According to the New York Times and other news outlets, prominent Fox News commentator, Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor, has been accused of sexual harassment by five women. According to multiple published reports Fox paid these women some $13 million to settle their claims.
Moreover, Wendy Walsh, formerly a regular on The Factor, who was not paid a settlement, disclosed her complaints to the Times and held a press conference. She claimed, in part, that O’Reilly had offered to make her a “contributor” to the show if she would accompany him to his hotel suite. She declined and was not given the spot.
In addition, she demanded an independent investigation into the matter. (The Times reported that the Manhattan DA’s Office is investigating. Furthermore, multiple sources have reported that Fox has retained the prominent law firm Paul, Weiss to conduct its own internal investigation.)
The complaints allege that Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior is part of the culture pervasive at Fox. They cite the recent complaints against Roger Ailes, former Chairman and CEO of Fox News, as an example. The Times has reported that Fox has taken corrective action by enhancing its personnel awareness and training procedures and hiring a new Director of Human Resources.
These news outlets have also speculated that O’Reilly has been suspended and is unlikely to return. (On the other hand, both a Fox news spokesman and Mr. O’Reilly, himself, have stated that he is merely on vacation until April 28 and that such vacation was scheduled last fall.) Which version is true? Your guess is as good as mine, but Chuck Barney of the Bay Area News Group has reported that the Murdoch family, which owns Fox, is still deciding upon a course of action. Barney reported that James, the CEO, would like to terminate Mr. O’Reilly, while Rupert and Lachlan would like to retain him.
Another very significant development is that, according to Kantar Media, dozens of advertisers have pulled their ads from the show, resulting in an approximately 50% decrease in ad revenue. For example, Mercedes Benz, which spent nearly $2 million on ads last year, opined “given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.” Hyundai cited “the recent and disturbing allegations.” Ultimately, the drying up of advertising revenue may seal Mr. O’Reilly’s fate
This story is very significant, socially, culturally and economically. Socially, it is another instance in a long line of reputed inappropriate behavior between the sexes. Usually, but not always, the allegations involve a rich, powerful and/or famous man and a woman under his influence and/or control. In recent years, we have seen cases involving athletes, such as Tiger Woods, Presidents, such as Bill Clinton, entertainers, such as Bill Cosby, businessmen, such as Roger Ailes, clergy, and numerous teachers and their students. To be fair, men have not always been the perpetrators in these cases. We have seen women as well, particularly teachers.
Culturally, I believe it illustrates a basic flaw in human behavior. Most of us, manage to control our wanton desires. A few, cannot or will not, particularly if they think they can get away with it. Not to make light of these very serious situations, I recall that former President Jimmy Carter, perhaps, tongue in cheek, once said he “lusts in his heart.”
The economic impact on Fox is enormous. According to Kantar Media, a media research firm, O’Reilly’s show, The O’Reilly Factor, has a viewing audience of nearly 4 million per night, and from 2014 through 2016 it generated advertising revenue for Fox of some $446 million. These numbers would likely be severely impacted without Mr. O’Reilly’s presence. (Mr. O’Reilly is believed to earn roughly $18 million per year, just from the show, not counting his earnings from his best-selling books and tours.
It should be noted that Mr. O’Reilly has vigorously denied these allegations as “without merit.” Additionally, his lawyer has characterized Walsh’s allegations as “patently false and highly defamatory,” and has demanded that she “cease and desist all defamation of Mr. O’Reilly’s character.”
Normally, these cases become “he said – she said” matters in which the essential facts are in dispute. Unfortunately, Americans have a tendency to rush to judgment before all the facts have been investigated. Often, these cases have been tried in the media, which then faces embarrassment when all is said and done. Typically, the public remembers the original version, rather than the accurate one, which may be determined months later. Some recent examples of inaccurate rushes to judgment have been the Duke lacrosse case, the Trevon Martin case, and the Ferguson, Missouri case. By the time the matter has been fully investigated and the real facts determined many people and the media have made up their minds and refuse to accept the truth. The O’Reilly situation may follow that pattern.
Most of you know that I have been a staunch supporter of Mr. O’Reilly’s. I believe his reporting and commentary to be mostly fair and balanced, and I rely on his show as my primary news source.
That said, these allegations are heinous and should not be tolerated in our society. We’re better than this. Let’s remember, however, that in America people are adjudged to be “innocent until proven guilty.” I urge everyone to wait until the aforementioned investigations have been completed and all the facts are known before rushing to judgment.