Tawdry tales mean O’Reilly’s bill has come due

If sim­i­lar charges were lev­elled against a rap­per or athe­ist, TV host would scream for blood

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - Vi­nay Menon

Bill O’Reilly is tak­ing a va­ca­tion that should be per­ma­nent.

“This time of year, I grab some va­ca­tion be­cause it’s spring and Easter time,” O’Reilly told view­ers on Tues­day night, sport­ing the fake smile of a creep un­der siege who se­cretly fears the jig is up. “Last fall, I booked a trip that should be ter­rific.”

He did not re­veal his itin­er­ary, pos­si­bly to avoid tip­ping off women he may de­cide to sex­u­ally ha­rass on his trav­els: “Yes, front desk? I need some loofah and your hottest clean­ing lady sent to my room, pronto. Is there a masseuse on staff, prefer­ably of Ba­li­nese de­scent? I’d like to show her some­thing. Do you know if there are any Scan­di­na­vian flight at­ten­dants stay­ing here? Oh. I see. Well, what are you wear­ing right now? Care to visit my pro-spin zone?”

Is this grossly un­fair? No. Ac­tu­ally, it’s not. If the above ref­er­ences are un­clear, read the 23-page state­ment of claim in a sex­ual-ha­rass­ment law­suit that a for­mer pro­ducer from The O’Reilly Fac­tor filed in 2004. It’s a mind-blow­ing doc­u­ment that ended up on the Smok­ing Gun; just don’t read it if you’re eat­ing a falafel, or ever again plan to eat a falafel.

At the time, Fox News treated the law- suit as a re­gret­table aber­ra­tion, pos­si­bly even one big mis­un­der­stand­ing. It was a one-off, ex­ecs whis­pered to re­porters off the record — a one-off that war­ranted no of­fi­cial rep­ri­mand.

O’Reilly, then as now, was the network’s big­gest star. And even if he’s widely per­ceived as a huff­ing and puff­ing gas­bag who profits from ran­dom skir­mishes in the cul­ture wars he starts with his ar­se­nal of in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­hon­est grenades, he was, and is, rat­ings gold. Fox News with­out Bill O’Reilly, went the think­ing in­side Fox News, would be like McDon­ald’s with­out the Big Mac.

Yes, un­less the Big Mac was sud­denly linked to a mas­sive out­break of E. coli.

Af­ter a num­ber of scan­dals at the network re­cently — in­clud­ing the dis­missal of for­mer chair­per­son Roger Ailes last sum­mer over, yes, charges he sex­u­ally ha­rassed a num­ber of fe­male em­ploy­ees — can Fox af­ford to keep its big­gest mon­ey­maker? That’s the real ques­tion. As O’Reilly says, “The truth hurts.” And the truth is that af­ter scold­ing the world for more than two decades, af­ter har­ness­ing pop­ulist rage and mak­ing a killing as an al­leged cham­pion of decency and fam­ily val­ues, O’Reilly’s al­leged in­de­cency is now the story.

Un­like the law­suit in 2004, the story this time won’t fade into the ether. As this month’s ex­o­dus of ad­ver­tis­ers from The O’Reilly Fac­tor sug­gests, com­pa­nies are now far more likely to take a zero-tol­er­ance stand against sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Spon­sors don’t want to be as­so­ci­ated with preda­tory al­le­ga­tions.

The top-line dam­age to rep­u­ta­tion over­shad­ows the bot­tom line.

O’Reilly’s down­ward spi­ral started ear­lier this month with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the New York Times. The news­pa­per dis­cov­ered a to­tal of $13 mil­lion has been paid to five women over the years “in ex­change for agree­ing to not pur­sue lit­i­ga­tion or speak about their ac­cu­sa­tions against (O’Reilly).”

Why the eight dig­its of hush money? It seems the com­plaints against the talk­ing head cover a “wide range of be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing ver­bal abuse, lewd com­ments, un­wanted ad­vances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was mas­tur­bat­ing.”

And you thought tele­mar­keters were treach­er­ous.

Ac­cord­ing to the story, there was a “pat­tern” here: “Mr. O’Reilly would cre­ate a bond with some women by of­fer­ing ad­vice and promis­ing to help them pro­fes­sion­ally. He then would pur­sue sex­ual re­la­tion­ships with them, caus­ing some to fear that if they re­buffed him, their ca­reers would stall.”

That pat­tern, in­ci­den­tally, was crys­tal clear in the 2004 law­suit, which ac­cord­ing to the Times, was set­tled out of court for roughly $9 mil­lion. But noth­ing was done.

So now O’Reilly is “on va­ca­tion.” If he’s trav­el­ling on United Air­lines and the flight is over­booked, maybe he’ll be dragged off the plane, bat­tered and bruised.

If that hap­pened, he’d at least get a taste of how it feels to be abused by those in author­ity, to have his per­sonal safety com­pro­mised and his rights vi­o­lated just be­cause some­one thought they could get away with a rep­re­hen­si­ble act. He might even get new in­sights into what he’s ac­cused of do­ing.

O’Reilly told view­ers he’d be back in two weeks. But as New York mag­a­zine re­ported on Tues­day night, there is an in­ter­nal de­bate at Fox about his fu­ture.

There are those who be­lieve he should never re­turn from va­ca­tion.

Iron­i­cally, that’s ex­actly what O’Reilly would favour if sim­i­lar charges were lev­elled against a rap­per, Hol­ly­wood lib­eral, fem­i­nist, left­ist, athe­ist, tree-hug­ger, moon­bat or any of the other en­emy groups he’s railed against as the stern grand­daddy of con­ser­va­tive cen­sure.

He’d be scream­ing for blood right now.

This might be some­thing he thinks about if his va­ca­tion never ends. vmenon@thes­tar.ca

JEFF CHRIS­TENSEN/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Some think Bill O’Reilly’s va­ca­tion should not end, Vi­nay Menon writes.

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