By now, I suspect, all cable news junkies and most of the celebrity obsessed populace has heard of the dismissal of the FOX News giant, Bill O’Reilly, due to sexual harassment allegations and accusations . I am not going to recapitulate all the evidence and innuendo that has surrounded his release because that is easily researched through your search engine online. The fact is, there is a significant part of the population that is cheering for his demise as well as a significant part that is convinced it’s a smear campaign to eviscerate a powerful conservative voice. I suspect those of us who are but mere mortals neither connected to celebrity politicians or journalists will forever be guessing what the real facts might be in this debacle. That being said, it is neither judging nor condemning to analyze the situation and offer some “no-spin” lessons we might walk away with in the midst of another moral circus. After all, as O’Reilly would often say analyzing in the Factor’s “no-spin zone”, “I too, am your humble correspondent and it’s time the spin stops here.”
I have no axe to grind with O’Reilly. As with any human being who is caught in this type of firestorm, there is a natural compassion that arises when one ponders the embarrassment and humiliation of a public “sex” scandal. He deserves the right to be heard and make his case in the court of public opinion concerning the accusations. As a journalist, in my opinion, he appeared to make the consistent attempt to be unbiased and fact-based with his journalism. Like him or hate him, most people perceived him as “fair” and recognized that he had traditional or conservative leanings in his perspective. This is why a good number of conservative voices (even Christian) are rushing to defend Mr. O’Reilly as they are convinced it is a calculated and focused attempt at torpedoing a powerful media voice by “leftists” who will do anything to undermine America.
The story that is unfolding may be true, or, it may be leftist smear. As I said above, perhaps some day we shall know definitively. However, there is no doubt that his fall, as well as his FOX boss Roger Ailes, is not without some lessons and observations that we as Christians need to learn and heed.
LESSON 1 – Accusations will come, make sure they don’t “stick”.
You can be sure that before life is over somebody is going to accuse you of something. Obviously, if it is true and you are caught then the repercussion should be expected. However, if it is false, will it be able to stick to you? For example, I am the pastor of a statistically average sized church. I am not a celebrity by any definition of the word. Compared to national journalists and politicians my fishbowl is really small. That being said, after 38 years of ministry life I still have received accusations. Gratefully, not many, but accusations none the less from the trivial to the significant. The reason they do not stick is because of this simple equation I endeavor to live by:
VISIBILITY = INFLUENCE = RESPONSIBILITY
I understand that with any visibility there is a responsibility as to how I behave, interact, and set boundaries with my life. I cannot stop accusations from flying my direction, but I can design my life in such a way that the people who know me and watch me will instantly recognize a false one from a true one. I understand that there will always be people who choose to believe the “dirt” before the facts are on the table, but the best defense for false accusation is a life that makes any accusation look incredulous.
Bill O’Reilly, and the FOX News environment, did not take their responsibility seriously in this regard. I have been, generally, a loyal viewer of FOX News for all of the reasons that enabled them to grow into a premier cable news network. They advocated and made room for a political perspective which generally matched mine (or at least was less hostile). I have no agenda to see anyone fail at FOX, but the “smoke” that has in recent years swirled around this network with regards to sexual harassment and inappropriate decorum has now come back to undermine them. In Mr. O’Reilly’s case, if allegations are true and reporting is accurate, there have been up to 7 accusations of sexual harassment with several of them coming from women who were FOX analysts or anchors. These are not “leftists” to easily dismiss. These are credible, professional people who are challenging a powerful media force…some of whom are not seeking damages. These accusations are “sticking” because they are plausible in many people’s minds.
LESSON 2 – Christians are non-partisan in their moral evaluations.
I will say this again for the millionth time, my first allegiance is to Christ, His Kingdom, and the Scripture. I am not a political, moral relativist attacking democrats and liberals for moral failure while dismissing republican sins as meaningless. The problem with America is not the battle of right versus left, but rather right versus wrong. For the Church and it’s cultural leaders to regain credibility, we must call things as we see them (according to the Scripture). Of course, Mr. O’Reilly deserves our prayers and optimism that whatever is going on in this situation is addressed and rectified justly and truthfully. If he is being smeared, then may his accusers be exposed and justly punished for tarnishing a reputation. If this is true, may O’Reilly repent and weep his way back to God and experience the mercy of the Cross. That’s how these moments are to be called by the Church.
