Opinion: O’Reilly and the culture of sexual harassment

Caitlin Nestler

Student Voice Editor


When Bill O’Reilly parted ways with Fox News and his prime-time “news” show “The O’Reilly Factor,” it was a victory for women and sexual assault advocates.

After being accused of sexual harassment multiple times during his tenure at Fox News, 21st Century Fox, its parent company, finally decided that it could not stand for such behavior.

Except that is not exactly how it played out.

Fox News has been fully aware of O’Reilly’s behavior for years. An investigation by The New York Times found that O’Reilly or 21st Century Fox had settlements with five women accusing O’Reilly of sexual harassment, all of whom worked for O’Reilly or were on his show at some point.

Five women and $13 million in payouts.

So why wasn’t he ousted the first time? Second time? Third time? Presumably, because Fox News had no problem with an accused sexual harasser on the air as long as he brought in extremely high ratings and advertising revenue.

After The New York Times published its front page story, companies began pulling ads from his show. It was only then that O’Reilly became a problem.

Sexual harassment claims? Fine. Losing advertising revenue? Sorry, we have to let you go.

O’Reilly promptly took a supposed pre-planned vacation, and never returned. For his behavior, he reportedly received a $25 million severance, according to NBC News.

It shouldn’t take 15 years of sexual harassment claims before a man loses his job. There is no reasonable excuse for allowing O’Reilly to continue raking in millions of dollars a year, sitting behind a news desk every night.

Fox made the right decision in firing O’Reilly, but it almost feels like too little too late.

Fox News hired a law firm to start investigating the claims of sexual harassment only after The New York Times report. O’Reilly should have been investigated after the first allegation.

O’Reilly maintains his innocence, claiming that he is the victim and that his fame makes him an easy target. Apparently we should all feel sorry for him; he is just too famous and women are lining up to accuse him of sexual harassment. Because making such accusations and telling the truth is never humiliating for the women at all. But the president said he knows him and he’s a good guy, so that’s reassuring.

In a statement that was released before it was decided that he would be leaving Fox News, O’Reilly said, “In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.”

That isn’t exactly a good defense. Clearly women have complained or there wouldn’t have been $13 million in settlements. And many women find it very difficult to come forward. A 2016 study by the Equal Opportunity Commission found that three out of four people do not report harassment at work.

Many women don’t come forward for years, if at all, because of fears that they will not be believed or that coming forward will jeopardize their careers. When they are sexually harassed by men in power or their bosses, this is an extremely real fear.

In a sexual harassment lawsuit against O’Reilly, Andrea Mackris said O’Reilly threatened her, saying, “he would make any woman who complained about his behavior ‘pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born,’” according to The New York Times report.

This is the reality that many victims of sexual harassment often face.

For some reason, O’Reilly still manages to come out relatively unscathed. He may have lost his show, but it was certainly at no big detriment to his immediate finances.

Big supporters aren’t leaving his side, so his reputation doesn’t seem to be taking too much of a hit. And he still has a platform for spewing whatever he wants, as he has restarted his podcast “No Spin News.” The first episode is free; after that you can only listen to if you are a subscriber (but you get a free book!).

O’Reilly isn’t alone in his ousting from Fox News based for sexual harassment claims. Roger Ailes, the former chairman and CEO, was forced to resign last summer for similar accusations from multiple women.

He also maintained his innocence. For his behavior he was reportedly given $40 million, according to The Daily Beast.

It’s worth noting that this is twice as much as his accuser, former Fox host Gretchen Carlson, received in her settlement. After news broke of Carlson’s lawsuit, more than 20 women also made allegations against Ailes, according to The Guardian.

Over and over again powerful men (including the current president of the United States) are accused of sexual harassment and then claim they are the victims and blame their accusers.

These women, the men claim, are either out to get them, or after money, or fame. The burden always falls upon the woman to prove she was sexually harassed/assaulted. Her word is never enough. The response from powerful men seems to be “prove it.”

When women came forward accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault or harassment, he, of course, denied it and then he threatened to sue them all.

He was then elected president of the United States.

It is easy to see why so many women do not come forward when they are the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace or elsewhere.


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