Times are tough for Fox News, the propaganda outlet that in the last 15 months has shed its chairman (accused sexual harasser Roger Ailes), a prominent host (accused sexual harasser Eric Bolling), its top money-maker (accused sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly), and lost its number one female (sexual harassment whistle-blower Megyn Kelly).
It’s not easy for a right-wing playpen to rid itself of a misogynist culture rooted in the 1950s, particularly with O’Reilly banging his drum daily, taking a page from the Trump playbook by lashing out at everyone and refusing to apologize or admit error for anything. The latest episode – which prompted an unusual response from Kelly – erupted this weekend when The New York Times revealed that Fox gave O’Reilly a new contract after he paid $32 million to Lis Wiehl, a Fox legal analyst who’d accused O’Reilly of forcing her to engage in a “nonconsensual sexual relationship.” That brings the O’Reilly settlement tally – the settlements we know about, anyway – to roughly $45 million for six women.
Which makes laughable that Fox talking heads like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have spent so much time huffing about Harvey Weinstein and harrumphing about a Hollywood culture that turned a blind eye. But we’ll get to that shortly.
What’s newsworthy right now is that Kelly and O’Reilly are slugging it out in public. Trump’s current spat with a war widow seems almost tame by comparison. After an O’Reilly spokesperson denounced The Times’ story and declared that nobody at Fox News had ever filed a complaint against O’Reilly “with the Human Resources Department or Legal Department,” Kelly retaliated yesterday by using her new perch on NBC’s “Today Show” to blast O’Reilly as a liar.
I can’t recall any morning host ever denouncing a former colleague on a rival network. Morning hosts are supposed to be sunny and chipper. But, hey, we live in an era of broken norms. Hence Kelly, yesterday:
“I spent this weekend on the phone nonstop, talking to many women at Fox News and otherwise, who are deeply disturbed by the latest New York Times report…Thirty-two million dollars. That is not a nuisance settlement, that is a jaw-dropping figure. O.J. Simpson was ordered to pay the Goldman and Brown families $33.5 million for the murders of Ron and Nicole. What on earth would justify that settlement? What awfulness went on?…
“O’Reilly calls The Times’ report a malicious smear, claiming that no woman in 20 years ever complained to Human Resources or Legal about him. (But) Fox News was not exactly a friendly environment for harassment victims who wanted to report, in my experience. However, O’Reilly’s suggestion that nobody ever complained about his behavior is false. I know, because I complained.”
Whereupon Kelly proceeded to read from a confidential email she sent to Fox News’ top two executives last November. That month, her memoir had just been released, she’d devoted a chapter to disgraced chairman Roger Ailes, to the network’s ongoing sexual harassment scandal, and to the pain of Fox’s female accusers; in response, O’Reilly had attacked her for “making my network look bad.” That’s what prompted her to write the email that she recited on the air yesterday:
“Perhaps (O’Reilly) didn’t realize the kind of message his criticism sends to young women across this country, about how men continue to view the issue of speaking out about sexual harassment. Perhaps he didn’t realize that his exact attitude of shaming women into shutting the hell up about harassment on grounds that it will disgrace the company is part of how Fox News got into the decade-long Ailes mess to begin with. Perhaps it’s his own history of harassment of women, which has, as you both know, resulted in payouts to more than one woman, including recently. That blinded him to the folly of saying anything other than ‘I am just so sorry for the women of this company, who never should have had to go through that.’ ”
Those salvos in turn prompted O’Reilly to retaliate yesterday by releasing a handwritten note that Kelly had sent to O’Reilly some years ago, thanking him for his help. He also surfaced on Glenn Beck’s radio show, where Beck vouched for his character. He also said last night, on his subscription-only web series, that The Times’ reporters aspire to murder him (“If they could literally kill me, they would”), and that, most of all, the Almighty is torturing him: “You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I’m mad at Him. I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at Him.”
My main point – as foreshadowed here earlier – is that Fox News’ ongoing focus on Harvey Weinstein is laced with characteristic hypocrisy. Every time O’Reilly re-advertises his persecution complex, he raises anew the fundamental question: Why did Fox News indulge and excuse his misogynistic behavior for so long? Why didn’t any of his fellow boyos blow the whistle?
When Sean Hannity talks about Weinstein (“His behavior was not a secret, yet people did not come forward and stop it from happening”), and when Tucker Carlson talks about Weinstein (“Most people in Hollywood are saying how ‘shocked’ they are. Please. They all knew”), they could just as easily have been talking about their in-house celebrity and the Fox cone of silence.
David French, a lawyer for conservative causes, says it best at the conservative National Review: “How many serious allegations must there be – and how much settlement money must O’Reilly pay – before conservatives apply the same standards to him that they would eagerly apply to a liberal of corresponding fame and importance?…It’s time for O’Reilly to be Weinsteined.”