by Heather Reed | April 18, 2017
“Caution! You are about to enter the no spin zone.” For more than 15 years, Bill O’Reilly opened his popular Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor with these words to underscore that he would ask his guests straightforward questions to cut through the talking points and get at the heart of an issue.
In the spirit of no spin: O’Reilly’s out—and it’s all due to accusations of sexual harassment.
On Wednesday, parent company 21st Century Fox announced, “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”
Everything began spinning out of control on April 1, when New York Times journalists Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt published an article covering Bill O’Reilly, Fox News, and the large $13 million in settlements paid to five women who claimed sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior toward them.
More than 50 advertisers then pulled out of O’Reilly’s show, while numerous calls were made for Fox News to let O’Reilly go. This was no small matter. Kantar Media estimated that The O’Reilly Factor show reached over $175 million in ad revenue in 2015, and the Nielsen ratings showed that O’Reilly’s audience was larger in Q1 2017 than even before.
O’Reilly’s ouster is both a comfort and a caution.
The comfort comes from the tremendous strides that have been made to create safe workplaces. If a titan such as O’Reilly, who is arguably the most successful cable TV host ever, is held accountable for this alleged behavior, then we have seen a remarkable shift. Not too long ago, accusations like these would have had little success in receiving serious attention. Today, we can all be encouraged that organizations can be held accountable when enabling a workplace climate that is conducive to discrimination or harassment.
The comfort is also a caution. Leaders must be aware that organizations are, indeed, held accountable for the organizational cultures they create.
It’s important to note that Bill O’Reilly adamantly denies the accusations, calling the whole affair “disheartening” and “completely unfounded.” For Fox News, it almost doesn’t matter because the damage has been done. There are enough clues to suggest a corporate culture that allowed inappropriate behavior to make the accusations believable.
Much of this difficulty could have been avoided. If executives had backed up their desire for a healthy company culture with regularly scheduled workplace climate assessments, they may have received early warning signs of trouble. If assessment results had revealed areas of concern, executives could have taken action to address such behavior and put in place an accountability system to protect the workforce.
Fox News is not alone in its workplace climate struggles. Last December, CNN and other Time Warner units were hit in a Georgia federal court with a proposed class action lawsuit. One of the plaintiffs, Celeslie Henley, alleges that she was fired from CNN after she had emailed HR about discriminatory treatment.
And the March revelations of the photo-sharing scandal at the Marine Corps prompted House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith to call the alleged behavior by Marines and Marine Corps veterans "degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable."
With greater attention being paid to workplace discrimination and harassment, executives would do well to learn from Fox News' mistakes. If you are a leader, take proactive measures now to assess your workplace climate and protect your organization from potential discrimination or harassment that can send you spinning out of control.
In other words: Be cautious, and enter the workplace climate no spin zone. You’ll be glad you did.