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Bill O’Reilly: A double standard on a double standard

Tom Bonan, Contributing Writer

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In 2002, Fox News settled the first of what would become five workplace harassment cases involving the television host Bill O’Reilly—the final two of which have culminated in his termination from the news organization on April 19. O’Reilly joined Fox News in 1996, the year it started broadcasting, and in many ways, his personal success mirrored that of the channel as a whole: the formatting of the “The O’Reilly Factor” became the bedrock of the then-inchoate television debate program and it continued to be the most popular of all prime-time Fox shows until last week.

It is no surprise that when the fortunes of the company began to slip—with the ousting of former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes in summer 2016 due to his own mounting sexual harassment lawsuits, and who later became a major advisor to Donald Trump—the fortunes of O’Reilly would begin to slip as well. Despite over a decade of complaints against a considerable number of powerful men of Fox News and its parent company, it has not been until recently—when its owner, Rupert Murdoch, began delegating increasing amounts of responsibility to Ailes and O’Reilly—that any action has been taken to address the allegations or rectify the toxic workplace culture.

Increasingly, it seems that the macho culture of the Old Guard of Fox was built into its corporate structure and was at least partially responsible for its success over the last two decades. Women anchors, who have since become a mainstay of the Fox image on shows like “Fox & Friends” and the solo shows of Megyn Kelly, a former host who left Fox for NBC due to regular, high-profile conflicts with Ailes, were consistently threatened over their position in the company and were harassed by their male superiors as a part of advancing their careers.

While all of this has been known for years, with scandal being an indelible part of the Murdoch media empire, the mounting sexual harassment allegations and litigation did not entirely boil over until spring 2016 with the publicized tension between Trump and Kelly. The candidness with which the hopeful nominee dismissed the views of women—both in media and in his likely Democratic opponent—served to illuminate the extent to which casual and explicit misogyny had become an integral part of the conservative media world and therefore a major obstacle for the female nominee of the opposing party. Opposition to Fox was no longer relegated to the political realm (or the epistemic, given their looseness with facts and information) but had now entered an entirely different realm.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Fox has reverted back to the type of state-television like posturing they adopted during years of former President George Bush with its unwavering praise for the man in the White House. O’Reilly, who is famous for his hackneyed politicking, became too much for the network solely because viewers and advertisers saw a problem with a man who had been charged with sexual harassment multiple times, and whose daughter even testified that he had beaten and choked his wife in front of her. It became difficult for Fox to defend a man who has been charged with sexual harassment and rape while simultaneously using Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” outtakes during company seminars meant to outline bad behavior in the workplace.

The only difference between O’Reilly and Trump in this regard is that behavior that had previously been allowed, and for the most part ignored, now cost the former his job. The latter—the president of the United States—has been attacked repeatedly for his views and behavior towards women, but it has ultimately not kept him from exercising power in the White House. With Vice President Mike Pence’s bizarre rules towards socializing with women, casual misogyny tainting not only the executive but also the legislative agenda of the Republican Party, and a litany of offenses both past and present, it is hard to imagine the White House progressing on such issues even while the generally uncompromising Fox News is forced to.

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The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University
Bill O’Reilly: A double standard on a double standard