It’s been nearly a week since Bill O’Reilly entered the no-job zone. In spite of the immense popularity of his show, his firing was in the cards since the beginning of April, when The New York Times ran a story that
revealed how Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, had repeatedly stood by him even as he and the company reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.
Since then, more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups had called for him to be fired. Inside the company, women 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 led to the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.
Fox made the right choice to let him go, even if they lose money as a result and even though it took them so long to do something about O’Reilly and not just about the allegations.
Yet even today, there are right-of-center defenders of O’Reilly, who view this as a witch hunt, downplay his behavior or argue that it doesn’t matter, since liberals have done the same and the media has not treated them with the same harshness. Kimberly Ross already ripped into conservatives who ignore immoral behavior in those they idolize. What I specifically want to focus on here is the tendency to use double standards as an excuse to jettison our own.
A number of articles, some very good, have done the job no one else will do and pointed out the inconsistency on the Left in expressing outrage at the sexual behavior of O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or Donald Trump, but acting completely indifferent to their own champions.
Obviously, the most popular case in the liberal pantheon used to prove the double standard is that of Bill Clinton. Brent Bozell, who, to his credit, said that O’Reilly’s behavior was indefensible if the charges are true, pointed out that while “CNN relentlessly pushed for O’Reilly’s dismissal,” for example, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, the big question at CNN was whether the media was insane for covering the story. Jeffrey Lord of The American Spectator wrote of the double standard of sponsors who fled The O’Reilly Factor, but continued to work with the Clinton Foundation.
Miles Goslett of Heat Street widened the aim to include not only President Clinton, but other liberal bigshots like Roman Polanski, who “fled America for Europe in 1978 after being arrested and charged in the US with engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl,” Woody Allen, whose ex-wife Mia Farrow alleged had sexually abused their adopted daughter, and David Letterman who admitted to “extra marital affairs with staff – including those vastly junior to him.”
So far, so good. Keeping double standards before the public eye is an essential purpose of conservative media. They reek of partisanship. But if partisanship is indeed what we protest, we shouldn’t engage in it ourselves. Regardless of whether liberals ignore or attempt to rehabilitate their own after such scandals, conservatives should not do the same. Yet some are already doing just that.
The American Spectator’s Daniel J. Flynn provides a witty and articulate example, finding O’Reilly simply to be “a jerk” whose behavior is due to a generational divide — Fox News viewers of his generation don’t understand what the big deal is anyway — and wastes no time in suggesting he can make a comeback.
To say that O’Reilly’s behavior is no big deal is, at a minimum, incongruous coming from conservatives, who correctly attribute the wage gap between men and women to factors such as years of experience, length of uninterrupted employment and career choice, then proceed to defend behavior that creates a work environment that women want to leave or never enter in the first place.
But I digress.
Conservatives who say that sexual harassment, or whatever the misconduct may be, by O’Reilly and others on the Right, should not matter to their careers or our impressions of them since liberals did not hold their own accountable, essentially argue that the Left should decide the moral standards to which we hold public servants, journalists and anyone else with a microphone. Furthermore, to dismiss the allegations without an investigation of the facts just because the accused is on your side is pro-tribe, but anti-truth. Conservatives can do better.