Fox News Channel ditched Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday following the revelation of a series of sexual harassment allegations.
His accusers—including Juliet Huddy, Andrea Tantaros, and Gretchen Carlson—also tellingly no longer work at Fox News. But the women who never worked at Fox News strike as the ultimate victims. Those who share the chromosomes of the aggrieved parties but not a CV that includes girl-next-door looks, or a rock-star boyfriend, or a Miss America crown don’t, generally, get hired in cable news.
Strangely, the ladies that cable news regards as bringing viewers the most articulate, insightful opinions, cogent analysis, and trusted, steady delivery of information all exhibit a highest common denominator: 10. Even on The Five, viewers see no fives. God apparently blessed the best-looking women with the most desirable attributes in other categories, too.
Sure, ugly people can get on the Fox News Channel—if they’re guys (If you want proof of this, turn it on right now). But it really, really helps to appear really, really good looking if you want a spot on Fox News Channel and you don’t have a penis. The ladies never allowed within the sights of any Fox News Channel camera suffered from the sexism of the TV-news business far more than the on-air talent subjected to leers, propositions, and unwanted comments.
Where’s their multimillion-dollar settlements?
Sex sells, especially on cable news. Ugly women need not apply. Fat women need not apply. Old women need not apply. Hot women? You’re hired.
Television, a visual medium, understandably favors those beyond the visual medium. That’s not news even on a channel with 24 hours to fill up. But stacking the lineup with a lineup of stacked beauties seems mission creep(y). The main factor gaining a woman an audience on The O’Reilly Factor involved beauty more so than brains. Atop suffering in the looks department, do Plain Janes and Homely Hollys also lack insight and eloquence?
Other formats established the cable-news template. Music television strangely became fixated with looks to the exclusion of sounds. Latter-day Patsy Clines, Mama Casses, and Aretha Franklins didn’t emerge in the MTV age because our eyes usurped the judgments rightfully made by our ears. Reality television presented a surreal vision of runway models and pinup girls that contradicted the genre’s ostensible premise. Now cable news trolls for ratings by peddling images rather than information. They do this because it works.
Cable news’s reliance on pretty women with short skirts and long legs does not go unnoticed where you might expect it to not go unnoticed. Howard Stern, in homage to the NCAA basketball tournament, created a sweet-sixteen bracket a few years back to determine the “Hottest Fox News Anchor.” Pervy postings across the internet highlight the cross-legged sitting of various Fox foxes. Vivid, a leading peddler of pornography, hoped to capitalize on the controversy by making a movie called “BLANKED by Fox.” The first word in the title, like that last word in the title, begins with an “F.”
Knowing the circumstances but not the facts in this specific case, our judgments make proclamations about us rather than the litigants. We don’t know whether this accuser is a gold digger or that accused is a lecher. We project our experiences onto their experiences.
Bill O’Reilly possesses money and power. Men sometimes abuse the latter to manipulate women into sleeping with them. Women sometimes pursue the former by manipulating courts into believing that men used power to manipulate them into sleeping with them. Either scenario seems plausible. But—hey, hey, hey—as was the case with two other famous Bills accused of far worse, when the number of charges piles up, maintaining “I did not (try to) have sex with that woman” becomes hard to pull off without an accompanying laugh track.
People caught up in transforming cable news into soft-core Skinemax got caught up in the perils of that ratings-friendly strategy. If you use sex appeal to build your brand, the appeal of sex can undo your brand.