Sunday, October 22, 2017


The New York Times now reports thatin January of this year, Bill O'Reilly paid an astonishing $32 million to settle sexual harassment allegations by Lis Wiehl, a longtime Fox contributor. Fox executives learned of the settlement, shrugged, and a month later renewed O'Reilly's contract anyway, giving him a raise of nearly 40%, from approximately $18 million to $25 million.

Then, in April, O'Reilly was let go:
But by April, the Murdochs decided to jettison Mr. O’Reilly as some of the settlements became public and posed a significant threat to their business empire.

Early that month, The Times reported on five settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly, leading advertisers to boycott his show and spawning protests calling for his ouster. About the same time, the O’Reilly settlements arose as an issue in 21st Century Fox’s attempt to buy the European satellite company Sky.
The five settlements reported by the Times in April didn't include the one in the case of Wiehl.

Last year, Fox chief Roger Ailes was also forced to resign after he was sued by former Fox anchorwoman Gretchen Carlson, and after reports by Gabriel Sherman and others revealed that Ailes was a serial sexual harasser.

All this has been terrible for Fox. Or has it?

Slate's Isaac Chotiner recently talked to Sherman about Fox and other subjects. Chotiner made the point that the loss of Ailes and O'Reilly, along with the defection of onetime Fox star Megyn Kelly, seemed to have damaged Fox, but now appears to have done very little harm. Sherman concedes the point:
One of the points of your book is that Ailes was a brilliant showman and made great hires, including people like Bill O’Reilly, who people may find distasteful but are incredible television personalities and talents. Now you see people like Tucker Carlson, who has failed at basically every TV show he’s ever had until now and who I do not think is a particularly skilled broadcaster. You see their 9 p.m. hour, which has been a mess, and they can’t quite figure out what to do with it, and they’re still getting great ratings. Ailes obviously was a television genius, but it also seems like we’re at this point with the right-wing audience in America—not to sound condescending—where you can put anything on the air and you will get extremely good ratings. It almost reminds me of the fact that the Republican president can do anything he wants and still have a 35 percent approval rating.

... These are people whose habits are set, and they come home or they sit at home—a lot of these people are shut-ins—and they click on Fox in the morning and they just keep it on all day. It doesn’t really matter the content of the programming, except it has to remain reliably conservative and somewhat conspiratorial.

At this point the audience is baked in, and it’s a very stable audience.
So Fox is now rid of Ailes, rid of O'Reilly, and rid of other on- and off-air figures accused of either engaging in sexual harassment or abetting it -- and the ratings are still fine. It's true that MSNBC topped Fox in the ratings briefly this spring, but Fox is back on top, and with a few prime-time hosts who are much less pricey than O'Reilly. And it's also true that Fox's audience skews old -- but MSNBC's audience isn't much younger.

Even though Fox poisons America's political discourse every day, and bamboozles the president of the United States with lies and half-truths, it now gets to boast that it's cleaned house at a corporate level, and it can even do some virtue signaling, as in this Variety article, a couple of paragraphs of which read as if they could have been written by a Fox publicist:
In the U.S., Fox News Channel, widely regarded as the economic engine of its parent, is about to unveil a new programming lineup that depends more heavily on female anchors. On October 30, Fox News is slated to launch new programs anchored by popular conservative radio host Laura Ingraham at 10 p.m,. and by Fox News Supreme Court reporter Shannon Bream at 11 p.m. – a new foray into late night after years of running a repeat of its 8 p.m. hour at that time. Fox News has already given new hours in daytime to Harris Faulkner and Dana Perino, while adding Sandra Smith to an hour co-anchored by Bill Hemmer....

21st Century Fox has reworked the Fox News executive suite, giving female executives oversight of programming, advertising sales and financial operations. The woman who served as Fox’s corporate counsel during Ailes’ command, Dianne Brandi, has taken a voluntary leave from the company, and no details have been released about when she might return. 21st Century Fox has ousted executives in other units who were accused of harassment: The company parted ways with a key staffer at Fox Sports, Jamie Horowitz, after allegations about his behavior surfaced.
The new Times story is another embarrassment for the Murdoch family, one that makes the family's bid to take over the telecommunications company Sky even more difficult than it's been. The bad news may be what causes this takeover bid to be rejected by British regulators.

But eventually we'll have seen the last of the stories about sexual harassment in the bad old Ailes/O'Reilly days, and Fox News will still be on its feet, able to claim that it's run in a professional way, and topping the ratings with TV mediocrities earning midrange salaries. So, in a way, it's all good for Fox News.

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