Bill O’Reilly isn’t going anywhere.
He’s not some self-righteous hypocritical bully governing a Bible Belt state while wading in a sex scandal. O’Reilly is a self-righteous hypocritical bully who has the top-rated cable news show while wading in sexual harassment accusations.
Faced with impeachment, Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama finally resigned Monday after a recent state report confirmed that he had an “inappropriate relationship” with his senior adviser and fostered “an atmosphere of intimidation” among his employees to keep it quiet. State officials and voters had had enough; Bentley had to go.
With O’Reilly, it’s hard to tell what “enough” would even look like. It hasn’t been the $13 million the host of “The O’Reilly Factor” and 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, have shelled out to five women who’ve accused him of inappropriate behavior. So far, more than 50 companies, including Mercedes-Benz and Jenny Craig, have pulled their ads, yet there’s no hint that Fox is considering dumping the man called “The King of Cable News.” Still, that’s meant very few commercials for his program beyond ads for catheters, arthritis pain relief, and an Elvis Presley gospel CD.
It certainly didn’t deter President Donald Trump from rushing to his pal’s defense. “I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump told The New York Times last week. “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” Of course you don’t, Mr. President. When you’re a star, women “let you do anything,” right?
By now, other TV hosts and their bosses would be concocting exit strategies, choosing a successor, and signing nondisclosure agreements. This would likely be O’Reilly’s fate except for one distinguishing detail — his viewers don’t care. In fact, since the Times this month published its investigation into O’Reilly’s multimillion-dollar sexual harassment settlements, his ratings have soared. Last Tuesday, “The O’Reilly Factor” drew about 3.8 million viewers, 1.5 million more than his most-watched show from the previous week.
His fans likely don’t believe these women at all. Since they’ve never been offended by O’Reilly’s vilification of African-Americans, Muslims, or the LGBT community, they certainly aren’t concerned about women demanding equal treatment in a workplace free from sexual harassment and coercion.
To O’Reilly’s viewers, his accusers are women who, after coming up short on their Fox career plans, opted for false accusations and a slice of O’Reilly’s considerable wealth. O’Reilly, who denies the allegations, claims he only settled to “spare his children the pain of messy public ordeals.”
Dating back more than a decade, the O’Reilly allegations may be new to the public, but when it comes to believing his accusers, it’s the same old tired thing. Powerful men, especially, are too often given a pass for reprehensible behavior. We saw this writ large last fall when Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, was heard on an audiotape boasting about making unwanted sexual advances on women. Trump dismissed it as “locker room” banter, and so did many of his supporters. A month later, he was elected president.
When sexual harassment allegations pushed out longtime Fox honcho Roger Ailes last year, it highlighted a toxic atmosphere that is, at the very least, tolerated at Fox News. The network has launched its own investigation into a recent allegation, but it’s a stretch to believe the network would ever jettison a man still pulling big ratings. If he can hold onto his wave of new viewers, it’s only a matter of time before advertisers find their way back to his show, and this scandal is cast aside as quickly as the last one. Morals are one thing, but money is always better, and that will keep “The King of Cable News” on the air, even as his rancid kingdom is under attack like never before.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham