The Bill O'Reilly and Bill Cosby Effect: How Power and Gender Trump Justice

The nauseating tale of two powerful male media figures, Bill Cosby and Bill O'Reilly, perfectly illustrates the ongoing problem our society has with its treatment of women, and shows how our society is set up to protect men because of their gender and power.
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Ben Cohen
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The nauseating tale of two powerful male media figures, Bill Cosby and Bill O'Reilly, perfectly illustrates the ongoing problem our society has with its treatment of women, and shows how our society is set up to protect men because of their gender and power.
O'Reilly-Cosby

For as long as recorded history, men have used sex and violence as a weapon against women to assert their dominance. While much of the world has made little in the way of progress when it comes to the treatment of women, the west has much to be proud of when it comes to reversing thousands of years of horrendous discrimination and abuse.

However, we should be under no illusions that the issues surrounding gender equality have been fixed, and women elevated to an equal status of men. Women are still treated as second class citizens in many instances, and discrimination exists on a level that most men simply cannot comprehend. The statistics do not lie - there are almost 300,000 sexual assaults a year in America, and women are routinely paid less for the same job as men are. The truth is that we still live in a society run by males, for males.

The nauseating tale of two powerful male media figures, Bill Cosby and Bill O'Reilly, perfectly illustrates the ongoing problem our society has with its treatment of women, and shows how our society is set up to protect men because of their gender and power.

The evidence compiled against Bill Cosby is so overwhelming that only his most ardent fans can deny he is a serial rapist and sexual predator. A total of 45 women have made allegations including groping, indecent exposure, drugging and rape. The veracity of the claims against him boils down to this: either 45 women are engaging in a mass conspiracy to smear Cosby and ruin his reputation for no money or personal gain, or Bill Cosby is a violent rapist and needs to be locked up immediately.  Cosby has maintained his innocence and has largely refused to comment on the allegations.

The evidence compiled against Bill O'Reilly, although nowhere near as serious as Cosby's, is still compelling. O'Reilly was accused in 2004 of sexually harassing a Fox News employee, Andrea Mackris, and was forced to settle for an undisclosed sum well into the millions of dollars. While O'Reilly has steadfastly denied the allegations, lurid transcripts of his phone conversations with Mackris clearly indicate O'Reilly's sexual advancements towards Mackris. The case was settled and both sides agreed that there was no wrong doing on anyone's part, but it doesn't take much reading into to see who was at fault.

Fast forward to 2015, and new allegations have come out against O'Reilly from his ex wife Maureen McPhilmy, who claims he dragged her down a flight of stairs by her neck. The story has been corroborated by O'Reilly's daughter, making the allegations all the more difficult to ignore. Reports Gawker:

The ex-couple’s teenage daughter told a court-appointed forensic examiner that she witnessed O’Reilly “choking her mom” as he “dragged her down some stairs” by the neck.

O'Reilly has maintained his innocence, telling Politico:

All allegations against me in these circumstances are 100% false. I am going to respect the court-mandated confidentiality put in place to protect my children and will not comment any further.

Of course it impossible to be certain of both Cosby and O'Reilly's guilt, but the evidence suggests that both men are a real danger to women. The parallels do not stop there though. Cosby and O'Reilly both stand over 6ft tall, and have well known reputations for bullying, domineering behavior towards not only women, but those they regard as beneath them. They both wield enormous power in the media, and have millions of dollars at their disposal to ward off anyone who would challenge their authority.

Whilst we only know of the public allegations made against both men, they have also lived within power structures that would have allowed them to behave in ways otherwise completely unacceptable. The media industry is notorious for protecting its stars when they behave badly, and this works on several fronts. Not only are lowly employees made acutely aware that they are to defer to the stars at all times, but also to understand that the consequence of speaking out will be dire. Bill Cosby drugged and abused women for decades and the media largely ignored it despite numerous rumors and outright allegations. Cosby survived the early accusations and his career went on with no noticeable effect. The sheer number of women coming forward in the latest spate of accusations has now made the prospect of having a high profile career untenable, but Cosby is still a free man, and still able to command an audience.

As Bob Cesca wrote yesterday, O'Reilly will likely come out of this latest embarrassing episode stronger than ever. Not only is he protected by his own ability to pay people off, but by the Fox News power structure that has a history of protecting its most valuable asset at all costs. O'Reilly can behave like a pig, as long as he pulls in the numbers. And as Bob writes, the latest debacle will probably make viewers "flock to The O’Reilly Factor in droves," bringing in more ad revenue for Fox and solidifying O'Reilly's position as top draw on the network.

The truth is that Bill Cosby and Bill O'Reilly have climbed to the heights of power by peddling their paternalistic, moralizing schtick while harassing, abusing and raping women. The mounting evidence against them shows just how far removed they are from their public personas, and just how hard the media has worked to protect them.

Cosby and O'Reilly believed that as men, they had the right to humiliate women, and sadly our society enabled them.