Fox News and Bill O’Reilly made what seemed like a coldblooded, bottom-line decision: that paying millions of dollars to women who accused O’Reilly of sexually harassing them was worth it to keep the star in the anchor chair. President Trump’s disturbing endorsement of O’Reilly as a “good person” notwithstanding — “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday — that financial model seems to be collapsing, as advertiser after advertiser pull their spots from O’Reilly’s show. The cost of doing business as usual has suddenly skyrocketed.
And this is the thin silver lining to the sadly familiar O’Reilly story: In a time of heightened awareness of workplace inequalities and an engaged resistance movement, viewers and consumers are primed to demand — and obtain — corporate and individual accountability for abusive behavior. From the ouster of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes last summer after similar allegations to the recent uproar over claims of a culture that tolerated sexual harassment at the ride-hailing company Uber, the equation may, finally, be changing. The reaction to these episodes illuminates a path to effecting real change in how our society responds to harassment — even by the most powerful. The social and financial consequences of tolerating an abusive environment must become untenable for employers.
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