Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is under fire based on a weekend New York Times article indicating that $13 million had been paid to five women who had received settlements after complaining about the host’s behavior. The pattern documented by these cases? “As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally,” noted the newspaper. “He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.”
In response, O’Reilly verily suggested that he was a victim. “Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity.” He also cited his family-man bona fides: “But most importantly, I’m a father who cares deeply for my children and who would do anything to avoid hurting them in any way. And so I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children.”
Such arguments make no sense to those who know O’Reilly. He’s vindictive, he’s a penny-pincher and he’d sooner stop writing terrible books than give money to someone who had lied about him in seeking a settlement.
Yet the arguments work for one of O’Reilly’s friends, who happens to be the president of the United States. “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled,” said President Trump in an interview with the New York Times, right in the midst of the White House-proclaimed National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. “Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
And just what sort of expert on propriety is speaking here? “I just start kissing them,” Trump said in that famous “Access Hollywood” tape. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Right now O’Reilly is teetering. More than 20 advertisers have fled his show, raising the prospect of something unthinkable in the industry — that the King of Cable News could lose his show and his status as the “table setter” for Fox News. Any further spasms of bad news could push the O’Reilly survival factor closer to the tipping point.
In just about any other time, an endorsement from the president of the United States would help. Now? Maybe not.