by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 3, Sha'ban, 1438)
The nastiest television talk-show host, exposed as a sexual predator, has been knocked off his perched.
If we believed in clan solidarity, we would express support for Bill O’Reilly, top-rated talk show host at Fox News, over his getting the boot from the cable network. But we are not clannish; quite the opposite. Besides, it is extremely difficult to empathize with an obnoxious creature like O’Reilly who took sadistic pleasure in tormenting people he interviewed on his show, “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Even this would be tolerable, although quite unfair, because he ruined the lives of many innocent people after they appeared on his show, but his misdemeanors became a liability for the owners. O’Reilly was booted out because he was exposed as a sexual predator. Further, it came to light (the New York Times reported this on April 2) that he paid $13 million to five women in an out-of-court settlement lending credence to allegations about his sexual misconduct.
In a terse one-sentence statement, Fox News announced on April 19, “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations… Bill O’Reilly will not be returning,” to the network. Good riddance, some would say although he was reportedly paid $25 million in severance pay — an obscene amount for a sexual predator. O’Reilly said it was “tremendously disheartening” to leave over “completely unfounded claims.” He failed to explain why he paid $13 million to five women if the allegations against him were “completely unfounded.”
Unfortunately such misconduct is common among powerful Western men in high positions, notwithstanding tall claims about women’s rights and liberation, etc. Men consider it a right to sexually harass women working for them. Roger Ailes, who built Fox News for the Murdoch family, was also forced to leave the network in 2016 when Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News presenter, sued him for sexual harassment.
There were other factors as well that contributed to O’Reilly getting the boot. He has a long history of sexually harassing women but in the past, money was paid to bury the matter. Not so this time. What forced Fox News owners — or the parent company 21st Century Fox — were several other considerations. First, the sexual allegations were aired publicly. The New York Times highlighted them leading to other media outlets joining the chorus of condemnation. Second, more than 50 sponsors withdrew ads from his show, “The O’Reilly Factor.” Among them were such high paying sponsors as Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Hyundai. These sponsors specifically withdrew ads from O’Reilly’s show expressing strong disapproval of his conduct. For cable news networks, money matters. O’Reilly was becoming a liability despite his huge following for his nightly show. If the sponsors withdrew their ads, the huge audiences became irrelevant.
Equally important for the Murdochs — the family that owns 21st Century Fox — was the impact the scandal could have on its attempts to purchase European broadcaster Sky. The Murdoch family’s $14 billion deal to buy out satellite provider Sky was pending and being scrutinised by British regulators. The O’Reilly scandals were having a negative effect on these discussions although earlier last month, authorities with the European Commission cleared 21st Century Fox to acquire the remaining 61% of Sky that it does not yet own. The Murdochs did not want to take any chances. O’Reilly had become expendable, especially after Ailes was sacked last year.
In a revealing twist, US President Donald Trump supported O’Reilly (it takes one to know one). “He is a good person,” Trump told the New York Times on April 19. “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled [with the five women that accused him of sexual harassment],” Trump added. He went on to say, “I don't think Bill did anything wrong.”
Trump has publicly admitted that powerful men and celebrities have the right to thrust themselves on women and there is nothing wrong with their groping them. During the election campaign, he not only admitted to doing so, he even boasted about it. So it comes as no surprise that someone like Trump would support O’Reilly.
Does their common Scottish ancestry have anything to do with their misconduct? We would refrain from such speculation.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).