After standing by Bill O’Reilly during sexual harassment allegations that spanned 15 years, and paying out $13 million in settlements to keep those cases out of court, Fox News and their top host have officially parted ways. He leaves with $25 million and a warm send-off from his Fox colleagues.
It may mark the end of an era at Fox, but I’m skeptical it truly marks the end of a culture.
Let me say, for starters, that I appeared unpaid on Fox for two years, nearly 10 years ago. During that time, I never met Bill O’Reilly, nor Roger Ailes. And I never personally experienced any sexual harassment of any kind.
But it’s clear, given what so many women have alleged in the past year, that Fox has a very serious woman problem. To think otherwise would mean you’d have to believe that Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, Alisyn Camerota, Juliet Huddy, Laurie Luhn, Rudi Bakhtiar, Tamara Holder, Shelley Ross, Kellie Boyle, the five women who accused O’Reilly, and the many others who accused Ailes over years and years were all lying about a culture of harassment and unwanted sexual advances.
That’s possible — O’Reilly has denied the allegations, and in fact asserted that he was the victim of “unfounded claims” and the “unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”
Yes, poor, poor Billy.
But even if you believe O’Reilly, Ailes and other male executives at Fox have been the victims of a vicious smear campaign, it’s inarguable that it’s worked. The Fox News brand is now synonymous with sexual harassment.
Either way, while woman after woman has come out to tell her story and share her humiliating and outrageous experience, the silence from the men of Fox News has been deafening. Whether they believe their female colleagues have been sexually harassed at Fox or they think the Fox good name is being sullied unfairly, you’d think many would have much more to say.
I know many men at Fox, and most are good, decent people. Many are also good family men who have wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. Many are men of faith and moral conviction. These men have huge platforms.
And all of that is why, if we care about changing a culture of sexual harassment and the unfair treatment of women, their voices would be so incredibly powerful.
Imagine if the male anchors, hosts and contributors issued a statement calling for the immediate end of sexual harassment at Fox. Or if just one host used 20 seconds of his on air time to condemn sexual harassment in the workplace. Or if any threatened to quit if one more allegation surfaced.
This, to me, is why talk from the top of a “culture change” rings hollow. Excising two prominent figures, years after allegations were made known and after millions were spent to keep them in power, is not a culture change. It’s a business decision. That advertisers were fleeing and Ofcome, the British media regulator, is deciding whether to allow 21st Century Fox to buy its Sky TV network, was likely far more a motivator than any ethical or moral sense of outrage.
I enjoyed working at Fox. I met wonderful people who respected and mentored me. I learned a lot and made life-long friends. The network is an important part of our media landscape, and I want it to thrive. To do that will require the men of Fox News to take a stand, and not just the many women who already have.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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