Roundtable – Bill O’Reilly Fired

The Roundtable is a conversation about the news among Torchlight’s writers and editors. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity, and all citations and links were  added after the fact. The conversation happened April 22. 

Tom Rich

Welcome to the Roundtable, our weekly discussion of news and events. With us today are Senior Managing Editor Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Politics Editor Christopher Dahlin, Tech Manager James Griffith, Junior Managing Editor David Schmitz, and myself, Editor-in-Chief Tom Rich. Our topic for today is the media, specifically the separation of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News over a series of sexual harassment allegations. Fox had previously settled millions of dollars in harassment suits against O’Reilly over the years, and only removed him not in the wake of a boycott by advertisers.

 

Christopher Dahlin

Previously, Roger Ailes had also been dismissed from Fox News for similar allegations

 

David Schmitz

Both of which received either payouts for remainder of year or full contract salaries.

 

Tom

The immediate question that comes to my mind is why, if these two men were behaving so poorly in the workplace, were they allowed to stick around for so long? Is it strictly that they had large amounts of power in the institution, or is something more subtle happening?

 

Christopher

Are we going to talk about “Grab them by the Pussy” at all, and how that relates as well?

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz

Wealth and fame are protective against prosecution or even broad social rejection for crimes against women for a long, long time–Cosby as well as Trump prove this.

 

Christopher

Well, I think part of it is that society still has trouble seeing women as people.  We haven’t come as far as we think we have

 

David

For Fox News, it is clear they don’t run the ship on a no tolerance of sexual harassment policy. You can keep doing what you want to anyone as long as the accounting works out.

 

Josh

I was listening to a podcast talking about this and one of the speakers was like, “We need to share these stories to raise awareness of sexual assault,” and my reaction was, “Sexual assault has existed forever. Is it really awareness that we’re missing?” Well, Fox News has changed hands recently and I’m wondering if that’s also driven this shift. Once it was a den of scum and villainy and slowly it’s transitioning out the scum.

 

Tom

Do you think that the ouster of Ailes and O’Reilly, and the way Cosby has been all but completely rejected, is evidence that the culture is shifting, or are they just bright spots in an otherwise dark picture?

 

Christopher

Maybe it’s a matter of fame cutting both ways.

 

David

The high profile nature makes it feel like things are changing, but on the ground in places like a local retail setting, I know of the stories women have of being harassed by bosses, fellow employees, and customers is not slowing down.

 

Christopher

Exactly, yeah.

 

Josh

I think what has to change is the culture of acceptance, among both men and women, of crimes against women. And I don’t think that’s going to happen while President Sex Criminal is out there teaching by example.

 

David

For the life of me I can’t remember what company it is, but earlier this year there was a story about corporate harassment in a company. Sales of some kind. In one moment it was just astounding that that sort of culture could exist but in the next moment you realize this is all still happening everywhere even as people seem to be talking about it.

 

James Griffith

Which is why we need awareness…

 

David

Valuing women’s work at a fraction of men’s work is a problem there as the corporate structure allows for women to be seen as cheap labor that can be easily replaced if they cause any sort of trouble, so why treat them with dignity and respect and offer them opportunities to succeed beyond that of the previously established male powers in the company?

 

Josh

It seems as though there’s a certain amount of public pressure that can be brought to bear from outside, and that’s what we saw happen with the Fox people and Cosby–advertisers get skittish, corporations do a cost-benefit analysis and stop protecting/supporting the abuser, police do a real investigation. But that’s still an outside, limited force, and it’s opposed by social inertia and the “he can grab my pussy anytime” crowd that is the real obstacle to true change.

 

Tom

So if the onus falls on Fox itself, and Fox won’t do it, what then? Is there nothing to do but hope that making the case for harassment-free workplaces will eventually bubble up throughout the culture?

 

David

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Do we stand to these ideals as a culture? I think we ought to but I see little evidence around me that we do.

 

Tom

Well, we stand to them more than we did when they were written.

 

Christopher

Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?  Making corporations do things they don’t want to do, even if it’s better for them in the long run, is quite difficult.

 

Tom

I think you could substitute almost anything in for corporations there and still have a workable sentence.

 

Christopher

The human condition sucks.

 

Josh

Public pressure can force corporations to adjust. Whether that ever translates into a broader shift in corporate culture is questionable.

 

David

There are many companies that have been around for so long, gotten so big, that they can usually just crush or silence anything that negatively affects their bottom line.

