Frankly, the news that Bill O’Reilly has finally gotten his walking papers doesn’t move me to joy.
O’Reilly reigned at Fox News for more than two decades. He reveled in his lordly stature, his self-regard puffed up by adoring fans across America. These acolytes even now are readily casting blame upon the women who called out O’Reilly’s creepy and predatory behavior. Perhaps his fans can’t distinguish between that behavior and O’Reilly’s unapologetically manly on-air persona. That is O’Reilly brand, and they love it.
O’Reilly played a key role in helping get a fellow misogynist elected to the most powerful office in the nation. He planted and nursed the cynical take on journalism that has become a battle cry of the right wing. When confronted with serious reporting done by far more ethical journalists that didn’t square with his aggrieved white male point of view, O’Reilly went straight to the charge of bias. So when we hear Trump idiotically bleat about “fake news,” we have old Billo to thank for all those years he labored in the vineyard.
Along the way, he raked in millions in profits for both Fox News and himself.
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Think he feels like a failure? Or feels any regret for having harassed women for years? Not a chance.
Wherever he is now, O’Reilly ought to be smiling and toasting himself for a job well done. And he ought to consider the $25 million that 21st Century Fox reportedly has to pay him on the way out the door as a performance bonus.
It will likely please O’Reilly that the payout is more than his employer ever paid any woman who filed a complaint against him. Those women had either worked for O’Reilly or appeared on his show. They were paid by either O’Reilly or 21st Century Fox, and reportedly received a collective $13 million to set aside their accusations and not seek anything more in litigation. That’s an expensive bullet that O’Reilly dodged.
He’ll certainly resurface, with more books and a new iteration of “The O’Reilly Factor” in some other venue. There are still a lot of takers for his hype. And O’Reilly is a 67-year-old man not likely to change his stripes.
Friends have reminded me of my own brush with O’Reilly. Apparently, I taunted him into a request to appear on his show in 2009 by penning the line in a column: “I hate to be in the position of defending O’Reilly, but what he is guilty of is the lesser charge of propagating ignorance on an important issue.”
At the time, the abortion doctor George Tiller had been shot to death in Wichita, Kan., and a pro-life activist had just been charged with his murder. Before the shooting, O’Reilly had been regularly berating the victim and calling him “Tiller the killer.” A video compilation was making the rounds O’Reilly using the epithet along with what I labeled “choice bits of blood-curdling vituperation.”
People were claiming that O’Reilly was responsible for the murder. Not so fast, I wrote, a point missed by O’Reilly when I appeared on “The Factor.”
First he badgered me in an off-air conversation, trying to rile up tension. It was weird, for sure. On air, he assumed that I was a neophyte who surely was an adamant pro-abortion supporter. Wrong and wrong again.
He came off sounding like a jerk — a man whose script was straight condescension, without context.
O’Reilly is probably a typical bully who has gotten away with a lot of crazy behavior his whole life, I recall thinking. I moved on. For it was hardly news that a high-profile, highly paid male figure would talk over me, not listen and completely misread my work.
But I wasn’t a woman trying to get a gig on his show. I didn’t have to work with him daily.
I retold the story to a friend, a 35-year-old public relations up-and-comer, as we discussed the ouster of O’Reilly this week. She noted famous snippets of tape where a far younger O’Reilly exhibits a fit. (Google “We’ll do it live!” to see this classic freak-out from his “Inside Edition” days.)
It’s legendary, she said, among the first things seen by young people coming into the profession. And he went on to earn millions.
This observation was delivered with an air of resignation. She knows that men like him populate many an industry. And that, as a young professional, it is highly likely that she will experience a bit of the O’Reilly factor in attitudes that still populate many work places.
O’Reilly has technically and temporarily been put out to pasture. But the sexist, swinish behavior he epitomized will stop only when it ceases to be rewarded.