Bill O'Reilly is permanently out at Fox News, following sexual harassment allegations that prompted a public outcry and an advertiser boycott. O'Reilly has roundly denied all harassment claims, but the backlash became increasingly damaging to the cable news leviathan. Kirsten Powers, a former contributor to Fox News, spoke on Wednesday night about her experience with O'Reilly on Anderson Cooper's CNN show AC360º.
Powers claimed that her complaint about O'Reilly's allegedly sexist behavior to The O'Reilly Factor's executive producer was basically dismissed. The producer allegedly told Powers there was "nothing" the show's officials could do. He said O'Reilly was "kind of an Archie Bunker," a "throwback." That reference to the lead character in All In the Family perfectly demonstrates why O'Reilly's alleged behavior was so problematic.
For those unfamiliar with 1970s pop culture or television history, All In the Family was a sitcom written by Hollywood legend Norman Lear. The show orbited around its main character, Archie Bunker, a middle-aged white man with a thick streak of bigotry. Here's how Arnold Hano described Bunker in a 1972 New York Times piece:
Archie is a middle‐aged, middle‐class bigot. He is antiblack, anti‐Semitic, anti‐Catholic, anti‐Puerto Rican. He'd be anti‐Chicano, if he knew the word. He doesn't like hippies, short skirts, students, welfare, liberals. He peppers his language with such epithets as spades, coloreds, jungle bunnies, Hebes, Yids, Chinks, Polack meatheads, weirdos, pinkos and fags.
Given that list of unpalatable traits, it may shock many to learn that Bunker became a beloved television icon. Carroll O'Connor, the actor who played Archie, is often credited with giving humanity and depth to a character who others might read as a one-dimensional showcase of prejudice. But it is mostly Lear at work, for creating a nuanced depiction of a man whose demographic ascendancy is disintegrating before his eyes.
As Kevin Fallon puts it at The Daily Beast, "Archie’s opinions often reflected an ingrained ignorance, which was typically undone thanks to his hidden empathy and grumpy willingness to see the world changing around him." And when comparisons between Bunker and then-candidate Donald Trump began circulating, Lear clarified that he didn't believe Bunker was capable of voting for Trump.
Comparing O'Reilly to Bunker is problematic. Though Bunker was no fan of feminism, O'Reilly's alleged behavior toward his female colleagues represents a different degree of inappropriate and offensive action. Additionally, calling O'Reilly a modern-day Archie Bunker minimizes the pernicious effect of his reportedly degrading treatment of women (which he denies).
Whether or not there lurks a "heart of gold" like Bunker's under O'Reilly should not be of concern to executive producers — or anyone else in a position of power at Fox News. The network is not an imagined set — it is the actual work environment for thousands of people.