There has been much discussion of late about a secret list called Shitty Media Men that has been circulating in private emails and on the internet. But the shittiest men in media have revealed themselves. That list begins with Bill O’Reilly.
Everyone should listen to his outrageous claims of victimhood on the New York Times’ podcast, The Daily. It is truly remarkable and more than galling to hear the self-justifications of a man who, with his ex-employer Fox News, paid out a staggering $45m to settle sexual misconduct cases with co-workers, underlings and others.
There is no hint of remorse in his voice. There is only cold fury at the two intrepid Times reporters who revealed the settlements last spring and again last week and the grotesque details of the sexual harassment complaints against him. The only pity O’Reilly expressed in an on-the-record, taped interview is for the “grave danger” and pain inflicted upon his own children.
After the reporters turned off the microphone they used in the interview, held in a small conference room at the office of O’Reilly’s lawyer, they kept recording on their phones. It was then that O’Reilly really let loose. “This is bullshit. It’s on you. It’s all crap,” he thunders at Michael Schmidt and Emily Steele. “This is horrible what I went through. This is crap and you know it. It’s politically and financially motivated.”
How could the Times possibly be accused of having political motivations when the paper had just brought down ultra-liberal, Democratic producer Harvey Weinstein?
O’Reilly was a uniquely powerful figure at Fox, king of the ratings and multimillionaire author (his new book, Killing England, still sits atop the Times’ bestseller list). It shouldn’t be forgotten that sexual harassment is often more about abuse of power than sex.
O’Reilly’s allegations are what’s crap. The biggest financial motivations belonged to him and Fox, which had recently lost another star, Megyn Kelly, to NBC. Kelly revealed on Monday that she was among the women who complained to Fox about Mr O’Reilly. Soon after the $32m settlement and knowing full well about it and the horrendous allegations of over 15 years of misconduct led to it, the Roger Ailes-tainted Fox nonetheless agreed to a new four-year, $100m contract.
The network only fired O’Reilly last April after learning the Feds were investigating the half-dozen sex cases involving him and after their lawyer told the Murdochs that the full scope of the O’Reilly settlements would surely be leaked to the news media. (The Times had already revealed $12m in settlements). Luckily for Fox, O’Reilly’s new contract had an escape clause allowing the network to terminate him for sexual misconduct.
The actions of those who coddled and covered up for the miscreant are almost as nauseating as the underlying conduct. The Murdochs must be held to account. Their bid to gain approval for their $15bn takeover of Sky TV should be rejected. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow culture minister, blasted them over the weekend for allowing “a culture of bullying” to flourish at their company, showing that they are unfit owners.
The UK culture secretary, Karen Bradley, had already said last month that she intends to order an extensive review of the deal because of concerns over 21st Century Fox’s “genuine commitment to broadcasting standards” and the increased influence it would give the Murdoch family over British media. The authorities have only to listen to O’Reilly’s voice and statements on The Daily to finish the review and reach the obvious conclusion.
But when sexual harassment is the issue at stake, justice does not often prevail. Weinstein got away with allegedly harassing and assaulting women for decades. For now, he’s lost his company and his standing in Hollywood, but the legal action against him that should have been pursued by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, involving police tapes of a woman whose breasts the producer had fondled against her will, was dropped.
Supreme court justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed in 1991 despite the corroboration of law professor Anita Hill’s testimony that he had sexually harassed her repeatedly.
Male politicians and news commentators are often quick to declare that these events are watershed moments when the country wakes up to the issue of sexual harassment and vows to change. After Weinstein, we’ve been told Hollywood will no longer tolerate the male entitlement and hegemony in which sexual harassment is endemic.
Skepticism is wise. I’ve spent the past two weeks investigating sexual harassment allegations at another media company. I’ve approached lots of scared young women who tell me about awful experiences but won’t talk on the record because they’ve signed non-disclosure agreements or fear becoming unemployable if they talk.
They will, of course, offer the names of other women who may talk because “everyone knew”. There is still plenty of fear. There are still plenty of shitty men in the media.