Neil Foote, President & Founder, Foote Communications
The ouster of Bill O’Reilly after the disclosure that he settled numerous sexual harassment lawsuits is a sign that even Fox News Corporation realizes that their viewers deserve better. In a world where distrust of the media is high, fueled by the current resident in the Oval Office, we need to recognize this step by Fox is needed to strengthen our core values in journalism.
Sure, there will be the critics who say that political correctness of the liberal media has reared its ugly head again. To those critics, talk to the women who say they were harassed by Reilly – and the countless of others who work in silence for fear of reprisal from their bosses or shame in front of their co-workers. O’Reilly’s alleged behavior, which he has denied, reflects a broader problem that is far too prevalent in too many workplaces – not just newsrooms.
In a February 2015 column, I included O’Reilly in my discussion about Brian Williams’ credibility issues. Well, we certainly now see that beyond his flexibility with the facts, he staged a deplorable cover-up of a pattern of behavior against women with whom he worked. Too bad, it took the Fox News executives and its attorneys to realize the damage of his ways after some 50 advertisers dropped from his show, and even more women began to share their accusations about harassment.
In short, Fox and all media outlets, must do better. Too many media outlets protect their iconic talent because they don’t want to suffer a drop in ratings – and let’s face it, ad revenue. Of course, that’s business. But when business exploits race, gender, ethnicity or even religion, media executives need to wake up and, as our young folks say, “Stay WOKE!”
Over the past several months, in spite of the omnipresent divisive tone, the common thread that ties many Americans together is decency and civility. Reporters in print, on air, online and via social are increasingly reporting on these issues of “decency and civility” in the U.S. and around the world. What is getting lost in our conversations and policy today is that our democracy has survived and thrived because reporters and editors have shed light on public officials – their triumphs and their missteps.
The dismissal of Bill O’Reilly should send a signal that media executives and their personalities do live in glass houses – and must be sure to look inward in a very critical, sincere and transparent manner. Now is the time – not tomorrow or the day after. Millions of readers and viewers are counting on media executives, their personalities, their reporters and editors to live up to the highest standards – not hide behind arrogance, haughtiness and ivory towers.