Too Many Allegations: Why Fox Had to Fire O’Reilly

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Bill O’Reilly sits at his desk on the set of his former television show, The O’Reilly Factor.

Although workplace harassment is a phenomenon that should have been left in the Madmen era, it is unfortunately still present  in this day and age. As announced on April 19, Mr. Bill O’Reilly was fired from his position of host of The O’Reilly Factor, a top-rated cable show on the conservative  channel, Fox News. Reportedly, the decision to fire Mr. O’Reilly came from the Murdoch family, who own 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News. After observing the multiple testimonies of harassment and mounting public outrage against Mr. O’Reilly, the network made the conclusion that he must be fired.

However, while firing Mr. O’Reilly was the right decision for Fox to make, it did not necessarily stem from the most noble motivations. The choice was not made purely out of moral obligation, but mostly the desire to maintain the network’s reputation.

If Fox News was truly concerned about Mr. O’Reilly’s inappropriate behavior, they would have fired him as soon as they became aware of his reputation of abuse. However, this was not the case. Even after five settlements against Mr. O’Reilly were made, Fox News continued to defend his position at the network. Eventually, female activists and protesters took to opposing the Fox News corporation, and more women from Fox News were encouraged to come out with their sexual harassment allegations.

The stories of Mr. O’Reilly’s victims were all similar — he had made inappropriate advances upon each of them, and once a settlement was reached, the women weren’t allowed to talk about their experience legally. However, many of these stories did not come to light until Emily Steel, a 33 year old journalist from The New York Times, exposed them to the public. Ms. Steel published an article on April 1, 2017, revealing that five women had settled with Fox News over allegations of harassment against Mr. O’Reilly.  Additionally, Ms. Steel revealed the experiences of these women  — the most high-profile being Wendy Walsh, a former host of a segment on Mr. O’Reilly’s show. Ms. Walsh stated that O’Reilly had at first taken her to dinner, and then inappropriately suggested that Ms. Walsh come to his suite. After she declined, Ms. Walsh recounted to ABC News,  “All his charming-ness went away, and he said the words, ‘You can forget all the business advice I gave you, you’re on your own.’”

Stunningly, Ms. Walsh’s horrifying story was only one of five cases brought to the public’s attention. Recently, as more allegations have come forward, more of the affected women have found the courage to share their experiences. In late April, Perquita Burgess revealed that she too had been harassed by Mr. O’Reilly.  In an on-air interview, she recounted that Mr. O’Reilly would grunt at her when she was at her desk and take longer route to his destination just to pass by her. Ms. Burgess additionally stated that O’Reilly would call her “hot chocolate,” a phrase both racially and sexually offensive.

Clearly, the Fox News corporation had known about Mr. O’Reilly’s pattern of sexual harassment for a long time, but only chose to act under the pressure of media attention. This decision reveals the immorality of Fox — they were only willing to act against injustice when overwhelmingly urged to do so. Although the network did dole out settlements to some of Mr. O’Reilly’s victims, this financial compensation is not enough to make up for his abusive behavior. The only way for the network to make things right was to fire Mr. O’Reilly ­— which, albeit for the wrong reasons, it thankfully did. Hopefully, the removal of Mr. O’Reilly serves as a catalyst for other prominent corporations to depose their own employees guilty of sexual harassment.

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