The tragedy of Bill O’Reilly

The original definition of tragedy, dating from the classical Greeks, depends upon a fatal flaw.  That is why Bill O'Reilly's departure from Fox News qualifies as "tragic," even though there are many collateral victims as well, starting with conservatives who are losing a gutsy interrogator unafraid of the stature or political correctness of his interview subjects.

As I read the complaints against O'Reilly, it sounds as if he was alleged to have been behaving like a character out of Mad Men, the soap opera about a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 1960s.  Bill seems to have been old-school in his treatment of females in the workplace, commenting on their appearance and treating them as almost non-persons, accused of "grunting" at them in place of actual individual focus and engagement.

I have no way to know if the allegations of sexual shakedowns are true or not, and he deserves to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  But I can believe that he may have occasionally grunted at female subordinates and made comments on their appearance.  These were considered acceptable boss behaviors in decades past.  Somehow, Bill never got the message that times have changed, that women get angry over such treatment, and that vast legal and social pressure forces can be brought to bear for fun and immense profit by aggrieved females.

It's not too hard to imagine why he never got the message.  He has been for the entire life of the Fox News Channel its biggest star.  Who was going to tell him to change his ways?

We on the right often make fun of clueless leftist Hollywood types who behave boorishly because nobody dares to tell them to shape up.  The males among them are often in the presence of females who happily agree to play the game, offering favors to all sorts to alpha males that can do things for their careers.  As Donald Trump told Billy Bush many years ago, they let you do all sorts of crass things.

So Bill O'Reilly's stardom, his hubristic willingness to believe that he was above the norms enforced on others, became his fatal flaw – aided and abetted by a corporate culture fostered by Roger Ailes that had serious blind spots.

With his millions of dollars, it is hard to see him as a victim, but his tragic fate – the disgrace of an abrupt, public firing, and unemployment (for a few brief moments, at least) – ought to represent a fall from grace.

I actually hope his serious Catholicism (he met with the pope as his fate was being decided) will help him through these difficult times and will lead to personal and spiritual growth.  He has never struck me as a man given to reflection over his personal behavior, but God has a way of making us consider those points of weakness in our characters.

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