In this circumstance, my greatest concern has not been Christians running to judgment, but rather running to excuse or exonerate. No one wishes to throw stones at O’Reilly or FOX News from the circles I am associated. But at the same time we cannot instantly run for the whitewash bucket and brush to cover up serious allegations either. Something, someone, somewhere is significantly broken in this debacle. Political perspective should not sway us as we call for candor and repentance to all the individuals caught in this situation.
LESSON 3 – Set the right environmental standards.
Since this is the “no-spin” blog I decided to risk the legalist accusation and simply ask the question, “Why does FOX News find it necessary to dress most their on-air women analysts or anchors like they are going to a cocktail party or happy-hour at a bar?” Let me be clear, men are responsible to seize their eyes and their thoughts when it comes to observing other women and women should not be expected to wear burlap sacks to mask their femininity. However, why is it that other news channels seem to have a professional “vibe” and decorum to its news department, but FOX pushes the edges on hemlines and bust-lines? Does the news need “sexual tension” to keep our attention? Don’t even dare to think this observation can be conflated into some misogynistic worldview that somehow women who dress provocatively “deserve” harassment. That would be dodging a legitimate point. If your environment is sexually loose, then don’t be surprised when lines are crossed.
Almost without exception, the Factor would have a nightly story (often times it would be “Watter’s World”) highlighting some edgy, sexualized story to appeal to the viewer’s voyeuristic nature. One would have to be stupidly naive to not understand what this environment was endeavoring to do. For awhile I kept my hand close to the remote to change the channel if it turned inappropriate, however, I eventually left O’Reilly partly because of this. The point I am making is that this sexual edginess creates an environment where lines of appropriate moral decorum are blurred. I get it, we are talking about the world here. What should we expect from the spiritually dead, right? I also “get” that most of the church sees no problem at this point either. Don’t call me a legalist, because again, you would simply be dodging the point. The point is still valid and the lesson is clear, your environment can either foster or diminish potential problems with regards to accusations.
LESSON 4 – Character still matters.
There’s an old saying (biblical principle actually) that says, “A man’s gifting can take him only as far as his character can sustain him”. How many times must we watch these types of “falls” before we really believe that character matters? Whether it be politically or journalistically, our compartmentalization of the character issue has been the ruin of many a talented individual. You can ignore it all you want, but a lack of character will eventually find you…even if your making tens of millions of dollars.
LESSON 5 – Arrogance and Anger are recipes for disaster.
Almost without exception viewers are universal in their analysis that O’Reilly is prideful and hot-tempered. Biblically, both of those attributes are recipes for a fall. In fact, O’Reilly’s pride was not simply a self-recognition of his success, but actually a flippant handling of God’s Word and His people. During the gay marriage debate it was quite clear that O’Reilly was soft on gay marriage and actually referred to some Christians as “Bible-thumpers”. Both of these temperaments are really indicators of an inner lack of restraint or self-government. The Scripture states that “pride goes before a fall” and “a man of great wrath shall suffer punishment”. We see yet another example of just how credible the Bible and these “Bible-thumpers” can actually be.
It should grieve us and make us ever mindful that “but for the grace of God that could be any one of us”. No one should take any pleasure in the fall or failure of another man. Bill O’Reilly, whether these accusations prove true or false, needs to meet the living Jesus in a transformational way. If you are a Christian, then that of course, should be your prayer tonight. But beyond that, these moments are, for each one of us, to take inventory of our life and boundaries, our priorities and our convictions, and make sure we walking above reproach. Because whether it’s on this side of eternity or the next, there really is a “no-spin” zone where the spin really does stop, only it won’t be hosted by Bill O’Reilly but rather the God of the universe. If this is your shot across the bow to get your life in order, then thank God for the example and lesson before your eyes to repent and change, rather than experience the embarrassment and humiliation of the world’s scorn.