This weekend The New York Times had a feature story after the culmination of the newspaper’s investigation on the sexual harrasment lawsuits against FOX News host Bill O’Reilly and the continued success of O’Reilly who continues thrive in terms of exposure and TV ratings despite numerous allegations of sexual harassment and a reported $3 million in payment. For now, O’Reilly remains on the air and untouchable at the network.
The attitude toward sexual harassment and misogyny at News Corp has come under scrutiny since former Fox and Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit almost a year ago against the network’s head honcho Roger Ailes led to the fall of the man who could have been labeled “the minister of propaganda” in this country during the George W. Bush Presidency and no doubt would have served the same function under a President Trump. Gretchen Carlson’s courageous action blew the lid off of other scandals at the network and the “frat boy” culture to has infiltrated every aspect of FOX’s broadcasting. The culture created at FOX News for self-respecting, accomplished professional women to try and be successful has been stifled by what is a male-dominated network especially in tenor.
FOX News has made an effort to appeal to a certain type of viewer – those who are more than likely former “frat boys” themselves and those who eschew intellectual curiosity for a personality-driven approach to news and politics. The subtle racism we saw the network exhibit during the Obama years has gotten more overt as the approach has been rewarded in terms of TV ratings. With an ally in the White House, FOX’s “frat house” is the most powerful media outlet in the free world save possibly the BBC (which FOX insiders no doubt probably see as a red menace) .
FOX’s frat house features the likes of Steve Doocey (who was named in Carlson’s complaint) in the morning and the snarky race-baiting Jesse Waters on O’Reilly show and over weekend on his own program. Born-again conservative Tucker Carlson, a former FOX News, George W. Bush and GOP critic who has been reborn at the alter of Ailes and Trump now has a superstar quality as a host that books liberals on his prime-time program in order to ambush them. Tucker Carlson’s drift from “responsible conservative” in the late 1990’s (not terribly dissimilar from current Trump critics William Kristol or David Frum) to libertarian-ism in the 2000’s (a period when Tucker Carlson publicly attacked FOX News and boasted about voting against George W. Bush for President while working with CNN and MSNBC) to out-and-out Trump backer over two decades shows the levels which media personalities will shift ideologies and opinions in order to stay on the air.
The network’s rhetorical tone is one where misogyny is tolerated so why would we believe the workplace would be any different? For whatever reason we never asked the questions until Gretchen Carlson came forward and superstar Megyn Kelly left the network for NBC later in 2016. But for whatever reason until the findings of the Times investigation was published, other media outlets have been fearful of taking FOX head on. Certainly isolated examples are apparent, such as CNN’s excellent in-house media critic Brian Stelter but by in large many in the media have been fearful to take on FOX even in the wake of Gretchen Carlson’s claims and settlement.
The reality of this is that FOX is so driven by personality and appeal to the lowest-common denominator in its coverage of the left (which includes the “mainstream media”) including overt racism and sexism, fear permeates executives at other networks and news magazines about how to cover the house Roger Ailes built. But this weekend’s Times story might change the game. We can only hope it does.