 

Tom

Nobody likes hearing that what they did was wrong and that they need to change. To step away from the big-picture for a moment and focus on the scale of an individual organization, how do you create a situation where the victims of harassment feel like they get justice? Should harassers have the option to change and remain part of the crew, or is that not worth considering?

 

Josh

The second point is not worth considering.

 

David

I do see many startups and smaller companies that try to have a positive and equal culture, but they face the behemoths as competition and have difficulties making headway in the world against them. The example that you can be a harasser, say you’re sorry, and have no other repercussion doesn’t work for me. The harasser still got what they wanted while damaging those around them. It has to be prevented from happening in the first place.

 

Josh

Your goal should be to protect other employees from harassment and abuse.

 

Christopher

On that point David, I think you are right.  Part of the issue is the corporate culture is a behemoth of inertia, so changing direction takes forever.  Whereas new companies are more in line with social norms now.  Google and Facebook seem to be closer to where we want than Fox, for example, although tech has its own issues. Harassment must have consequences, and rules must be enforced, otherwise the victims will still be victimized.

 

Josh

It’s probably worth noting that Bill O’Reilly has been a terrible human being for a very long time and that Fox has been a terrible place for a very long time. I’m not saying people I disagree with politically are sexual predators, but when you have an organization that is unethical, racist, sexist, etc., they’re going to end up enabling some heinous shit.

 

Tom

Another factor here that we’ve touched on, but not explored in depth, is the fact that O’Reilly, Ailes, etc. are high-profile, public figures. We tend to think such people should be held to higher standards. Should they? And who is responsible for enforcing those standards? Their employers? The public at large?

 

Christopher

I think it’s less high standards and more public perception is a stronger driving force in your life.

 

Tom

So the standard of behavior is the same, but there’s an extra eye on you, made up of the collective attention of the viewing public?

 

Josh

I think the media also has a large obligation to shed light on these stories. Cosby’s history wasn’t a secret, it just didn’t go viral until Hannibal Buress mentioned it in his comedy routine. Likewise, O’Reilly and Fox had been settling lawsuits for many years.

 

David

The public pressures the employers by way of voting with the dollar with advertisers. The wealthy, high profile employees are so insulated from public perception that until the entire house collapses I don’t think they even know how much influence they have.

 

Tom

Josh, so it’s not enough that O’Reilly be removed from Fox; Fox also has to suffer consequences for covering up for O’Reilly for so long, both as a punishment for misconduct and as a warning to the rest of the media. Is that what you’re getting at?

 

Christopher

Oh, the coverup must absolutely be punished, or else the next one will be covered up as long as possible as well.

 

Josh

Yeah, I think that’s accurate and an important part of this.

 

David

The enablers are guilty, yes.

 

Josh

I’ve mostly been saying “the entire culture has to change” but in the meantime punishing bad actors like Fox in some manner beyond advertising revenue is also very important. But I think I’ve given up on any idea of top-down enforcement for the foreseeable future–Trump’s administration and Jeff Session’s Justice Department are not going to suddenly become crusaders against sexual harassment.

Individuals need to address the problems they see, from boycotting companies like Fox to speaking up when they witness harassment or misogynist attitudes around them. As much as I wish women would act as a bloc here, the onus has to be on men to police other men.

 

David

Encourage your friends to document everything, when the time comes to act on the misdeeds, hopefully there is still a legal structure intact to help bring justice.

 

Tom

Couple minutes left on this roundtable, folks. Final thoughts?

 

Christopher

Top down approaches to changing cultures don’t work.  We all need to work together to create a bottom up change.

 

David

On the wider topic of harassment, I feel there are bright spots that we need to as a society enhance and embolden. But the darker parts of this are still very much entrenched and the battle is far from over. Specifically for O’Reilly, good riddance, and may his golden parachute fall swiftly.

 

Josh

O’Reilly’s ouster is a good thing but not a victory. He received many years of protection for his behavior and now gets millions of dollars on his way out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found or created some new space where can continue to be a media figure–Facebook Live with Bill O’Reilly, or something. This isn’t really a moment to be celebrated, it’s a moment to be horrified. Lifting the rock isn’t the same as exterminating the cockroaches underneath. And there are still so, so many rocks out there.

 

Tom

And with that, we’re about out of time for the roundtable. Thanks as always for a lively conversation, everyone!

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