Why Bill O'Reilly Reportedly Leaving Fox News Is No Feminist Victory
According to a report from New York, Fox is set to sever ties with Bill O'Reilly and his popular show, The O'Reilly Factor, after it was revealed by The New York Times earlier this month that the network has settled multiple sexual and verbal harassment claims against the television show host over the past 14 years to the tune of millions of dollars; the network has not yet commented on the reports. But while it's certainly reassuring, O'Reilly's reported exit from Fox News is certainly no feminist victory.
UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon, Fox News confirmed that O'Reilly would not be returning to the network. In a statement, Fox News said that they had agreed he wouldn't return "after a thorough and careful review of the allegations." O'Reilly said his departure was "disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims."
EARLIER: The notion that it took over a decade for O'Reilly to be reportedly asked to leave the network, coupled with the fact that Fox News must have known about the allegations against O'Reilly — and, indeed, facilitated some of the payouts to silence his accusers — speaks volumes about the way in which the network views women and about the way in which women are treated in the workplace more broadly. Although a broad collective of advertisers and women's rights groups petitioned for Bill O'Reilly to leave the air and succeeded in their efforts, this does not make his eventual reported exit a victory.
The full extent of the sexual harassment allegations against O'Reilly (and their related payouts) came to light earlier in April after The New York Times conducted an in-depth investigation which revealed that, over the past 14 years, five women received payments from O'Reilly himself or from Fox News in exchange for not speaking about their allegations against him and not pursuing litigation related to these allegations. According to the Times, these allegations included:
...a wide range of behavior [toward women], including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted sexual advances, and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O'Reilly was masturbating.
In order to ensure that these claims against O'Reilly never came to light, these women received payments totaling around $13 million.
O'Reilly denied the allegations and on Tuesday, his lawyer claimed that "Bill O'Reilly has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America." O'Reilly himself claimed on his show's website that as a celebrity, he is vulnerable to allegations intended to degrade his reputation. Still, Fox News confirmed it was investigating the allegations against O'Reilly.
While O'Reilly's reported ouster in 2017 certainly reflects what should happen after one is repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and verbal abuse by multiple women in the workplace, the fact that it took over a decade to occur is absolute travesty for women. O'Reilly's reported exit was seemingly only decided upon when pressure from advertisers, who are beholden to a much wider audience than the Fox News market, allegedly made current Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch strongly re-consider whether O'Reilly was the best thing for the network.
The fact that the Fox network apparently stood by O'Reilly until pressure from advertisers encouraged them not to do so implies that they seem to value revenue more than the safety and well-being of their female employees. Moreover, the network's decision to pay off some of the women who previously accused O'Reilly of harassment implies complicity.
Overall, while O'Reilly's reported exit from Fox News certainly is a step in the right direction and means that at least advertisers see themselves as beholden to those who do not tolerate sexual harassment, it would be much more encouraging if O'Reilly had been let go years ago and if women's reports of sexual harassment were enough to ensure his ouster. Fox News — and society in general — still has a long way to go when it comes to ensuring women's protection and security in the workplace and beyond.