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Scott D. Pierce: Will firing O'Reilly be enough to fix Fox News?

Published April 19, 2017 10:24 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Fox News has finally fired Bill O'Reilly, so does that mean a new era has dawned at the cable news channel? An era in which sexual harassment and arrogance are no longer tolerated?

Maybe. But there's not much evidence of that.

Fox News tolerated O'Reilly for decades. Looked the other way. Intimidated women who made allegations or paid them off, or both.

As we learned last year, this kind of behavior was common when Roger Ailes was running Fox News and sexually harassing women with impunity. When Ailes was ousted in 2016, the company promised it would never allow this sort of thing to happen again … and then paid off two of O'Reilly's accusers.

Fox chieftain/Ailes enabler Rupert Murdoch installed himself as CEO of Fox News. Ailes' lieutenants are running the company.

Months after Fox vowed it had turned over a new leaf, it extended O'Reilly's contract in the midst of more allegations against him.

Does this sound like a company that would no longer tolerate any behavior that "disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment," as 21st Century Fox promised?

Nobody at Fox grew a conscience. What led Fox to fire O'Reilly is that more than half of the advertisers on "The O'Reilly Factor" deserted the show.

Not that his fans deserted him. After The New York Times reported on April 1 about the settlements and before O'Reilly went on "vacation" on April 12, his ratings actually went up.

Let's think about what that says about viewers of "The O'Reilly Factor" for a moment. Let's be at least a bit scared by that.

Of course, Donald Trump offered the support of the presidency when he declared that O'Reilly is "a good person."

"Personally, I think he shouldn't have settled," he said. "Because [O'Reilly] should have taken it all the way; I don't think Bill did anything wrong."

Trump essentially called O'Reilly's accusers liars; Fox eventually disagreed:

"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," 21st Century Fox, FNC's parent company, said in a statement.

That's not exactly a strong condemnation of the man who has a long history of not just alleged sexual harassment but racism, bullying and lying to viewers. But Fox eventually came down on the side of the women — even if it was as a means of damage control for the company.

Fox is more than just the Fox News Channel, of course. I know plenty of people who work in the entertainment divisions of Fox television who have been appalled and embarrassed by what's happened at Fox News.

Clearly, a change has to be made to the very culture of the Fox News Channel. Clearly, getting rid of Ailes didn't set that in motion.

Maybe getting rid of O'Reilly will. With an emphasis on maybe.

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.






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