Last Wednesday, Fox News finally dismissed the host of “The O’Reilly Factor” after years of silencing sexual assault allegations with settlements. Bill O’Reilly earned Fox News $446 million in advertising revenue over a span of two years, a figure that dwarfs the $13 million the company paid to address women’s complaints about the host for more than a decade.
It is therefore unsurprising that the reason Fox News dismissed O’Reilly 13 years after the first public allegation against him is precisely because of money. After a New York Times expose and demonstrations by the women’s rights group Ultraviolet, over 50 companies pulled their ads from O’Reilly’s segment. Forcing O’Reilly out of the network had nothing to do with respect for women’s rights in the workplace; it was an economic calculation and a business deal.
This is the second time this year that a highly visible figure at Fox News has left amidst claims of sexual assault. Robert Ailes, former chief executive officer and chairman of Fox News, left the company last summer with a $40 million exit package after being accused six times. After his departure, a former network booker revealed that the company was aware for more than two decades that she had been harassed by Ailes. Another host filed a lawsuit against Ailes and O’Reilly, and Fox News responded by calling her an opportunist, not a victim.
As more victims came forward with allegations after Ailes left the network, Fox’s responses were to deny the charges and to pay whatever was needed to keep the women silent. Though after the Ailes scandal Fox News stated that it will not tolerate behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment,” their response to O’Reilly’s scandal clearly negates those claims. Every response revolved around money — how much profit the old men made the company, how much money could be spent to settle lawsuits and how much would be lost when companies pulled their advertisements.
And Fox News continues to facilitate sexual harassment. O’Reilly’s successor, Tucker Carlson, believes Democrats made up the term “sexual harassment” and made light of the outrage surrounding President Trump’s boasts of sexual assault. He also called Hillary Clinton “castrating” and this year’s “A Day Without A Woman” protest an “attack on white men.” Hiring another sexist host shows just how little the Fox News image relies on truth or respectability. How is O’Reilly’s absence from Fox News any sign of progress when the network hired a replacement so blatantly misogynistic?
We need to keep holding powerful corporations like Fox News accountable, even if their priorities lie nowhere near equal rights in the workplace. It can be easy for the left to label Fox News as an uncredible, right-wing news outlet and never engage with the network. But we need to pay attention to the internal politics within the corporation as well as the politics it spews on television. As a public audience, we cannot let money cover up the network’s glaring systemic sexism. Instead, we can use our consumer power to manipulate network decisions. Though O’Reilly’s departure involved an estimated $25 million payout, it was spurred by the New York Times investigation and the ensuing protests. However stagnant Fox’s 1950s style sexism stays, we can’t stop protesting. Recent events have proved that this works: In a matter of days, United Continental Holdings lost $225 million in market stock value after mass public outrage over their violent removal of a passenger. Coalition can cause change, even when profit still defines success from a corporate perspective.
That definition of success can shroud misogyny and explains in part how we elected Trump, another top-tier executive accused of sexual harassment. Trump’s fake gilded brand name appealed more to many Americans than the superior qualifications of his opponent, a Yale-educated lawyer, senator and secretary of state. The released Access Hollywood tape that captured Trump’s brags of assault did not impact the result of his campaign. Instead, Trump’s wealth and celebrity gave him immunity from the ramifications of his harassment; in his own words, “When you’re a star they let you do it.” The illusion of success allows too many hateful sexual offenders to remain in power, and the trance that a few executive males hold over a large portion of our country is revolting. Money is, depressingly, still power. But as O’Reilly’s departure signifies, our public outrage has power, too.
Grace Johnson ’19 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.