Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
Written by: Lis Power
Fox News host Bill OâReilly is facing backlash following a New York Times report revealingÂ that he and Fox Newsâ parent company, 21st Century Fox, haveÂ paid a total of nearly $13 million to avoid lawsuits pertaining to reports of sexual harassment and other misconduct by OâReilly. Following the Times’Â article, advertisers began to pull their ads from The OâReilly Factorâs time slot. Abandoning OâReillyâs show is a good first step, but itâs not nearly enough to actually address the widespread cultureÂ of sexual harassment that is rampant both at Fox News and in society at large.
On April 1, The New York Times reported that five womenÂ had received payments totaling nearly $13 million from either OâReilly orÂ 21st Century Fox âin exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about theirâ reports about of sexual harassment involving OâReilly. The incidents include claims of âverbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. OâReilly was masturbating.â
Following the report, over 45 companies pulled their ads from airing during The OâReilly Factor. Many issued statements explaining their decision, noting that they âcondemn all forms of harassment,â that they have a âstrong commitment to inclusion, respect and tolerance in the workplace,â and that âthe allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we donât feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.â
While at least one organization, the Society for Human ResourceÂ Management, decided to pull its ads from the network at large, the majority have simply redistributed their ads to other Fox News shows, as noted by Foxâs executive vice president of advertising sales, who issued a statement saying:
“We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the O’Reilly Factor,” Rittenberg said. “At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other FNC programs.”
Although pulling advertisements from OâReillyâs program is a good first step, the problem of sexual harassment at Fox News is not singular to OâReilly. If advertisers are serious about confrontingÂ sexual harassment, they must stop financially supporting a company that has shown little desire to resolve its toxic culture of harassment.
For more than a decade, Fox News has been embroiled in sexual harassment and sexual misconduct settlements and reports. A timeline depicting the totality of sexual harassment reports against Fox News and powerful Fox figures over the years shows a clearÂ pattern of corporate retaliation, victim-blaming, and million dollar payouts for silence that simultaneously protect and defend the accused. Given the sheer number of social, political, and economic risks survivors face when reporting sexual assault and harassment, it is entirely possible the number of incidents is even higher than the current paper trail suggests.
OâReilly isnât the only problematic figure when it comes to sexual harassment at Fox News. Foxâs former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was forced out after multiple reports of sexual harassment. Fox News co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy have both been accused of participating in Foxâs culture of silence when it comes to sexual harassment. New York magazineâs Gabriel Sherman reported that Shine and other executives were not only aware of Ailesâ alleged sexual harassment of Fox News employees, but were also actively involved in helping Ailes âcover upâ his actions. Despite claiming to investigate and take seriouslythis culture of rampant sexual harassment, the network chose to renew OâReillyâs contract last week. Just this week, Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky said in a lawsuit that Ailes and the network âdiscriminated against Roginsky on the basis of her genderâ and âretaliatedâ against her âwhen she refused to have a sexual relationship with Ailes.â Roginskyâs suit also says that âFox News never investigated Roginskyâs complaints.â
The systematic harassment and silencing of female employees at Fox News is well-documented and abundantly clear. If advertisers are truly serious about condemning âall forms of harassmentâ and advertising only in environments that highlight âthe importance of women,â it should be unthinkable to continueÂ to advertise on Fox News — a network that has shown time and time again that it doesnât take sexual harassment seriously.
The problem of workplace sexual harassment certainly isnât unique to OâReilly or Fox News. According to a 2015 survey, one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 has been sexually harassed at work. Additionally, according to the survey, of those who had âexperienced workplace sexual harassment, 29 percent reported the issue while 71 percent did not.â
The economic consequences of workplace harassment can be devastating. A 2014 report from Equal Rights Advocates found that sexual harassment has a variety of underrecognized economic impacts on women, who can be âdenied or deterred from promotions, fired, or forced to leave their jobs, regardless of whether they file.â The consequences for low-wage workers can be even more severe, as they âoften have little bargaining powerâ and âare least able to absorb the financial blow of a reduction in hours, or of sudden changes in their work schedules that make it difficult for them to arrange child care or transportation to work.â
Advertisers are right to pull their ads from The OâReilly Factor, but if theyâre serious about addressing sexual assault and harassment, thatâs not nearly enough. By continuing to advertise on Fox News, companies arenât living up to their commitment to fight âany and all forms of sexual harassment.â OâReilly is just one (albeit very public) example of what happens when organizations condone and enable systemic sexual harassment. Although itâs important that advertisers hold OâReilly and Fox News accountable, they should not treat this situation as an isolated âscandalâ and satisfy themselves with reallocating ads elsewhere on the network. Sexual assault and harassment are larger societal problems, and while the outrage currently aimed at OâReilly is valid and necessary, advertisers should be sure they donât lose sight of the the bigger picture.