Despite recent revelations that Fox News and anchor Bill O’Reilly had settled five complaints of sexual harassment against him to the tune of millions — his ratings went up.
A few days later, a United AirIines passenger was dragged from an airplane to make room for crew members on a full flight — and United’s stock initially went up.
And for this, we pay good money?
The shock wasn’t so much that monetary values seem to increase in direct correlation to the diminution of moral values but that we’ve become passive bystanders to appalling behavior and allegations. Well beyond defining deviancy down, as the great statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan once described our cultural devolution — we hardly know what it is anymore.
Which reminds me of another great social observer, author Flannery O’Connor. Frequently asked why Southerners write so much about freaks, she replied that it was because Southerners could still recognize them. Whether this was ever true is debatable only beyond the Confederate states.
What is true today is that social media has become the church lady and the party-line operator rolled into one. If somebody misbehaves, not just two people know about it. Within hours or minutes, millions do. Like a single organism endowed with the accumulated moral fortitude of human society, Twitter demands justice.
In viral videos of the airplane fiasco, passengers are heard protesting as security officials dragged the man down the aisle toward the exit. But even their objections were relatively muted. Was this a one-off, crazy incident, they must have wondered? Or, was it just a matter of time until the blood-sucking, tentacled tripod machines in War of the Worlds reach down to select their next human cocktail to drain? But maybe that’s just me.
Still. It happened. Right here in the USA. On a plane. To a random guy.
United stocks rallied and the friendly skies were no wiser.
That is, until the outrage gathering on social media reached investors. By Tuesday morning, United had lost millions in market share — not because of the airline’s treatment of the passenger but because of investors’ loss of faith in the company’s ability to handle a crisis.
As for O’Reilly, o’really?
I was beginning to think I was the last person on the planet for whom mention of “O’Reilly” prompted the instant association to “loofah.” O’Reilly. Loofah. O’Reilly. Loofah. Yes, my fellow Americans, not only is O’Reilly a smug, sarcastic, windbag/anchor of the self-promoting commercial called The O’Reilly Factor, he is also allegedly a sex talker of some renown.
Thirteen years ago, O’Reilly settled with a Factor associate producer, Andrea Mackris, who sued for sexual harassment. Specifically, she alleged that in telephone conversations, he bragged about his global sexual exploits, encouraged her to release tensions with a mechanical aid, and spoke of a shower fantasy with Mackris and “that little loofah thing.” Later in the same conversation, for reasons unknown, she said he changed his terminology to that “falafel thing” — word of the day, eh? — which falls somewhat short of correcting the record.
Your honor, I did not say her little loofah thing. I said her little falafel thing. There’s a big difference, you know.
The upshot of the Mackris and more recent Fox News scandals was that women were paid for their silence, in some cases quite well. Gretchen Carlson was awarded $20 million to settle her suit alleging that Fox News boss Roger Ailes sexually harassed her for several years. Ailes is gone; Carlson is rich.
Mackris was paid as well, though not nearly so well. The tapes she supposedly had that would have proved her case were never released, she faded into scandal history, and O’Reilly went on to become Fox’s ratings god for reasons I’ve failed to glean.
Then #bootoreilly was born and thousands of women shared their experiences with workplace harassment. At last count, more than 60 advertisers, including Jenny Craig, Advil and Mercedes-Benz pulled their commercials from the show. Even O’Reilly is only as valuable as the bucks he brings in.
In a pre-Twitter age, the United event might have gone unnoticed by more than a few reporters who corralled a few passengers for interviews — if that. Pre-social media, allegations of O’Reilly’s brutish behavior might have been passed off as just-a-guy having some innocent fun.
Alas, and for good, the party’s over for boors and bullies. Except, of course, for the president of the United States.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.