Politics, television, Thinkpiece

BILL O’REILLY IS LET GO FROM FOX NEWS BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING HAS BEEN SOLVED

Header Image Source: ABC News


On Wednesday, April 19, Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, announced that they would be terminating their professional relationship with Bill O’Reilly, the prime-time host of The O’Reilly Factor. A.k.a. they fired him.

The announcement comes after an April 1 New York Times story about an investigation into O’Reilly. Namely, that during his twenty-year career at Fox, O’Reilly and Fox paid out roughly $13 million to women who made allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. O’Reilly.

Social activists applauded the triumph of justice over injustice. However, in their haste to crow about this immediate victory, they forgot that the poison root of the issue still festers.

Since the article’s publication, more than 80 advertisers pulled support for The O’Reilly Factor, which was consistently the top-rated program in cable news. The initial Times article placed The O’Reilly Factor‘s earnings from 2014 to 2016 as $446 million from advertising. According to market research group Kantar Media, the amount of on-air advertisement bought dropped from nearly 16 minutes to eight minutes in just two weeks.

The Times reported that women inside the company expressed outrage and questioned “whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on “trust and respect,” as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal forced the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.”

The investigation found five women who had been paid off to avoid continuing forward with allegations of sexual harassment. Some of the alleged harassment consisted of O’Reilly taking interest in a woman, promising to help her career, and then making sexual advances on her. Other reported actions from Mr. O’Reilly were lewd comments, verbal abuse, and phone calls where it sounded and seemed as if O’Reilly were masturbating.

In the initial statement, and in articles from Fox since, the company has characterized O’Reilly positively. An internal memo, signed by Rupert Murdoch and sons Lachlan and James, all company executives, described O’Reilly as “by ratings standards…one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news…In fact his success by any measure is indisputable.”

In an article centered on the news of O’Reilly’s departure, author Howard Kurtz called O’Reilly “the biggest star in [Fox’s] 20-year history.” Kurtz ended his article by writing, “Even most of his critics acknowledged that O’Reilly…is an extraordinary broadcaster.”

Wednesday evening, Fox News anchor Bret Baier addressed O’Reilly’s departure on air, saying, “Bill O’Reilly, the biggest star in the 20-year history of Fox News, is leaving the network in the wake of mounting allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.” CNN reported on Thursday morning that the payout O’Reilly would be receiving will end up somewhere in the “tens of millions.” In the payout after his ouster, Roger Ailes received $40 million.

The continued characterization of O’Reilly as a star is troubling. It undercuts any progress the company claims to have made in the aim of strengthening “trust and respect.” The language and message Fox is sending is clear. By refusing to condemn O’Reilly they are making the point that his sexual harassment was acceptable as long as he was making them money.

They were fine paying $13 million dollars because what he was bringing in was so much more. And it was not until investors began pulling out—until O’Reilly became a liability— that he was let go from the company.

It also actively reinforces the notion that bringing complaints about things like sexual harassment against people in power is oftentimes fruitless. O’Reilly preyed particularly on women in subordinate positions, promising them jobs or promotions or access. He outranked them in power, money and influence. And he outranked them in importance, at least in the eyes of Fox. For the five women who had the courage to come forward, to deal with the career ramifications of being honest, there might be countless others, who did not want to come up against the might of an entire corporation.

Yes, eventually Bill O’Reilly was out of a job. But if the Times had not done their investigation, if the advertisers had not pulled out, it’s impossible to gauge when Fox would’ve grown tired of bankrolling O’Reilly’s predation. They didn’t grow tired of it in the twenty years O’Reilly was in their employ. Because that’s what it boils down to—they paid money, to the women in payouts and to him in salaries, to keep him in a position of power, the same one he would abuse to harass women. If they hadn’t been caught, every sign points to the likelihood that 21st Century Fox would’ve kept bailing O’Reilly out.

And so while Twitter erupts in the small and immediate victory of O’Reilly’s firing, we lull ourselves into complacency and forget the real meaning behind the story. Fox News is not dedicated to an atmosphere of “trust and respect.” They tolerated sexual harassment in exchange for monetary benefits.

They did not fire Bill O’Reilly because he was a sexual harasser. They did not fire him because people found out. They fired him because he cost them money.

