Bill O’Reilly is a TV heavyweight. His primetime show, the O’Reilly Factor, averages almost 4 million viewers. But after The New York Times revealed that since 2004 O’Reilly and Fox News have settled five sexual harassment lawsuits, paying about thirty million US dollars, the fortunes of the mighty television personality may have turned.
Among the allegations, O’Reilly has been accused of telling a female employee to buy a dildo, of trying to kiss a female host making her fall over as she pulled away, of promising jobs opportunities before making sexual advances.
In the wake of the scandal, dozens of advertisers have pulled from his show, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Allstate, UNTUCKit, T. Rowe Price, Bayer, Esurance, and Subaru.But the question is: why did O’Reilly have advertisers in the first place? Why did this man, who has built a career upon yelling at and bullying people, enjoy the tacit endorsement of powerful corporations? “Overwhelming aggression is how O’Reilly rolls”, wrote The Daily Beast in 2015. Former Washington Post editor Jefferson Morley said of O’Reilly, referring to an interview he gave him in 2003: “What I remember was his relentless bullying that was not on the point, which I just kind of parried and tried to step out of his way.”
O’Reilly is a man who has built a successful career on the basis of bullying, intimidating, and distorting facts. Everyone knew who O’Reilly was, even before the sexual harassment scandal. Some of O’Reilly’s interviews belong to the darkest and most shameful chapters of media history.
In 2003, O’Reilly verbally abused Jeremy Glick, the son of Barry Glick, one of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
In 2009, he yelled at former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, calling him “a coward” and accusing him of telling “BS” and “crap”.
In 2006, he accused Paul Krugman of embracing “propaganda of the worst kind”.
Bill O’Reilly is and has always been a bully, who abuses and intimidates people in order to win debates which he could not win with rational arguments. The sexual harassment charges made against him may prove to be the scandal that will bring about his downfall.
But the fact that O’Reilly could thrive for two decades in spite of his behaviour is a proof that American public opinion has normalized bullying, propaganda and the dishonest distortion of facts.