Bill O'Reilly's embroiled in a sexual harassment case: Does anyone care?

Analysis: Brands are fleeing, viewers are flocking. What it says about men in power

Bill O'Reilly is facing fallout from a sexual harassment scandal — a series of settlements with women who claim he made unwanted advances, lewd comments and phone calls in which it sounded as if he was masturbating, the New York Times reported.

The host of Fox News' top-rated show has hired a crisis manager. But does he need one?

Though The O'Reilly Factor is hemorrhaging advertisers (more than 40 companies have suspended or dropped ads), viewership of Fox News' top-rated show is climbing: On Monday and Tuesday it had 3.7 million and 3.8 million viewers, respectively, up 14% from the same two nights last week.

On Wednesday, O'Reilly was defended by the president himself.

"I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” President Trump said.

Just as these accusations have not hurt O'Reilly's viewership, the dozen women who alleged sexual misconduct by Donald Trump before the election did not affect his electability.

It's led victims of sexual assault and harassment to question whether anyone cares what happens to women.

As activist Shaun King wrote in his column on Thursday, "we live in the age of the gross normalization of sexual assault and harassment."

Have we grown indifferent?

“The people of this country are not numb to these allegations of sexual abuse,” said National Organization for Women (NOW) President Terry O’Neil. “In so many ways and in so many contexts this is how powerful men retain their power. These white men are protecting one another."

The Trump-Fox relationship has proven symbiotic. Forty percent of Trump voters got news about the election from Fox News, according to the Pew Research Center. During the campaign, O'Reilly called Trump's comments about grabbing women's genitals "guy talk" and said the media was guilty of "gross speculation" regarding the women's accusations. Trump was also quick to dismiss sexual harassment claims made by women against the network's longtime chief Roger Ailes — who was forced to step down in July — as “totally unfounded.”

"You know the thing that really bothered me about President Trump is he said Mr. O'Reilly didn't do anything wrong," said Patricia Barnes, an expert on workplace discrimination. "And it's such an inappropriate statement for so many reasons. He has no way of knowing whether Mr. O'Reilly did it ... It's almost as if he doesn't think sexual harassment is wrong. That's what worries me about it. It's just a terrible thing for the president of the United States to question it, and not to understand the kind of harm that it causes to the victims."

Surveys show that roughly one in four women say they have been harassed on the job. A survey released Monday by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that 54% of U.S. adults consider “unwanted verbal remarks that are provocative or unsolicited” to be an act not only of sexual harassment but of sexual violence or assault.

“Verbal remarks may not meet the legal definition of sexual assault … [but] it’s important for people to identify sexual violence in its many forms because any act on that continuum allows conditions for all acts on that continuum to occur,” said the center's communication director Laura Palumbo.

Yet many people still don't believe women when they come forward with claims. They say women are after money. They say it's not a big deal.

"It's often difficult for survivors to come forward, especially when the perpetrator is in a position of power," Rape Abuse & Incest National Network press secretary Sara McGovern said in a statement. "Everyone should be able to feel comfortable in their place of work or learning. We're glad to see so many national brands taking these allegations seriously."

NOW has called for O’Reilly to be fired. Others are calling for more.

"Bill O'Reilly needs to go to jail," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Wednesday in an interview on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, in which she also called Fox a "sexual harassment enterprise."

NOW has also called for an immediate independent investigation into the culture of sexual harassment at Fox News.

In a statement from 21st Century Fox to the New York Times, the company said: “Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly."

Most employers have implemented policies regarding sexual harassment to shield themselves from liability if an employee claiming harassment fails to go through those steps to make their initial complaint. Despite the layers of laws, critics say many employer programs are too superficial to completely thwart such behavior.

Often such efforts are “a regulatory compliance issue that doesn’t have enough teeth,’’ says Beth Brascugli De Lima, a human resources consultant and head of HRM Consulting.

Andrea Mackris, a former producer on O'Reilly's show, said in her 2004 sexual harassment suit that the anchor made threats about what would happen if she complained about his behavior, saying she would “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.”

“A big reason why most people experiencing sexual harassment don’t come forward is there’s still a lot of fear," says Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality at the National Women’s Law Center. "As long as there is that threat of losing your job, of how you appear to your friends, your peers, that’s going to continue to keep this issue from being resolved."

Contributing: Charisse Jones, USA TODAY



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