Bill O’Reilly got started on a news-as-entertainment program, “Inside Edition,” and then moved on to bombastic political commentary at Fox News. He became known as a guy who would scream at people, say almost anything and cut off those with whom he disagreed. When confronted by more cerebral guests such as John Stewart, O’Reilly evaded. When confronted by facts, he dismissed them. So much for the “No spin zone.”
With such style and tactics, O’Reilly became Fox’s top personality and a big money-maker. Now, a series of sexual harassment complaints has brought down O’Reilly, who built his Fox career on pandering to the right wing and hurling insults at President Obama, President Clinton and Hillary Clinton. It was the entertainment of battering people, pure and simple.
His success on that front prompted Fox News to tolerate O’Reilly’s boorish – and worse – behavior toward women off-camera. Just last month, the network signed him to a new three-year contract. That started to change when The New York Times revealed that the Fox host has paid $13 million to settle sexual harassment claims and advertisers began to abandon the show. Yet even as Fox gave up on O’Reilly, it sent him off with a reported $25 million severance package. That’s quite a punishment.
O’Reilly’s actions were tolerated too long and his dismissal shouldn’t have come with such treasure, but his fall nonetheless marks a major step in sending the message that sexual harassment won’t be tolerated at any level.