It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Fox News is celebrating
Fox News is one of America’s leading sources of televised news, and its popularity has only risen since the presidential election. As of January, Fox News’ viewership had increased by 35 percent from the previous year, with an average of 2.8 million people tuning in to watch the often conservative talk shows and news coverage. Even Donald Trump regularly watches the morning shows, creating a strange and concerning relationship between the president and a news organization.
And this relationship has only been made more concerning by the recent sexual harassment scandals surrounding America’s most reputable right-wing news source.
Roger Ailes, Fox News’ former chairman, was forced to resign this past July after 20 years at the network when a series of lawsuits came out accusing Ailes of sexual harassment. What began as one accusation of misconduct by former host, Gretchen Carlson, ballooned into a scandal including over 20 women and allegations ranging from unwanted groping to decades of “psychological torture.” Even more serious claims against Fox News followed, including stories that exposed a culture of misogyny, and also claims that there is a history of corruption including surveillance, smear campaigns and hush money at the highly-rated network.
And even after his resignation, accusations against Ailes have not ceased. On Monday, roughly 10 months after his resignation, another lawsuit was filed by a paid political commentator for Fox News, claiming that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her under the pretenses that she would receive a promotion.
But while the accusations against the longtime chairman of the network did not largely impact viewership or advertising, the new accusations against Fox’s top-rated host, Bill O’Reilly, are.
In 2015, “The O’Reilly Factor” became the top program in cable news for the 14th consecutive year, averaging 2.8 million viewers. Those numbers have only improved since then, and as of 2017, O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. show was averaging 4 million viewers per night. But even the network’s top-rated host is not immune to scandal, with The New York Times revealing last Saturday that Fox News has spent about $13 million throughout O’Reilly’s career in order to silence five women, preventing them from pursuing litigation or speaking about their accusations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior committed by O’Reilly.
Fox News has not yet publically acted against O’Reilly, and its silence is beginning to be detrimental. As of Tuesday, over 20 major advertisers, including companies such as Hyundai, BMW, Credit Karma and Allstate, have pulled their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor,” creating a trend that, if it continues, can lead to serious financial damage for the show.
But there is still one person that is standing firmly behind O’Reilly: President Donald Trump.
In an interview on Wednesday, Trump is quoted defending O’Reilly, stating, “I think he shouldn’t have settled…Because you should have it all the way. I don’t think Bill [O’Reilly] did anything wrong.”
But it should honestly come as no surprise that Trump doesn’t think O’Reilly did anything wrong. There have been innumerous sexual harassment claims made against Trump over decades, and he was never punished, but was instead awarded with the most powerful office in the world. How could someone be expected to believe that something is wrong if they have never been held accountable for the same actions?
And this inaction is not only setting an example for other powerful men, but it’s setting an example to all young men out there as well. By not punishing or at least thoroughly investigating those who are so publicly accused of sexual assault, we are telling men that if you become powerful enough, you become immune to this type of scandal. These men are essentially protected by a system that has promoted hypermasculinity and worked in favor of men for decades, and yet people still wonder why women frequently don’t report sexual assault.
While the advertisers that are pulling their ads from Fox News are taking a step in the right direction, it isn’t enough. These powerful men need to be held accountable for their crimes and for creating environments in which women are made to feel unsafe and weak.
And as it is April, otherwise known as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, I believe there is no time like the present.
Tess Halpern is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.