On the day Bill O’Reilly was fired, Serena Williams announced she was 20 weeks pregnant.
Fans did the math and concluded Williams must have had a baby on board in January when she won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title in dominating fashion. That, said TV tennis analyst Pam Shriver, made Williams’ win “even more spectacular.”
That same day, director Ava DuVernay was basking in news that her documentary “13th” had won a prestigious Peabody Award. And Chrissy Metz, a star of the NBC hit, “This Is Us,” was receiving feedback to a video “letter” she posted online to her insecure teenage self. “Stop comparing yourself to anyone or anything,” she counseled. “We are all on our own journey.”
That day, in other words, women lived their unique lives. And Fox “News” sent O’Reilly packing for allegedly behaving as if they exist solely for his gratification.
O’Reilly, a pugnacious conservative who was the mightiest oak in the forest of cable news blowhards, was felled by a report in The New York Times three weeks ago that detailed how Fox paid out about $13 million over the years to make multiple accusations of sexual harassment go away. An uproar ensued, and advertisers deserted his top-rated program by the dozens.
Small wonder. The accusations, which O’Reilly denies, read like a manual on how not to behave in a 21st-century workplace. O’Reilly is said to have made unwanted advances, tried to plant an unwanted kiss and backed up his demand for sexual favors by making threats or even taking action to blunt women’s careers. One woman said he called her and described sexual fantasies involving her. She said it sounded as if he was masturbating.
This comes at a bad time for Fox. It’s been less than a year since chairman Roger Ailes left under a similar cloud. But in showing O’Reilly the door, the network makes a strong statement that it has zero tolerance for acts of sexual harassment.
That become public and scare advertisers away.
Otherwise, Fox doesn’t seem to care all that much. What else can we infer when O’Reilly was there for two decades, and Fox repeatedly chose to paper over his alleged misdeeds rather than take action to curb his, ahem, enthusiasm? It’s like people there think it’s still 1968. Indeed, O’Reilly comes across like a guy who just wandered in from one of those old sitcoms where the lecherous boss is always chasing the secretary around the desk.
It was a reliable comic trope that felt harmless way back when. But then, no one ever asked the secretary how she felt about it.
Give or take a president or two, we men don’t behave that way anymore. Or at least, we know we’re not supposed to. Last week’s events suggest that some of us have yet to learn.
On the day O’Reilly was fired, Gail in West Palm Beach researched real estate for a potential buyer. Georgina in New Orleans chased down rats in a property she owns. Laura in Hood River, Oregon, prepared for breast cancer surgery. Lynn drove her semi from Seattle to Ontario, California. In Tallahassee, Marty trimmed the shrubs.
In other words, women did what they do every day. They lived lives of challenge, routine, reward and, most important, volition beyond the entitlements of men.
Meanwhile, a man rich and powerful and beyond judgment — or so he surely thought — was finally held to answer for years of allegedly treating women like things. It was belated comeuppance, to be sure, but it was comeuppance just the same.
So it went in America on Wednesday, the day Bill O’Reilly got fired. And you know something?
It was a pretty good day.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.