Thirteen years. That’s how long it took for Fox News Channel to finally do something about Bill O’Reilly.
Bill O’Reilly is out as host of “The O’Reilly Factor,” disappearing in disgrace after 21 years at Fox News Channel. The host has been on vacation since last week, and now won’t be returning to the network’s lineup. “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” the network said in a statement released Wednesday.
He was the face of the world’s most powerful TV news outlet, which makes this a Really Big Deal. It finally sends a long-delayed message that sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace, or anywhere.
But before you say “better late than never,” remember that it took 13 years for the network to address concerns about O’Reilly’s behavior toward female colleagues. That’s more than a decade, during which time O’Reilly allegedly was able to sexually harass other network employees. And that’s 13 years during which Fox News, and parent 21st Century Fox (and, before it was spun off, News Corp.) did nothing.
In 2004, Fox News employee Andrea Mackris sued the host, claiming that O’Reilly had regularly harassed her, since at least 2002, through lewd language and conduct. According to the complaint (still available on The Smoking Gun), Mackris was subjected to a “sexually hostile work environment” by her immediate supervisor, O’Reilly, that was “so offensive and severe that it detrimentally altered the terms and conditions” of her employment.
Fox itself allowed a “permissive and encouraging environment for gender discrimination and sexual harassment reigns among supervisors, managers and employees,” the suit added.
The suit was eventually settled out of court, and both Fox News and O’Reilly managed to mostly sweep it under the rug. O’Reilly remained as host, and arguably grew even more influential and powerful, despite the very public, and embarrassing, allegations in the suit.
But apparently, despite shelling out millions of dollars to make that suit (and, apparently other complaints over the years) go away, Fox News and 21st Century Fox hadn’t learned its lesson.
Until last year. The hasty exit of Fox News kingpin Roger Ailes was a sign that things might be handled differently at the company as Murdoch brothers James and Lachlan continued to amass more power. James Murdoch, in particular, appears to realize that a culture of misogyny and harassment at Fox News reflects poorly on the rest of the company.
Of course, it was a business decision first and foremost. More than 50 advertisers pulled out of “The O’Reilly Factor,” giving Fox News a migrane. Many of those advertisers were placing those dollars elsewhere, but “O’Reilly Factor” (and its rebroadcasts) occupy plum primetime real estate on Fox News, and that’s still money left on the table for the network. What’s more, the network’s continued success following the exit of Ailes proved that Fox News is bigger than any one person. That was also exhibited in the past by the exits of powerful Fox News hosts like Megyn Kelly and Glenn Beck, who were replaced by new shows that didn’t miss a beat in the ratings. The Fox News audience is loyal, no matter who is fronting its shows.
Also: Fox News’ aging audience won’t be around forever, and if the network wants to survive for decades to come – especially as distribution models change — it has to reach out to younger viewers who aren’t as willing to look the other way.
But Fox News also just recently sealed a new deal with 21st Century Fox, which means – just like Ailes last year – the payout will likely be costly for the company. It’s one final “atta boy” to a host whose actions have been tolerated and tacitly accepted by the company for decades.