They really did it. They really spiked my favorite show.
The reality of it won’t fully sink in until, come Monday, a program other than The O’Reilly Factor will occupy the 8 P.M. slot on Fox News.
Now the man finds himself terminated as per his erstwhile employer’s new and improved terms of service. Oh well. Karma’s a bitch.
Sadly, though, by silencing its loudest moderate voice, Fox News has taken its largest step yet on its journey toward becoming unwatchable to anyone left of Ted Nugent.
“Moderate???” you gasp, your visage contorting into a rictus of bewildered consternation?
It’s all relative. The New Yorker, for one, described Bill O’Reilly as “a stodgy conservative with some surprisingly moderate positions […] that, at times, pit him against the more extreme factions within his circle”; and Jon Stewart, guesting on The O’Reilly Factor, characterized the host as “the most reasonable voice on Fox,” who had “in some ways become the voice of sanity here” (which, Stewart proceeded to pointedly qualify, was “like being the thinnest kid at fat camp”).
In case anyone had managed to cling on to it until now, the speedy and unceremonious booting of cable news’s top-rated talent once and for all dispels the myth of job security. No such thing exists in this world. If even Bill O’Reilly can get fired overnight like your average waiter, anybody can get axed at any time. (Granted, the average waiter’s pink slip rarely comes with a $25 million paycheck for future services not to be rendered—at least none of mine ever did.)
One question, among the numerous fascinating facets of this story, is beating my brain like a hammer:
Why, instead of placing a wooden board over a ground-floor window at the Fox News building, on the inside of which was—perchance still is—mounted a giant outside-facing Bill O’Reilly poster, didn’t they simply go in and remove or replace the poster? (If you have a theory, please skip down to the comment section right now.)
Speaking of windows, let’s just hope that the charges that lead to O’Reilly’s “defenestration”(word of the day—brought to you by Politico) are true and irrefutable. Because if they aren’t, modern society has a new problem in addition to its longstanding problem of sexual harassment.
On the one hand, it seems highly unlikely that Fox News would have yanked its biggest star, i.e., slaughtered its most profitable cash cow, unless the accusations against him were rock-solid and proven beyond a reasonable doubt, perhaps even far more serious than widely reported. If anything, for as long as it could get away with doing so, the network probably bent over backwards in looking the other way and hushing up the severity of the transgressions in order to avoid, or delay, having to part with the Irish-American ratings machine.
On the other hand, given the lightning speed and wildfire ferocity with which sensational and damaging allegations, be they founded or not, can nowadays spread through social media and take on a life of their own; and irrespective of whether or not this may have been a, yes, factor in O’Reilly’s unseating; what are the odds that, in this day and age, advertisers may be cowed into withdrawal by the mere appearance of impropriety bruited about ad nauseam by an online lynch mob that couldn’t care less about the veracity of the allegations it disseminates around the Web, as long as those allegations—founded, exaggerated, or baseless—might be instrumental in slaying politically disagreeable dragons?
An attorney representing some of O’Reilly’s accusers frankly admits that “the mission was to bring down Bill O’Reilly.”
Salon attributes O’Reilly’s ouster to “public pressure campaigns from liberal activist groups, using a combination of old-fashioned and newfangled techniques to put pressure on Fox News advertisers and 21st Century Fox, the channel’s parent company.”
A New York Times article titled Fears of Revolt by Consumers Felled O’Reilly states that
[i]n an era when outrage can be easily channeled online, major brands are well aware of the risk of revolts from consumers who are increasingly savvy about hitting companies where it hurts. […] Numerous social-media-savvy groups are capitalizing on that to potent effect, both to expose where advertisers are placing their ads and to mobilize people into registering their concerns.”
Wunderbar as this novel kind of orchestrated advertiser intimidation may sound on its face, keep in mind that the outrage that can nowadays be so easily channeled online, and the ensuing fear of revolts from consumers, may rest on substantiated information or fabricated propaganda alike, and can thus be used to right wrongs just as it can be used to perpetrate them and to effectuate political ends deemed to justify all means.
Since the mission to bring down Bill O’Reilly, and Fox News as a whole, has been doggedly pursued by countless activists and rival media organizations for two decades with poor success, it stands to reason that whatever genuine outrage may exist over the substance of the allegations against Bill O’Reilly takes a backseat to the mission at large.
Given the sheer magnitude of the thorn that Fox News has long been in the side of so many, much—perhaps most—of what presents itself as a principled stance against misogyny and the maltreatment of women in the workplace is likely little more than collective salivation over having, at long last, hit upon the network’s Achilles heel, and now a humongous school of exhilarated sharks are eagerly circling the bleeding whale.
For if this were primarily about sexual misconduct per se, another Bill, Bill Clinton, would long ago have been declared persona non grata by the very crowd that are now rejoicing in the toppling of Bill O’Reilly while shedding public crocodile tears about the suffering inflicted upon the purported victims. The former president, after all, boasts actual rape allegations on his resume, whereas the complaints against the former host of The O’Reilly Factor seem confined to the verbal and attitudinal realm, such as referring as “hot chocolate” to a black female receptionist and making “grunting” noises when passing her desk, or waxing palpably frosty toward women that had brushed off his advances—one lady says he omitted to help her up after she had tripped while escaping his attempt to kiss her; another claims that, in the immediate wake of her having declined to accept an invitation to his hotel suite, he insulted her purse as “ugly,” then failed to follow through on a promise to give her a permanent segment on his show.
