Tony Norman: Goodbye to Fox’s alpha male on the prowl
April 21, 2017 12:00 AM
Bill O'Reilly has lost his job at Fox News Channel following reports that five women had been paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about harassment allegations.
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the end, Bill O’Reilly was done in by some “hot chocolate” — and not the calorie-dense kind, either. Given the thinly-veiled racist insults he directed at U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters last month (he compared her hair unfavorably to a James Brown wig), it’s only appropriate that one of Mr. O’Reilly’s final accusers before he was abruptly shown the door at Fox News was a black female clerical worker.
The anonymous woman who had a desk near Mr. O’Reilly’s office told lawyer Lisa Bloom that “[Mr. O’Reilly] would never talk to her, not even hello, except to grunt at her like a wild boar,” the attorney told The Hollywood Reporter. “He would leer at her. He would always do this when no one else was around and she was scared.”
“Hot Chocolate,” the name Mr. O’Reilly allegedly used to refer to the clerical worker, is destined to enter the lexicon of other O’Reilly wolf whistles as “falafel” and “loofah.”
Scanning the cable news dial the day after Mr. O’Reilly was bounced from the 1950s frat house that doubled as a news organization for the last 20 years, it was hard to miss the schadenfreude resulting from the collapse of Fox News’ biggest star.
Over at CNN, former Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers told infuriating tales about on-air treatment by Mr. O’Reilly when she began working at the network. Former Fox news analyst Margaret Hoover, now at CNN, swapped outrageous war stories with fellow Fox expatriate Alisyn Camerota, the co-host of that network’s morning program.
The women described constantly navigating dehumanizing landmines of “Mad Men”-era male privilege and ego when they were at Fox. Every woman who came forward on CNN or MSNBC to dish about their former workplace laid the blame for the highly sexualized and abusive culture there at the feet of its former chairman Roger Ailes and Mr. O’Reilly — two alpha males whose contempt for women was breathtaking and ultimately too costly for the network their swagger co-created.
Mr. Ailes was fired last year and given a $40 million golden parachute to go away after a series of sexual harassment lawsuits ended his libidinous reign. Mr. O’Reilly, who had also been accused of sexual harassment in the past, stayed — seemingly untouchable because he was the network’s cash cow bringing in hundreds of millions a year in profit.
Anchor Megyn Kelly, arguably Fox News’ biggest star after O’Reilly, jumped ship to NBC as soon as her contract expired because the culture, though chastened by waves of sexual harassment accusations and multimillion-dollar payouts, didn’t change enough even with Mr. Ailes gone. Many of the executives who looked the other way during Mr. Ailes’ despotic rule were still in place and not inclined to shake the money-making boat too much.
Meanwhile, Mr. O’Reilly continued sitting comfortably atop cable news’ No. 1 rated show, a bloviating hypocrite whose audience can’t get enough of his simple-minded moralizing and nostalgia for the white suburban hegemony of the 1950s.
Ms. Hoover said though never personally harassed by Mr. O’Reilly, she made a point of never being alone with him. The tales of his debauchery were legendary and whispered about even in the halls of Fox News.
When former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson went public with a lawsuit against Mr. Ailes for sexual harassment 14 months ago, no one knew it would literally mark the beginning of the end of an era in cable news. Ms. Carlson not only brought down Mr. Ailes, long viewed as the most powerful man in cable news, but she set into motion forces that would eventually lead to Mr. O’Reilly’s firing as well.
It’s interesting to note that even with sexual harassment complaints against Mr. O’Reilly bubbling up with the consistency of complaints against Bill Cosby in the early days of his scandal, the ratings of “The O’Reilly Factor” soared.
Bill O’Reilly’s viewers weren’t holding him responsible even as paid sponsors — more than 50 — fled. The No. 1 show in cable news was paradoxically left with less than five minutes worth of sponsored ads. Something had to give. Firing Bill O’Reilly made sense from the perspective of dollars and cents. Money trumps mere morality every time at Fox.
So where does all of this tumult leave Fox News and its bullpen of shell-shocked conformists, enablers and O’Reilly wannabes? While Rupert Murdoch and his sons did the right thing by getting rid of Bill O’Reilly, they’ve also promoted the next generation of knuckle-draggers like Eric Bolling and Jesse Watters to prominence.
Still, Bill O’Reilly was the template for alpha maleness at Fox News. With that ridiculous moral scold gone, Tucker Carlson, his bow-tie-wearing replacement at 8 p.m., will settle into a predictable pattern of nondescript conservative obstructionism. Sean Hannity will continue to remain irrelevant and unloved at 10 p.m. When Geraldo Rivera is the most charismatic talent left standing at a network, it’s way past time to do some long-overdue corporate soul-searching.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631. Twitter @TonyNormanPG.