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May 4, 2017

The Misogyny Factor

Bill O’Reilly’s dismissal points to larger problems of sexism within journalism.

Earlier this month, an investigation by The New York Times brought to light a nefarious side of the already controversial, yet highly popular journalist Bill O’Reilly. The report reveals him as a predatory figure who volunteered mentorship in order to coerce women into sex. The startling accounts of sexual harassment in the report, as well as the subsequent drop in O’Reilly’s corporate sponsorship, prompted Fox News to dismiss the veteran commentator.

The facts that have arisen through the Times’ investigation are too heinous to ignore. $13 million was spent on settlements to dissuade O’Reilly’s accusers from pursuing legal measures. Even worse, the earliest settlement dates as early as 2002, indicating that O’Reilly has been denigrating and preying on women for over a decade.

Hearing this impacted me more personally than I’d like to admit. The O’Reilly Factor has been a staple in my household, a function of my family’s political conservatism. In a time when the media, as they perceived it to be, was far too saturated by liberal sentiments, my parents looked up to O’Reilly as a bold figurehead for conservatism— a hero of sorts. Their reverence for O’Reilly taught me not to conflate political beliefs with moral character, helping me reconcile my love for my parents and my vehement disagreement with their ideological leanings.

But, no matter your personal beliefs, it’s clear that Fox’s decision to dismiss O’Reilly is long overdue. The women who have spoken out against O’Reilly clearly affirm a sexist culture at Fox—and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. Just 10 months ago, former CEO Roger E. Ailes was similarly ousted after allegations of sexual harassment. Collectively, the accusations that have come forth paint a picture of a toxic environment in which women are constantly devalued, and expected to commodify their physical attributes in order to rise through the professional ranks.

This theme of gender inequity is not just within Fox News, but journalism as a whole. Research from the Women’s Media Center in 2015 found that female anchors and reporters only comprise 36 percent of on-camera appearances. Moreover, male correspondents and reporters largely outnumber their female counterparts. Even in print journalism, men still have more bylines attributed to them than women across the 20-most circulated and read newspapers in the nation. Ironically, The New York Times, which broke the O’Reilly scandal, has the biggest gender gap in bylines.

Understanding the inherent inequity in journalism amplifies the necessity to oust O’Reilly. And the fact that the decision was most likely commercially, and not morally, motivated, doesn’t diminish that this is a step toward change. Getting rid of someone who has actively propagated sexism at a major news network for over a decade is a decisive move in the right direction. The decision is not a perfect one—it is belated, and will by no means fully eradicate sexism at Fox, but it is a hopeful beginning.

After O’Reilly’s dismissal, CEO Rupert Murdoch released a statement saying that Fox wants to emphasize its “consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.” If Fox at all cares about these “values,” then the next step it must take is to develop a firm stance against sexism in its workplace. Already, Fox has condoned at least two sexual predators in their workplace for decades—the Times article even adds that current and former Fox employees have feared raising complaints to network executives, or the human resources department, for fear of backlash.

It is probable that Fox isn’t the only newsroom where women feel this way. Women deserve a workspace in which they feel safe. By giving women the same respect as their male counterparts, news networks and publications alike can show that they actually respect and value women.

Moreover, this isn’t a partisan issue. Sexism in journalism is not a singularly conservative or liberal concern—it’s everyone’s concern. Right-and-left leaning publications will produce better content by providing women with more opportunities to excel.

If Fox chooses to continue along the path of change it claims to, it will not only impact the women who work for it, but female journalists as a whole. The path toward gender equality, in journalism and beyond, can seem difficult, almost Sisyphean, but every small step in favor of women matters.

Annie Geng is a first-year in the College.

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