What does it mean that the lout in the White House got there despite boasting about his sexual misdeeds, while two Fox News misogynists behind his rise have now been brought down by theirs?
I don’t know, but it vexes me. Perhaps culture rides ahead of politics? Nonetheless, let’s celebrate the end of the career of Bill O’Reilly: bully, alleged serial sexual harasser, and creepy hypocrite who preached against sexual liberation, gender equality, and racial justice while possibly harassing an entire rainbow generation of women.
Together, O’Reilly and his former boss Roger Ailes created a white, patriarchal television oasis for the aging holdouts against a rapidly diversifying America, one where white men were again safely in charge and women, even talented ones, were for decoration, most of them leggy, blonde, and deferential. The two shaped a paranoid right-wing political culture that demanded the creation of a character like “President Donald Trump”–even if Ailes was said to be anxious about his creature’s rise in the GOP last year, and O’Reilly, supportive while also a bit condescending and paternalistic, sometimes seemed jealous of him. But Ailes is gone, and today O’Reilly is getting the door slammed on his ass. Fox finally dumped them both, after spending tens of millions of dollars paying the multiple women who came forth with accounts of harassment, including the latest—an African-American clerical worker who says O’Reilly called her “hot chocolate” and would never speak to her except to grunt at her like a wild boar.
But even as we mark O’Reilly’s downfall, let’s grapple with the damage he’s done—in greasing a path to the White House for Trump, of course, but also in the lives of individual people in the culture of bullying and violence he leaves behind.
I’ve faced a lot of criticism, even abuse, on social media over the years. But the only time I was genuinely afraid for my own safety, and my daughter’s, was after I debated O’Reilly in June 2009, about the murder of Dr. George Tiller—Lutheran deacon, husband, father, grandfather, and abortion provider—in the hallway of his Wichita, Kansas, church. O’Reilly had trashed Tiller, usually as “Tiller the Baby Killer,” in 29 segments of the O’Reilly factor over four years. I’d suggested on MSNBC that O’Reilly ought to ask whether his violent rhetoric might have contributed to Tiller’s murder. He had said that Tiller “destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000” was guilty of “Nazi stuff,” and that anyone who prevented the state of Kansas from stopping Tiller “has blood on their hands.”