It would be satisfying to imagine Fox News found its conscience Wednesday, firing Bill O’Reilly because sexual harassment suddenly was deemed intolerable in that workplace.
It would be nice, too, to think Fox finally grew weary of O’Reilly’s smearing and belittling of decent people: the gifted California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, whom O’Reilly trashed so Liu wouldn’t get a federal appeals court appointment. The fiery California Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters, whom he mocked as she spoke of patriotism among African Americans. His own Fox News colleague Gretchen Carlson, who dragged the network into the modern era last summer when she lodged sexual harassment allegations against their then-boss, Roger Ailes.
How reassuring, if O’Reilly’s downfall – after a New York Times exposé on the many sexual harassment allegations against him – were just about what happens to bullies.
But that’s not how it works, not even on TV.
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What happened to O’Reilly was about money. The bottom line. First, there was the $13 million in settlements Fox News paid over more than a decade to silence all those women. More were reportedly being lodged even as O’Reilly “vacationed” in Rome, awaiting parent company 21st Century Fox’s verdict on his future.
Thirteen million bucks here, $14 billion there, soon not even an audience with Pope Francis can save you.
Then there was the advertising revenues – estimated in the tens of millions of dollars – being lost as some of the network’s largest and most prestigious advertisers stampeded for the exits. They apparently have decided they no longer want any part of O’Reilly’s act.
Throw in the departure of top female Fox News hosts – Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren, who left to work at less sexist cable networks – and the losses just kept mounting.
Still, that was all chickenfeed. Far, far bigger than lawsuits, lost talent and fleeing advertisers – which could cost Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox millions – was the loss of credibility in the United Kingdom. In London, 21st Century Fox has made a $14 billion bid to take over British satellite service Sky TV. Such a deal must be approved by the British government, which takes a dim view of corporate misdeeds. If they find that 21st Century Fox is not a “fit and proper” steward of the network they will nix the deal.
It’s no idle threat. Rupert Murdoch’s family, which controls 21st Century Fox, tried to acquire Sky TV back in 2011. They failed that time when Murdoch’s News of the World publication was embroiled in a notorious phone hacking conspiracy.
At least one publication – the Independent in London – says O’Reilly had to be jettisoned to keep that deal alive.
Conservatives prefer the storyline that O’Reilly’s downfall was the result of liberal anger – not his notoriously degrading and bizarre behavior. They’re casting O’Reilly as a wronged hero of the right, not the exploitative boss-from-hell many of his employees were willing to swear that he is. Undoubtedly, they’ll find it impossible to believe that their hero’s demise was nothing more than a sacrificial offering on the altar of corporate profits.
If O’Reilly is gumming up the works of a $14 billion deal, not even an audience with Pope Francis could save him. Everyone knows money talks. In this case, it told Bill O’Reilly to be quiet.