On Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, FOX News, Conservative Media, Conservatism, Conservatives, and Alleged Sexual Harassment
By Ken K. Gourdin
FOX News’ prime time programming lineup has changed considerably in recent months, with the formerly longtime number-one rated cable news show The O’Reilly Factor being replaced by Tucker Carlson Tonight. I admit, I was a regular viewer of Mr. O’Reilly’s program; however, I was not ignorant of accusations of sexual harassment against him over the years, nor of the several million dollars in payouts he has made, essentially to buy his accusers’ silence.
Similar allegations dogged conservative programming icon Roger Ailes before Ailes’ death earlier this year. There was no shortage of laudatory commentary among FOX News personalities about Ailes following his death. It cannot be overlooked, however, that litigation was pending against Ailes for alleged sexual harassment, and a not-inconsiderable amount of FOX News’ on-air female talent has departed in recent months, at least in part based on Mr. Ailes’ alleged mistreatment of women in his employ. However, the silence regarding the allegation against Mr. Ailes among those who lauded his contributions to conservative media has been deafening, including the silence of the panelists on The Five, of Tucker Carlson, of Sean Hannity, and of conservative radio titan Rush Limbaugh
It is absolutely true that the only people who know for sure what happened between Mr. O’Reilly and his accusers and between Mr. Ailes and his accusers are the parties involved. It is also true that the potential for spurious accusations exists. However, the higher the number of accusers, and the more consistent the allegations among them, the more difficult it becomes to conclude, in the face of such a number of consistent allegations, that there’s no “there there.” While they are not as serious as the allegations leveled against the Messrs. Ailes and O’Reilly, and while (thankfully!) they do not involve sexual harassment, your humble correspondent has (read “I have”) been the victim of false allegations which are likely to tarnish my professional reputation permanently (which is part of the reason why law is nothing but an expensive hobby of mine).
That said, the easiest way to steer clear of allegations such as the ones which dogged the Messrs. O’Reilly and Ailes is to not engage in the conduct in which they are alleged to have engaged—and to avoid even doing anything of the sort. I’m terribly old-fashioned, and I find it difficult to separate the product produced by these men from their alleged private conduct—and the same is true of President Donald J. Trump, even if, from a policy standpoint, he ends up being one of the most successful presidents in history. I suppose I should not be so naive as to expect such private rectitude from public figures, but a point of pride for me as someone who leans conservative is that historically, there has been little difference between the private persona and the public persona of the vast majority of candidates and officeholders I tend to support. Sadly, perhaps that is no longer the case.
The old-fashioned nature of this ideal notwithstanding, however, the bottom line is that to get my full, unqualified support, a candidate, officeholder, or commentator should do his best to see to it that there is little difference between his public and private personas. As Thoreau is reported to have said once, “What you are stands over you, all the while thundering so loudly that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” And as the poet Edgar A. Guest put it, “I have to live with myself, and so, I want to be fit for myself to know.” As old-fashioned as this idea has become in modern life, I still think that character counts.