The full story concerning O’Reilly’s firing is not yet complete, so fairness demands that any judgment of the man be tentative and carefully qualified. A safe place to start such analysis is with general observations about scandal in high places.
Money begets power, which begets a sense of entitlement, lapses in judgment, and reckless behavior. Call this, if you will, the “I’m so rich and powerful that I can have whatever I want” delusion.
The higher the perch, the more devastating and tragic the fall.
Whether the person was loved or hated, after the firing many who bowed and scraped and fawned in his heyday will pretend never to have known him.
It is fair to say that if O’Reilly did even part of what he is alleged to have done, his firing was justified. But it is equally fair to say that if Fox News executives knew of the matter long before April 2017, as is alleged, then they were derelict in delaying action. Let me expand on the Network’s faults before discussing O’Reilly’s.
It has been apparent for years that one or more people in upper management at Fox decided that women who appeared on camera should look, well, “foxy.” I imagine the reasoning went something like this: “Men like looking at revealingly clad women, so filling our screen with them should increase our viewership.”
Such thinking would explain why for years most on-camera Fox women have shown lots of cleavage and lots of leg. Ultra short skirts and spike heels were from all indications de rigueur at the network. In my Neanderthal youth, the polite term for their appearance was a “come hither look.” Blunt translation: “slutty.”
The lack of protest by the Fox women over the indignity of the dress code was no doubt due to fear of losing their jobs, but the fact that women viewers didn’t protest is more difficult to explain. In contrast, the absence of any outcry from male viewers is understandable—junior high voyeurism syndrome never completely goes away.
The issue of women’s clothing in the workplace is sensitive, I know, so I should clarify what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that a woman shouldn’t dress in any way she chooses. (In the case of Fox, it appears that the women weren’t choosing at all—their male bosses were choosing for them.) Nor am I saying that the way a woman dresses can be an excuse for harassing or assaulting her. That is NEVER the case.
Nevertheless, honesty demands acknowledging that the way a woman dresses can confuse a man, giving him the impression that she is making a sexual overture even when she is not. Of course, a man’s confusion and false impression are HIS problems and she should not be expected to solve them for him. Yet at the same time, it would be a kindness for a woman to anticipate false impressions and address them before an awkward situation develops.
That said, the fault still lay with Fox management. If they had been minimally discerning, they would have recognized the temptations that the dress code created for male employees and anticipated the consequences that would follow if prominent employees yielded to those temptations.
Color Fox management crass, insensitive, and dim-witted, not necessarily in that order.
As to O’Reilly himself, there is no need to repeat all the lurid allegations that led to his firing, but a brief overview will be helpful.
In 2004, O’Reilly allegedly sexually harassed associate producer Andrea Mackris by describing his sexual encounters with other women and suggesting she have sex with him; in subsequent years, he allegedly behaved similarly with other women, among them Laurie Dhue, Juliet Huddy, Rebecca Gomez-Diamond, Andrea Tantaros, and Wendy Walsh. He also allegedly threatened, on at least one occasion, to make any woman who complained about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.”
Also, after O’Reilly learned that his wife was having an affair with a Long Island policeman, he allegedly choked her and dragged her down the stairs by her neck.
O’Reilly and his wife divorced in 2011 and she in time married the policeman. Later, when O’Reilly learned that she was still receiving communion in the Catholic Church, he allegedly complained to Church officials, who advised her in writing that her remarriage barred her from receiving communion.
As I said earlier, if O’Reilly did even part of what he is alleged to have done, his firing was justified. Moreover, his apparent moral offenses are compounded by what appears to be his hypocrisy and appalling lack of charity toward his wife.
Judging by the allegations and the millions of dollars he reportedly paid to the women who made them, and by his alleged treatment of his wife, his attitude about his marriage seems to have been, “I can pursue sexual satisfaction wherever, whenever, and with whomever I wish, but my wife had better not cheat on me, not even once. If she does, not only will I never forgive her, but I will use my influence to make sure she does not approach the communion rail as I do every Sunday.”
It is possible, of course, that he has confessed his own sins, done penance, and amended his life, in which case he is in fact entitled to receive communion though his wife, having remarried, is technically not. Only he and God know for sure, but it is fair to say that if he has not met the three requirements for absolution himself, then it is hypocritical for him to complain to Church authorities about his wife.
O’Reilly’s evident lack of charity regarding his wife is much clearer. Many Christian couples divorce under similar (or even worse) circumstances and yet manage to forgive each other. They do so not because forgiveness is easy or because they have forgotten whatever grievances they may have, but because they realize that they too are sinners and because every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer they specifically ask to be forgiven only in the measure that they forgive others. They are saying, in effect, “Lord, if I don’t forgive them then You should not forgive me.”
As my remarks have made clear, I am disgusted with Bill O’Reilly and with the Fox executives who created the climate that invited his (and others’) alleged mistreatment of women. But I am also saddened by the loss of the TV show that led cable news for the past twenty years. That leadership was not accidental. Despite O’Reilly’s annoying habit of interrupting his guests, his reporting was “fair and balanced” and his analysis provided a breadth and depth of insight available on few, if any, competing programs. Moreover, O’Reilly was a model of generosity to a variety of charities, including Wounded Warrior Project and Track Wheelchairs for Veterans. He was, as well, a tireless promoter of laws protecting citizens from violence, notably “Kate’s Law.”
Justified though it clearly seems to have been, Fox’s termination of Bill O’Reilly represents a significant loss to journalism and to public awareness of important issues.
Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved