The Short Version: Bill O'Reilly And Sexual Harassment
The point of it all is to break down the headlines, the week’s most controversial issues, determine why a particular issue is important and reveal the best arguments on each side of the story.
In a recent iterations of The Short Version, Cleo Abram explored the question of the attack on Syria. Were the air strikes necessary and good? This week, she talks about Bill O’Reilly and the fact that the man was not found to have committed the harassment in any public process, much less found guilty of a crime. The debate is about whether or not we should require criminal prosecution and conviction before a person loses his or her job based on allegations of serious misconduct like sexual assault or harassment?
Note: In general, if you have missed any of Cleo’s blogs, just go to our Home Page, type “The Short Version” into Search (magnifying glass icon) and poof, like magic, all her blogs will appear.
Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly this week, the high-water mark in a month-long flood of allegations, boycotts, and pay-outs at the company.
O’Reilly hosted Fox’s signature show for political commentary, The O’Reilly Factor, for over 20 years, growing it into the most popular and lucrative program on cable news.
On April 1st, the New York Times revealed several previously undisclosed sexual harassment cases against Bill O’Reilly and the fact that five women received payouts totaling about $13 million from O’Reilly or Fox in exchange for dropping cases against him or agreeing not to speak about their accusations publicly. All of these women worked for or appeared on Fox News. The New York Times found that “the reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.” He was not convicted of a crime.
Public criticism led to an advertiser boycott involving more than 80 companies.
Then, this week, Fox News’ parent company, 20th Century Fox, issued a one-sentence statement: “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”
Why is it important?
For Fox, this saga is part of a trend: Roger Ailes, the chairman of the network, was ousted in July because of a series of very similar sexual harassment allegations, most notably from Gretchen Carlson, a prominent female anchor on Fox. And in January, Fox star Megan Kelly announced her decision to leave Fox reportedly based in part on “comments by Mr. O’Reilly about the sexual harassment allegations at the network, along with her deep skepticism about whether the network was truly committed to changing its culture.” It’s not a good moment for the dominant right-wing news organization.
For all of us, no matter what we think about Bill O’Reilly’s guilt and innocence, the fact remains that he was not found to have committed the harassment in any public process, much less found guilty of a crime. So we need to consider: 1) the important power of public pressure to compel companies to take moral action versus 2) the need to ensure that individuals not lose their jobs or earning capacity for misconduct of which they were never convicted.
There were certainly enough allegations to warrant in the investigation that led to the firing of Bill O’Reilly. But the truth is we have no idea how thorough or how fair that investigation was. And there are other examples that indicate the importance of a fair process. Remember that Rolling Stone story about a graphic rape at the University of Virginia? The reporter and magazine were later found guilty of defamation—and could easily have ruined students’ earning capacity, if not their lives.
We have reached the point where sexual harassment is regarded as serious misconduct. But are we taking the right approach in dealing with allegations of sexual harassment in a way that protects both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator?
Should we require criminal prosecution and conviction before a person loses his or her job based on allegations of serious misconduct like sexual assault or harassment?
More about Cleo Abram here:
Cleo grew up in Washington D.C., lives in New York City, and loves to visit her parents in Telluride. She authors “The Short Version,” a newsletter that explains each week’s most important issue and both sides of the debate around it.
Cleo is a digital strategist now working at Vox, a general interest news site for the 21st century. Its mission is simple: Explain the news. Politics, public policy, world affairs, pop culture, science, business, and more.
Cleo’s work focuses on ways to share, educate, and inform using online platforms. While in college at Columbia University, she guided the school’s entrance into online education through her role as the youngest elected representative to the Columbia Senate, which makes university-wide policy.
She continued her work on online education at TED-Ed, the educational branch of the nonprofit, building new programs and online tools to support high school teachers worldwide.
Continuing her work with TED, Cleo founded and led an early TEDx conference, the organization’s community-specific series.
Most importantly, Cleo loves to ski.
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