at the beginning of April. According to CNN, upwards of 21 companies have pulled advertising from The O’Reilly Factor, including Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, BMW of North America, Allstate and Esurance, and Credit Karma. On Thursday’s episode of the The O’Reilly Factor, they only ran seven ads during its 60-minute run time. The show pulled in nearly $250 million in ad revenue from 2014-2016.
The latest person to weigh in on the situation was President Trump who defended O’Reilly. During an interview with The New York Times, Trump said that he believed O’Reilly wasn’t guilty of any wrong doing, but “shouldn’t have settled.” Trump himself has been the center of a number of sexual harassment scandals, most notably his “locker room talk” conversation with Billy Bush from 2006 in which he described grabbing women “by the pussy.” It’s unclear as of right now what long term effect this will have on O’Reilly’s career. If other cases of this nature are any indication, these settlements will only be a footnote. Just look at Trump, he still became president regardless.
Sexual harassment by male colleagues and superiors is a chronic problem women face in the workplace. This is not a new phenomenon. Women in every profession, from the media to our military, struggle to establish their credibility in a male-dominated society. Women are more than just their looks and their sexuality. If anything, hopefully this scandal will remind companies that sweeping sexual harassment claims under the rug will only end up blowing up in your face in the long run.