It was no surprise to most Fox News Channel viewers. The talk had been circulating for weeks. Many of O’Reilly’s loyal fans, who number in the millions, waited and watched — hoping either it wasn’t true or it would blow over. Even before Fox News had made any formal announcement, the other cable news channels were already abuzz with the news — Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News, effective immediately.
“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations,” parent company 21st Century Fox said in a statement, “the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”
Whether you liked Bill O’Reilly or not, it was still jaw-dropping to hear that said out loud. Most of us probably never considered what the world would be like without Bill O’Reilly. He’s just been there so long. An entire generation has grown up with him in their living room on a regular basis. He’s kind of like those faces on Mount Rushmore. He’s… just… there. (Or at least was just there)
How did someone with such a large fan base end up with a pink slip? Well, we could probably come up with plenty of ways it could have happened. After all, he’s a fiery, boisterous, often confrontational guy who has a penchant for stirred things up. Maybe he made a guest mad, or said the wrong thing to the wrong person.
It would be great if it were one of those reasons. Unfortunately, it was for the reason that we seem to hear way too much of these days: “alleged sexual harassment.” Apparently, O’Reilly and Fox had paid out some $13 million over the years to settle five lawsuits accusing him of sexual or other forms of harassment. They managed to keep it under wraps until the New York Times, which is no friend of O’Reilly’s, ran a story about the settlements on April 1.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t a mass exodus of fans that was so worrisome for Fox News. After all, most O’Reilly fans are still loyal. No, it was the more than 50 advertisers who started pulling their ads from his prime-time show and placing them either on another Fox show, or worse, on another network. It was the departure of the advertising dollars that set off all the bells and whistles. That, and the fact that Fox News founder Roger Ailes had just recently been forced out last year for the same reason. Fox was beginning to look like the network had little or no respect for women.
At the same time that Fox was desperately trying to hold on to as much advertising dollars as possible, there had been a more recent complaint from a woman who said that in 2013 O’Reilly had agreed to make her a Fox News contributor, but changed his mind when she refused to go up to his hotel room. Fox enlisted a law firm to investigate this incident.
O’Reilly has denied the allegations, insisting that it’s a left-wing conspiracy designed to get him off the air. His lawyer issued a blistering statement Tuesday, accusing O’Reilly’s liberal opponents of a “smear campaign.”
O’Reilly left to go on vacation last week. He insists it was scheduled. In fact, there’s a picture posted online of him hanging out with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Italy. When he returns, at the age of 67, it’s likely that the pink slip will be molded for the public eye to appear as an early retirement slip.
The moral of this story? Rupert Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, and his two sons, Lachlan and James, have learned a hard lesson about valuing women in the workplace. If the allegations against O’Reilly are true, and the Murdochs were complicit in keeping this secret (as long as he was still making them a profit of more than $400 million a year), well, that would be wrong too.
As for Bill O’Reilly, we will probably never know for sure if he is innocent or guilty. But we all know where’s there’s smoke, there’s usually at least a spark, if not on a full on wildfire. Most will probably judge him guilty, but that still doesn’t take away from the good he did in his tenure at fox.