O’Reilly is the head of the hydra—you cut it off and another one grows. The poison and power of corporations like Fox does not lie in extremities like O’Reilly. They originate from the core. The problem with Bill O’Reilly wasn’t just Bill O’Reilly. It always was, and still is, Fox.

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Politics

SPICER, CHECHNYA AND THE DANGERS OF THE 24-HOUR NEWS CYCLE

On Tuesday, April 11, Press Secretary Sean Spicer mistakenly claimed that, in response to the chemical attack in Syria, not even Adolf Hitler used chemical weapons against people during the Holocaust.

The point was to drive home the notion that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who was suggested as to have ordered the attack, was monstrous for using chemical weapons. Spicer was given the chance to recant and clarify his statements, which he did sloppily and called concentration camps “Holocaust centers.” His statement is false: gas chambers were used to kill Jews (the exact number of dead is estimated in the six millions). In the following minutes, hours and days, Spicer’s malapropism was dissected endlessly. He has since apologized.

In 1980 CNN, the first 24-hour news station, superseded previous models of “nightly news.” With the advent of a continuous news cycle came the need to not only fill the empty hours between breaking stories and crises, but also compete with other cable news outlets. The negative space between reporting led to expert analysis, panelist commentary and soft-news pieces. That model, the culture of commentary, has become so prevalent in the Internet age that continuous news access leads to focus and dissection of the same incident, over and over again. That excessiveness is to the detriment of coverage in other areas.

And while this has been going on, major media outlets do not cover news out of Russia, that more than 100 allegedly gay men have disappeared in Chechnya and according to a Russian newspaper, local authorities are behind it. At least three men have been killed, according to the paper, which released the story on the fourth of April.

And since then, at the time of research, the New York Times has written one article about the kidnappings. The Washington Post has written two. The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Fox News have not covered it at all. But in the days since Spicer’s mistake, there has been a flurry of activity and articles. Four from the New York Times, 14 from the Washington Post (just on the first search page), four from the Wall Street Journal, one from Fox News and four from the Los Angeles Times. This does not include the hours of screentime dedicated to covering Spicer. All articles took a similar approach to describing the event, and later articles reframed the incident with various angles.

And while major news stations have focused on the salacious scandal of Spicer, smaller outlets like BuzzFeed, TheSkimm, and Teen Vogue, as well as international media like the BBC and The Independent have covered the disappearances.

The independent Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta covered the incidents in Chechnya (in Russia, most media is either associated with or owned by the Kremlin, the central power authority). According to the paper, at least 100 men have disappeared over the last few weeks. When some return, they are badly beaten. Three have died from their injuries. According to Novaya Gazeta, the men are arrested by local authorities who then look through their phones for condemning evidence. These “honor killings” have apparently been under the authority of Chechen provincial leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Through spokesman Alvi Karimov, Kadyrov denied the allegations, saying, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.” The Chechen Republic is a conservative Muslim society, where homosexuality is taboo.

Humanitarian groups, like the Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Campaign have called for Russian authorities to recognize these attacks and for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss the kidnappings while in Russia.

It’s highly possible that the reason no new articles have been written about these kidnappings is because there is no new information. However, the fact that, in an age of unprecedented access and information, there can be fourteen articles about a linguistic misstep but one article about the potential systematic killing of queer people is startling. And not just startling, but dangerous.

The 24-hour news cycle breeds an environment of rapid competition. News stations want to keep the attention of their audiences, and to do that, they narrow in on the daily foibles of the Trump administration. They host panels to discuss what Trump meant by his wiretapping claims, Spicer’s comments about the Holocaust, or Kellyanne Conway’s infamous “alternative facts.”

 

In a video discussing political satire, Vox’s Carlos Maza said of the wiretapping claims, “[Major news networks] correctly reported that Trump’s claims were false but then went on to spend segment after segment after segment hosting debates about it…They spent hours fixating on whether there might be evidence at some point down the road maybe that shows Trump wasn’t just making it up.”

The problem, Maza asserts, isn’t that the news stations are inaccurate, but they take “bullshit way too seriously.” These debates serve no purpose but to fill air time, and actually, according to studies, hurt the audience’s ability to identify falsehoods. In other words, saying the same “bullshit” enough times confuses consumers into believing it’s viable.

Maza’s solution is to cover the news the way political satirists like Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers do—recognize the bullshit for what it is, and move on to cover actual news. Because while major news outlets spend hours going over the same small blunders, real news slips through the cracks.

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