The extent to which some individuals in powerful positions will force that power on others in the workplace, time and time again, is shocking. And the corporate culture that protects those individuals – typically due to an enhanced revenue stream – is reprehensible.
E.g.: Bill O’Reilly – Malefactor-in-Chief.
“O’Reilly,” The New York Times reported (Apr. 1), “has been Fox News’s top asset, building the No. 1 program in cable news for a network that has pulled in billions of dollars in revenues for its parent company, 21st Century Fox.”
For those of us lowly peasants unaccustomed to such dizzying numbers, let me repeat that: “…a network that has pulled in billions…”
What has not been known, until recently, is that 21st Century Fox has financially covered for O’Reilly at least 5 times for “allegations of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.”
According to an investigation by The Times, the 5 women “have received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or the company in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.”
In most any other business arena, anyone caught in such activities would have been tossed, and likely would have faced serious criminal charges based on the allegations.
So why hasn’t O’Reilly been tossed? Class…?
“Billions of dollars in revenues!”
Fortunately, advertisers of The O’Reilly Factor have a clearer vision on this issue, and not wanting to face their own customers’ wrath in supporting such egregious behavior, have begun a mass exodus.
“By Wednesday evening [Apr. 5, as reported by ABC News], “the number of companies that said they had pulled advertisements from the primetime program had increased to 52. Among the most prominent were Advil, Mercedes, BMW and Jenny Craig, with Bristol Myers Squibb and Reddi-wip/Con Agra among those that announced their decision late in the day.”
O’Reilly’s response to all this came in a statement:
“Just like other prominent and controversial people,” the statement read, “I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity. In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.”
O’Reilly then plays the “family” card to try to explain the settlements:
“But most importantly, I’m a father who cares deeply for my children and who would do anything to avoid hurting them in any way. And so I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children.
“The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel. Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children. My primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.”
This from the man who touts his “No Spin Zone.”
But here’s the kicker.
“Fredric S. Newman,” The Times report adds, “a lawyer for Mr. O’Reilly, said in a statement Friday evening, ‘We are now seriously considering legal action to defend Mr. O’Reilly’s reputation.’ ”
It’s interesting to note that the settlements have been taking place since 2004, and in all that time, O’Reilly apparently never pursued legal actions to defend his “reputation.” Since the The Times story appeared, he’s changed his mind.
So, what were the allegations against O’Reilly?
“Wendy Walsh,” The Times continues, “had been a guest on The O’Reilly Factor. She said Mr. O’Reilly broke his promise to make her a contributor when she declined an invitation to his hotel suite in 2013.
Of the three other settlements uncovered by The Times, “two involved sexual harassment claims against Mr. O’Reilly, and the other was for verbal abuse related to an episode in which he berated a young producer in front of newsroom colleagues.
“…two other women have spoken of inappropriate behavior by the host. … And a former Fox News host named Andrea Tantaros said Mr. O’Reilly sexually harassed her in a lawsuit she filed last summer against the network and Mr. Ailes.”
O’Reilly’s latest book, entitled Old School, “is billed,” The Times notes (Apr. 7), “as a defense of traditional values, and includes advice on how men should treat women respectfully, not as sex objects.”
This would be laughable if it weren’t already acutely serious, and workplace harassment is a serious issue.
Why would 5 women put themselves in a situation where they would voluntarily come forward about clearly uncomfortable and embarrassing behavior taken against them if the allegations lacked any merit?
Sadder still is this. In a follow-up story by The Times (Apr. 7), “Kimberly JaJack, a longtime Fox News enthusiast [interviewed by The Times said]…“Sexual harassment, that’s not something you turn a blind eye to… But what has happened? Is it going to be enough for me to say I’m not watching Bill O’Reilly anymore?’ …
“Ms. JaJack expressed sympathy for Ms. Walsh,” The Times story continued, “but said that such behavior is part of the working world.”
“Shelli Barkley, 58… said that she would continue to watch Mr. O’Reilly several times a week.
“A few blocks away, Tom Miller, 67, sat at a picnic table with his wife, Sheryl, and their dog Magic. Fox News is a key information source for the couple.
“ ‘If that occurred, I don’t agree with it,’ Mr. Miller said of the harassment claims, suggesting that an appropriate action would be a temporary suspension of Mr. O’Reilly.
“But Mr. Miller said he had trouble believing the allegations. ‘The news is so skewed nowadays, it’s pathetic,’ he said.”
So I guess Fox and O’Reilly were just demonstrating a lightning bolt of bigheartedness in settling $13 million in lawsuits.
Later in the interview, JaJack said of the allegations, “ ‘It’s not right…No ma’am. I don’t care if it’s Fox, I don’t care if it’s CNN, I don’t care if it’s the White House and the president. It’s not right. Point blank.’”
Nonetheless, “Ms. JaJack said she would not stop watching the show.
“ ‘Some people lose their way… I accept you [Mr. O’Reilly], because I believe in you. And believe in Fox News.’ ”
Justifying, rationalizing, and spinning allegedly abusive behavior because it’s part of the “working world,” or an aspect of “skewed” news is yet another recent example of how politicized some issues like sexual harassment have become.
A single allegation of sexual harassment and I might believe O’Reilly’s “target” argument. FIVE times, and $13 million in settlements is too much smoke to ignore.
Memo to Fox Execs: The smoke detector is deafening! I would have thought you would have learned the lesson from the Roger Ailes sex scandal. Do the right thing and fire O’Reilly.