During an appearance on Fox & Friends, Host Bill O’Reilly claimed he had difficulty focusing on a speech being given by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) because of her “James Brown wig.”
The overtly sexist and racist comment wasn’t an anomaly, but a continued trend in Bill O’Reilly’s ideology and personal politics making an off-script appearance. He apologized for the comment, but only in response to the backlash and criticism to the comment, as Fox News Host Ainsely Earnhardt defended Waters and told O’Reilly he shouldn’t attack a woman based on her appearance.
In January 2017, the New York Times reported that Fox News settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly filed by a former Fox News Host Juliet Huddy. Former Fox News Host Andrea Tantaros has also accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment at the network. Other anecdotes from previous employees at Fox have noted O’Reilly’s temper tantrum and outbursts toward women, which Fox News has responded to with impunity for O’Reilly.
O’Reilly’s views, outbursts, and influence are archaic, outdated, and perpetuate the assumption that conservative ideology is inherently sexist. In May 2016, he claimed in an interview with the New York Times that feminists shouldn’t be allowed to report and cover Donald Trump because he’s the “antithesis” of feminism.
“Bill O’Reilly went on the “Today” show on Sept. 13 to promote his new book but instead ended up promoting misogyny,” wrote Kareem Abdul Jabbar for the Washington Post in September 2016. “When former Fox News head, and O’Reilly’s boss, Roger Ailes was first accused of sexual harassment by Gretchen Carlson, O’Reilly dismissed his fellow anchor’s accusations, saying, ‘I stand behind Roger 100 percent.’ He went on to complain about frivolous lawsuits, implying Carlson’s was without merit. When more women came forward to accuse Ailes, forcing a $20 million settlement with Fox News’s parent company, Fox News correspondents Geraldo Rivera and Gretchen Van Susteren, both of whom had initially defended Ailes, issued statements regretting their support. What did Bill O’Reilly do? As the damning testimony against Ailes piled up, O’Reilly went on TV and claimed he had never addressed the Ailes case.
Perhaps at first, O’Reilly was merely defending his friend and boss and truly believed there was no merit to the case. But by denying he ever challenged Carlson’s accusations — and thereby supported an alleged sexual predator — he’s sending a message to the public that what Ailes was accused of doing is just fine.”
Thinly veiled misogyny has been an integral part of O’Reilly’s reporting throughout his career. In 2009, he called the first female member of the White House Press Corps the “wicked witch of the east,” and conducted his own impression of her on live television. In 2006, he claimed rape and murder victim Jennifer Moore provoked an attack because of the clothes she was wearing. In 2011 he argued that contraceptives shouldn’t be covered by health insurance by claiming, “many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex. They’re not going to use birth control anyway.”
Instead of continuing to provide O’Reilly with a platform at Fox News, which is already suffering from a series of sexual harassment lawsuits that led to the resignation of the network’s CEO in July 2016, Fox News should continue to clean house of the overt misogynists who continue to perpetuate attitudes abrasive toward women.