Gender and Sexuality

Fox’s failure to discipline Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment perpetuates conservative networks’ rewarding of misogyny

Sex sells, and apparently, so does sexual harassment.

An investigative report released by The New York Times on Sunday found Fox News host and narcissistic bully Bill O’Reilly can add another bullet point to his controversial resume: He has been accused on five separate claims of sexual harassment and paid $13 million to keep it quiet.

O’Reilly, a conservative commentator and host of Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” has been known for his brash behavior when it comes to spewing right-wing rhetoric on everything from abortion rights to Black Lives Matter. The show draws in almost 4 million viewers each night and had an advertisement profit of nearly $450 million from 2014 to 2016, per the Chicago Tribune and CNN Money, respectively.

 The echo chambers surrounding conservative political figures have remained silent in the wake of this bombshell allegation. But it should come as no surprise that the only way female employees at Fox can bring home the bacon is with a heaping serving of misogyny as its side dish.

Unsurprisingly, O’Reilly found a familiar face and source of support in none other than President Donald Trump, who told The New York Times he is a “good person” who “didn’t do anything wrong.” Yes, Mr. President, because amid Syrians facing chemical weapon usage and House investigations into Russian involvement in your campaign, O’Reilly is the subject matter you should be focusing on.

While Fox has remained silent on the status of O’Reilly’s tenure there, it speaks volumes for conservative broadcast television that nearly a half dozen women can file sexual harassment complaints and their perpetrator remains in the very same position of power he utilized to abuse them.

Although 31 advertising agencies have pulled commercials from O’Reilly’s segment — per The Atlantic — they have worked out deals with Fox to relocate their ads to other programs at the network.

Rebecca Ortiz, an assistant professor of advertising at Syracuse University, said companies are going to have to decide which they’re more willing to sacrifice: their integrity or their profit.

“If I had to predict the future based upon past events and experiences, Fox and O’Reilly are going to be just fine,” she said. “How much of a dent is this really going to put into their profits, if they’re just shifting which program they air during?”

Ortiz said companies weigh a lot of their reactions to controversies based on consumer response. Since Fox News has a history of sexual harassment allegations and a stable viewership, Ortiz said she doesn’t see much change — in terms of company relationships with O’Reilly — in the near future.

“You have to stay true to your consumer base, and what advertisers are really trying to do is to connect with people in the world in which they exist,” she said. “With Fox, if we try to correlate Bill O’Reilly’s viewership and behavior to Trump, then of course they will accept it.”

Hubert Brown, an associate professor of broadcast and digital journalism at SU, said the current political climate paired with Trump’s misogynistic history has escalated the levels of blatant sexism in mainstream politics.

Since misogyny in society is not shunned but rewarded, Brown said the outing of O’Reilly and former Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes as misogynistic “should surprise nobody at all.”

“Is it a problem that we now have a person in the White House who has said things, in terms of misogyny, that used to be out of bounds, and yet is still there?” Brown said. “I don’t think it’s much of a problem since the viewers of that network don’t generally see that as one.”

O’Reilly’s scandal follows the March firing of fellow political commentator Tomi Lahren from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze network. Lahren was fired after making pro-choice statements that didn’t align with the agenda she was paid to push on her show, “Tomi.”

Lahren is a vile human being at best and her statements against Muslims, Black Lives Matter and women are detestable. But if conservatives want to censor words and fire individuals based on their political affiliations, it is inexcusable to turn a blind eye to a man who has sexually harassed and tormented women for more than a decade.

Kelsey Thompson is a sophomore magazine journalism major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at katho101@syr.edu.

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