And back in 2004, an ex-staffer of his testified he had pestered her with salacious phone calls about rubbing her down with a loofah (a word I had to look up at the time).
Of course, as Bill O’Reilly was wont to exhort others on his show, “you don’t excuse bad behavior by pointing to worse.” Making subordinates’ or would-be employees’ job opportunities, promotions, or raises ride on the granting of sexual favors is surely to be classified as pathetic creepiness, no matter the actual lengths to which a predator will go to elicit compliance. The argument that Bills Clinton and Cosby, in their heyday, may well have climbed quite a few rungs further up the creepiness ladder shouldn’t let O’Reilly off the hook.
But there’s a flip side to this coin:
What about the the blackmail potential, that is, the specter of subordinates or would-be employees threatening to bring bogus sexual harassment charges in retaliation for not getting the job, the promotion, or the raise?
Moreover, the definition of sexual harassment having gotten so broad and practically unfalsifiable as to encompass looks received and vibes picked up on, it becomes ever easier for aspiring victims to find something in a person’s behavior that, should the need arise, can be interpreted or retconned as micro-harassment or covert harassment or whatever the term du jour for anything impossible to verify or confute objectively.
The societal stigma that these days attaches to not giving unconditional credence to allegations of sexual harassment naturally turns such allegations, and the threat thereof, into powerful weapons against which said stigma serves as a shield.
And once a person, usually a man, has been tarred with the brush of sexual harassment, no matter how valid or invalid the initial charge, he is now a sitting duck for the pile-on, as the burden of proof for subsequent accusers decreases in proportion to their numbers.
My Facebook friend Sarah weighed in on the matter. She starts off with unembellished pith:
I’m glad that O’Reilly got busted because he’s a racist asshole.”
In my humble and unenlightened estimation, all those people—and they are legion—who tag Bill O’Reilly as “racist” either (a) possess insufficient familiarity with his work and overall presentation in anything resembling meaningful context, or (b) are the type that couldn’t tell genuine racism from a toasted jelly sandwich even if someone were to train a 10,000 Watt spotlight on both. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Sarah then, perhaps surprisingly given her opening volley, concludes her commentary thus:
But these claims of sexual harassment — at least those that have been made public — are beyond ridiculous. Of course it’s wrong for anyone to make a derogatory statement to anyone else. But, please, if these women are trying to say that they are terrified and traumatized by a little name calling, they’re making women sound weak and are giving them (us) a bad name.”
Sarah seems to have at least a partial point there, as evidenced by this curious Facebook entry by one Caroline Heldman, an associate professor of politics at Occidental College:
I filed a complaint of gender discrimination against Bill O’Reilly with the hotline an hour before he was released by Fox News this morning.
I appeared as a regular guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show from 2008 – 2011. In December of 2011, during a typical heated interview, Mr. O’Reilly called me “hysterical.” I responded that his use of the term was sexist. He (or his staff) retaliated by editing out just that portion of the interview and never inviting me back on his show. […]
I am grateful to Lisa Bloom for representing me, and for the other women who have come forward to report experiences of sexual harassment and gender discrimination from Mr. O’Reilly. Young women need to see that this behavior is not acceptable or lawful.”
Whom this type of paranoid drivel gives a bad name to are, first and foremost, legitimate victims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
To call a woman “hysterical” is about as sexist and gender-discriminatory as it is to tell a man he has balls. The fact that one has negative, the other positive connotations is irrelevant on the sexism front, as both terms refer to a part of the human anatomy that only one sex possesses, the female uterus and the male testicles respectively. Good sexist, as it were, like having balls in the sense of being courageous, is no more or less sexist than is bad sexist, like being hysterical in the sense of being unable to control one’s emotions. Plus both terms are indiscriminately co-ed. Women can have balls in the sense of being courageous, and men can be hysterical in the sense of freaking out. Both men and women, of course, can also be hysterical in the sense of being hilarious.
To suggest that Bill O’Reilly would have called a guest “hysterical,” then edited the segment and never invited her back because she was a woman is, well, hysterical (in every sense of the term)—because how to explain all his male guests over the years that found themselves screamed at, showered with unflattering epithets (including “hysterical”), edited, and never invited back on the show?
In 2014, Kirsten Powers, a female liberal ex-Fox News and current CNN commentator, who frequently found herself the target of O’Reilly’s trademark tirades, countered those misdirected sexism charges in a USA Today piece artlessly titled Bill O’Reilly is not sexist. She presciently capped her portrait of Bill O’Reilly as an equal-opportunity offender with the prescient observation that “if everything is sexist, then eventually nothing will be.”
On that note, with a heavy heart, I guess I’ll have to go find myself a new favorite show—anyone know if Rachael Ray still does her 30 Minute Meals?