Bill O’Reilly catapulted to the top of newspaper headlines and website pages recently when Fox News forced him out following a pileup of sexual harassment allegations.
In the social media sphere, nearly everyone—from feminist media sites, to BuzzFeed, to a guy I once studied abroad with—praised this outcome with celebration or righteous anger. Their argument rings clear: women: 1, a scorned O’Reilly: 0.
These triumphant reactions should not, however, overshadow the sexism that has steadily persisted and still reigns at Fox News.
The network’s former producer, Andrea Mackris, became the first to accuse O’Reilly of sexual harassment in 2004. The now notorious host agreed to shell out $9 million to escape the controversy, asserting the network’s common theme: money is more important than women.
This rationale followed O’Reilly throughout the scandal. The network’s reluctance to fire him has been widely attributed to his show’s popularity. According to The Los Angeles Times, O’Reilly’s program, The O’Reilly Factor, boasted 3.98 million viewers from Jan. to Mar. of 2016. Furthermore, news industry analysts predict that with O’Reilly’s departure, Fox News’s ratings could sink by 25 percent.
Yes, the network banished O’Reilly—but granted him an estimated $25 million. And the conservative pundit doesn’t seem to have any remorse for his long history of alleged harassment, which mounted to ten claims.
“It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims,” O’Reilly said in a formal statement. “But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”
In this statement, O’Reilly positions himself as the victim. He also rationalizes that women have targeted him solely based on his fame. But how can he be surprised or defensive, given Fox’s routine sexist narratives?
For example, in a 2004 discussion about workplace discrimination, Fox News’s previous vice president, Joe Chillemi, infamously answered a question about if he would rather hire a man or woman.
“Of course I’d pick the man,” Chillemi said, as widely reported by The New York Times, NBC News and The Washington Post. “The woman would most likely get pregnant and leave.”
Over a decade later, in 2015, a video of sexist statements made by Fox News anchors virally circulated. The video, created by organization Media Matters, showcased O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and others as they made statements such as, “There’s got to be some downside to having a woman president,” and “Women are everywhere now, we’re letting them play golf and tennis, it’s out of control.”
One male anchor can even be heard telling a female guest, “Know your role and shut your mouth.”
In a similar video broadcast by The Daily Show, male anchors quip, “Go ahead and just get naked,” and “Stick to the thigh-high boots,” to their female counterparts.
This objectification continues on the Fox News website. I searched the op-ed section for articles about women, and of the ten first-page results dubbed “most relevant,” two frantically inquired, Why do women fake orgasms?
Meanwhile, issues such as insurance coverage for birth control and climbing rates of sexual assault proved absent from this first page of articles.
Tucker Carlson, the host of Tucker Carlson Tonight and a favorite to replace O’Reilly’s coveted 8 p.m. time slot, will likely continue the sexist legacy O’Reilly left behind. Most notably, in 2006, Carlson claimed that sexual harassment did not exist.
Therefore, the firing and hiring of any one individual—like O’Reilly—fails to address Fox News’s real, more deep-seated problem. Instead, they must examine their overall culture.