Opinion: Bill O’Reilly’s kind of TV bullying is here to stay

Advertisements for Fox News and Bill O'Reilly outside News Corp. and Fox News headquarters in New York City on Wednesday.
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, The Times’ letters editor, and it is Saturday, April 22, 2017. Happy Earth Day (even if much of the planet, especially its trees, isn’t doing so well). Here’s a look back at the week in Opinion.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has been fired by his employer after reigning for years as the king of cable show ratings (a fact he never tired of mentioning). Getting fired for alleged sexual harassment might bring financial ruin to any middle-class Joe Sixpack that O’Reilly claimed to understand better than anyone, but being deposed from cable news royalty doesn’t come without its perks. O’Reilly will reportedly make $25 million for being forced out after it was revealed he or his employer paid several sexual harassment accusers millions to keep quiet.

O’Reilly may be gone from cable news, but his legacy remains. The Times Editorial Board warns that the bullying, shouting and stubbornness that O’Reilly popularized will remain on TV for as long as they draw viewers and advertising dollars:

This conversation-as-blood-sport approach goes back at least to “The McLaughlin Group” and “Crossfire,” two political talk shows that spiced up substantive discussions with contentiousness, but it became a prime-time staple in the O’Reilly era. News anchors, political observers, celebrity chefs, hosts of true-crime shows, sports analysts, stock pickers — there was a bumper crop of TV personalities eager to shout down or talk over opposing viewpoints.

Lamenting the decline of honest debate and enlightening exchanges is a bit like arguing that croquet should be more popular than boxing. Humans like to watch conflict, and savvy TV executives indulge them. Still, O’Reilly could have used his enormous viewership and audience loyalty to try to temper the growing polarization and anger in society. Instead, he fed the toxic sentiment that undergirds our divisions, portraying the people who disagreed with him as not just wrong, but corrupt, morally bankrupt and dangerous to real Americans.

It’s worth noting that Fox acted only after a New York Times report brought O’Reilly’s copious settlements to the surface, prompting advertisers to flee his program in droves. The controversy didn’t hurt his appeal among viewers — to the contrary, his ratings increased in recent weeks — but it threatened Fox’s bottom line. That led Fox to apply again the principles it discovered last year when it parted ways with the news network’s former chairman and harasser in chief, Roger Ailes. Once again, ad dollars speak more loudly than female employees.

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Another right-wing fire breather’s career is in jeopardy. Alex Jones — propagator of the “chemtrail” and 9/11 conspiracy theories, among others — may not actually believe much of what he shouts at his credulous audience, if we are to believe his lawyer. Jones’ ex-wife claims his paranoia raises questions about his fitness as a father, to which Jones’ lawyers say he’s only playing a conspiracy theorist on the air. Regardless of what he truly believes, writes lawyer Ken White, Jones’ followers take him seriously and have acted dangerously in response. That ought to count for something. L.A. Times

Hey, President Trump, we still want to see those returns. Tax day fell on April 18 this year, and The Times Editorial Board took the occasion to remind the president that most Americans still want to see the returns that he has refused to release. The board writes: “Trump, whose finances are particularly complicated and whose potential conflicts of interests are far greater than most presidents — and who promised during the campaign that he would release his returns eventually — should do as other candidates and presidents have done. Especially with a major tax reform proposal on the way.” L.A. Times

Think filing taxes is hard? Talk to a freelancer. One shouldn’t be hard to find because, as Sara Horowitz notes, freelancers make up about a third of the American workforce. Yet despite the emergence of the so-called gig economy, the tax code is still written as if all Americans can expect to work their whole lives for a single employer that pays for their healthcare and retirement. “Freelancers must retrofit themselves into an archaic system designed for the industrial era, one that taxes independent workers disproportionately even as they benefit less from the social safety net,” Horowitz writes. L.A. Times

He voted for Trump. After Syria, he feels betrayed. Justin Raimondo cast his vote for the president because he articulated a foreign policy that deemphasized foreign intervention like the war in Iraq and promised to end Washington’s Cold War mentality. “As the elites rush to embrace the president, those of us who supported him are horrified, angry and increasingly convinced that instead of draining the swamp, Trump has jumped headlong into it,” Raimondo writes. L.A. Times

Nation, meet the lawyer for the anti-Trump resistance in California. Xavier Becerra has long been familiar to anyone who has paid attention to L.A. politics, but his national profile increased at precisely the moment he left Washington to become California’s attorney general — partly because of profiles that contain language like this: “For now, he clearly relishes his role as a burr in Donald Trump’s backside. At times, he seems to be practically daring the new president to come at California.” The Atlantic

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