It would be satisfying to imagine Fox News found its conscience Wednesday, firing Bill O’Reilly because sexual harassment was intolerable in that workplace.
It would be nice, too, to think Fox just grew weary of O’Reilly’s smearing and belittling of decent people: the gifted California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, whom O’Reilly trashed so Liu wouldn’t get a federal appeals court appointment. The fiery California Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters, whom he mocked as she spoke of patriotism among African Americans. His own Fox News colleague Gretchen Carlson, who dragged the network into the modern era last summer when she lodged sexual harassment allegations against their then-boss, Roger Ailes.
How reassuring, if O’Reilly’s downfall – after a New York Times exposé on the many sexual harassment allegations against him – were just about what happens to bullies. But that’s not how it works, even on TV.
What happened to O’Reilly was about the $13 million in settlements Fox News paid over more than a decade to silence all those women. About the complaints still coming in even as he “vacationed” in Rome, awaiting parent company 21st Century Fox’s verdict.
Thirteen million bucks here, $14 billion there, soon not even an audience with Pope Francis can save you.
It’s about the female Fox News hosts – Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren – lost to less sexist cable networks. About the advertisers who stampeded from O’Reilly’s show after The Times’ story.
And, more than that, about 21st Century Fox’s $14 billion bid for the British satellite service Sky TV, which depends on the British government finding the corporation to be a “fit” steward. That’s how Rupert Murdoch’s family, which controls 21st Century Fox, had to abandon the effort to acquire Sky in 2011; their News of the World tanked their reputation in a phone hacking conspiracy.
No, what happened to O’Reilly was what happened to then-Gov. Mike Pence after he signed anti-gay legislation in Indiana, to Gov. Pat McCrory after that bathroom bill in North Carolina, and to Donald Sterling after the then-Los Angeles Clippers owner was caught on tape disparaging black people in a way that promised to cost the National Basketball Association money.