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The Right Wing

Ditching O’Reilly Is Not Enough

The real strike against a culture of sexual intimidation would be for British regulators to deny Fox’s bid for a satellite company.

Bill O'Reilly on 'The O'Reilly Factor' 092914
Photo Credit: YouTube

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is reportedly soon to be on permanent holiday from his top-rated, prime-time talk show, thanks to an advertiser revolt over new allegations of sexual harassment on his part, and revelations of millions of dollars in settlements over the course of 13 years.

It’s tempting to believe that America is having a moment of reckoning when it comes to sexual harassment and assault. I want to believe. A new Morning Consult poll reports that nearly a quarter of O’Reilly’s own viewers thought Fox should cancel his show as a result of the $13 million in settlements paid to five women reported by The New York Times on April 1. Meanwhile, presidential approval ratings for Donald Trump, the p*ssy-grabber-in-chief (PGOTUS), are at a not-so-great 41 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the Murdochs—the ruling family of 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News—were close to settling their differences over O’Reilly’s fate, and on Wednesday, New York's Gabriel Sherman reported that the Murdochs had decided to announce the cancellation of his nightly show, The O’Reilly Factor, before he returns from vacation on April 24.

Two of the settlements made with women who claimed O’Reilly harassed them were made after Fox executives insisted they would not tolerate a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace, after years of having allowed network chief Roger Ailes to drive that very culture. It was Ailes’s ouster, in the wake of allegations of truly outrageous behavior (including sexual blackmail), that prompted Fox officials to make that pronouncement in July. Then Fox settled with Julia Huddy, a former Fox News host who accused O’Reilly of sexually harassing and assaulting her, “for a sum in the high six figures,” according to the Times. And still O’Reilly remained on the air. So much for that zero-tolerance policy.

PGOTUS tweeted his support for his beleaguered fellow traveler, stating that O’Reilly should never have settled and telling the Times, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

After the Times’s exposé broke, advertisers—partly because of pressure from liberal and progressive groups—began dropping their sponsorship of the O’Reilly show. On April 11, the Times reported that over the course of a single week, the show had lost more than half its advertisers.

New York’s Sherman reports that the Murdochs—daddy Rupert and sons Lachlan and James—have been arguing among themselves over O’Reilly’s fate. Rupert was said to favor sticking with O’Reilly, James against, and Lachlan a swing vote swinging toward cancellation.

Whether a cancellation would mark an actual change in the Fox News culture of harassing and stalking women in the workplace, I have my doubts. More at issue, even more than the loss of advertising dollars, is a quest for global domination of media. This quest could be impeded if the Fox brand appears too tarnished as British regulators weigh a decision on allowing Fox to acquire the British satellite company Sky. (The last time 21st Century Fox tried to acquire Sky, two of the London newspapers Fox owns were caught hacking the voicemail of sources and public officials, so it withdrew from attempting the acquisition.)

Guys on a quest for global domination of anything are generally into domination as a broader ethos, especially when it comes to women. So it seems unlikely that the woman-hating culture at Fox will change at a cellular level anytime soon.

It’s the way not only of Fox, but society at large. A scandal bursts into view, and new rules are put into place in workplaces throughout the land. A few years of vigilance may ensue, but then institutional structures, dominated (that word again!) by men, go back to hosting a culture of intimidation.

Just look at America. After years of advances in raising awareness of harassment and sexual intimidation in the workplace, the country elected to the White House a guy who reveled in the notion that his fame and fortune granted him the right to grab women’s genitals at will.

Don’t get me wrong—O’Reilly's ousting from Fox for his history of harassing and demeaning women will be a huge victory for women and people of color (whom O’Reilly routinely disparages), and for groups such as Color of Change and Media Matters. But 21st Century Fox will still be here, perhaps bigger than ever with the Sky purchase. And that’s the institution, a huge media company, that bought the silence of women allegedly victimized by O’Reilly—and continued to pay him $18 million a year to anchor Fox News’s nightly programming. Not much there is likely to change.

Officials in the U.K. could strike a blow for human rights if they refuse Fox the acquisition of the Sky satellite company. But there’s money and influence at stake in a nation where the Murdochs hold outsized influence. That’s why the global human rights group Avaaz met in London on Wednesday with regulators to argue against allowing the purchase to go through. The reverberation caused by a denial of that purchase would be felt by corporations around the world in ways that could induce meaningful change.

Let’s hope the bureaucrats of London do the right thing. 

Adele M. Stan is a weekly columnist for The American Prospect. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.

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