The Misogyny Factor

May 4, 2017

The firing of Bill O'Reilly over serial sexual harassment at Fox News exposes a pattern of abuse that runs all the way to the very top, argues Elizabeth Schulte.

SOMETIMES YOU can judge a book by its cover. That's certainly the case with multimillionaire misogynist Bill O'Reilly, ex-host of the Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor and famous for his bigoted rants. He was fired after revelations that a number of women have received payouts from the network over sexual harassment complaints made against him.

According to an investigation by the New York Times, at least five women received payments, either from the network or O'Reilly himself, in exchange for agreeing not to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.

The women, who got $13 million in all, were either guests on or employees of O'Reilly's show. They report everything from lewd language to verbal abuse and unwanted advances. Some said that O'Reilly would proposition them, making it clear that if they refused, their careers were in peril.

When the news broke, a number of advertisers left the show. The airtime was mostly filled with commercials for catheters and Elvis Presley gospel albums.

Donald Trump and Bill O'Reilly
Donald Trump and Bill O'Reilly

With more and more women coming forward with stories about O'Reilly--including an African American woman who worked as a temp at Fox News and said that O'Reilly repeatedly walked past her desk, grunted and said "hot chocolate"--Fox boss Rupert Murdoch was forced to wash his hands of the host of cable TV news' number-one show.

It must have been sweet justice for the women who were forced to endure O'Reilly's unwanted sexual advances, comments, groping and intimidation, year after year. But it was nowhere even close to enough.

As part of O'Reilly's departure from Fox, the creep will receive a payout of about $25 million--equivalent to the salary he "earned" each year. The five women who said O'Reilly harassed them received about half that amount all together.

O'REILLY IS one of several recent examples of men at the right-wing "news" network who have been exposed for their gross sexist behavior and a pattern of discrimination throughout the corporation.

Network chair Roger Ailes was forced out after an internal investigation in July 2016 into more than 20 complaints of sexual harassment. Earlier this week, Bill Shine, Fox News co-president and a close collaborator with Ailes, had to resign for failing to do anything about allegations of sexual misconduct.

And we should include some of O'Reilly's favorite guests and best friends on that list. Like the president of the United States, Donald Trump, who was recorded on tape in 2005 telling Access Hollywood's Billy Bush, "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...Grab them by the pussy."

The tape was released weeks before the election, but Trump responded to the public outrage by writing it off as "locker room talk."

It's probably no surprise that the president still supports Bill O'Reilly. But the fact that he thought he could announce it to the press is significant. In an interview with the New York Times in the Oval Office, Trump called O'Reilly "a good person."

"Personally, I think he shouldn't have settled," Trump told the Times. "Because you should have taken it all the way; I don't think Bill did anything wrong."

AS HIS presidency hurtles past its first 100 days, it's getting difficult to be shocked by anything Trump says or does. But can we pause for a moment to let the fact soak in that the leader of the free world just stood up for a serial sexual harasser?

This sends a message to bosses everywhere that nothing their women employees say matters--and another to the women themselves: Nobody believes you.

This attitude, coming from the most powerful person in the country, exacerbates what is already a serious problem in U.S. workplaces. Reporting on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) statistics, the Guardian found that of the 6,822 sexual harassment allegations investigated by the EEOC in 2015, 52 percent were dismissed because the agency had "no reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred;" just 25 percent had favorable outcomes for the complainant; and 23 percent of cases were closed for administrative reasons.

And, of course, most cases don't even make it that far. Many people who experience sexual assault don't report it--in many cases, because they fear reprisals, including losing their jobs. The women at Fox took a big chance by making their cases public--and for women with fewer resources, the battle against harassment on the job can be insurmountable.

Take the fast-food industry, where the workforce is largely female. Two out of five women who work in the fast-food industry report sexual harassment on the job, according to a 2016 Hart Research survey. According to workers trying to draw attention to the issue as part of the Fight for 15, regular harassment on the job, including managers showing them pictures of their genitals and getting slapped on the butt, gets ignored by management.

And to look at the outcome at Fox, it's little wonder: The women who step forward to report harassment risk losing their jobs or further harassment, while people like Bill O'Reilly get away with assault for years--before collecting a big fat paycheck on their way out.

And this message was approved by the president of the United States.

Trump's message of support for O'Reilly is more than an offhand comment. It is an endorsement of women's second-class status. It is a bald-faced attempt to downplay sexism and denigrate the rights that women have, thanks to the struggles of the past.

And it goes hand in hand with the right-wing propaganda machine that complains about "political correctness" as an excuse to treat women like objects without rights.

O'Reilly has made a career as a hideously passionate purveyor of these politics.

Countless media outlets compared the treatment of women at Fox with Mad Men, the popular series depicting a Manhattan ad agency in early to mid-1960s. The problem, of course, is that it's 2017, and men like O'Reilly and Trump aren't just behind the times. They know what constitutes sexual harassment at work.

And they don't care.

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