Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News. The host of cable news’ most-watched show will no longer have opportunities to make sexist remarks to coworkers. Yet, it’s hard for me to praise Fox for ousting a man who allegedly acted like a Neanderthal backstage—not because O’Reilly didn’t deserve to be booted, but because he did.
For years, Fox chose to ignore allegations of sexual harassment against O’Reilly. It wasn’t until a recent New York Times article chronicled how the network repeatedly failed to reprimand O’Reilly after numerous harassment charges that Fox finally took real action.
Following the story, more than 50 advertisers left O’Reilly’s show, various critics called for the network to fire O’Reilly, and many female coworkers complained that Fox was perpetuating a culture that was anything but based on trust and respect, two values the network espouses internally. For years, Fox had been putting profits above morality, and still is doing so now.
A company that does the right thing only when money and public scrutiny enter the mix is a company that does not really do the right thing. The company stated, “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.”
Here’s what the organization really meant: “After a thorough review of the allegations by The New York Times and all the subsequent bad press, we can no longer sweep sexism under the rug at Fox News Channel.”
So yes, Fox News finally decided that an anchor should not be allowed to demean and trivialize women just because, you know, that’s how men of a certain generation sometimes behave.
Wait. No, that’s not what Fox said. The network issued a lame boilerplate statement that said nothing about O’Reilly’s wrongdoing. I suspect there are all sorts of pesky legal reasons for saying nothing—but there are also legal reasons for doing nothing, which probably helps explain why Fox and O’Reilly paid $13 million to accusers in recent years to silence them.
Granted, O’Reilly is correct in pointing out that many allegations are unproven, but you know that no one pays that much hush money unless there’s something substantial to keep hushed.
Here’s the bottom line: I wish Fox hadn’t focused solely on the bottom line for years. I wish it had done the right thing at the right time.