Throughout the last few weeks, we have seen an astounding, and yet unsurprising, number of women come forward with devastating stories about workplace harassment. We have also seen an astounding, and yet unsurprising, number of men putting their entire feet in their mouths in an attempt to downplay their complicity in rewarding the kind of men who harass women. The latest example comes from James Murdoch—son of Rupert and CEO at 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company. This morning, Murdcoch attempted to play dumb on Bill O’Reilly’s massive and recently reported settlement with former Fox News contributor Lis Wiehl—a settlement whose existence 21st Century Fox knew about before O’Reilly’s contract was renewed earlier this year.
Murdoch was speaking at the Media International Council Summit at New York’s Paley Center. He claimed he didn’t know that O’Reilly’s settlement was worth $32 million before Fox renewed the contract and gave him a raise, saying, “It was news to me when we saw that number the other day.” Via the New York Times:
“At the time, what you do is you deal with what you know,” he added. “You investigate things thoroughly. You do the best job you can with that, and you try to make the right decision.”
Murdoch went on to explain that 21st Century Fox considered the settlement a “personal issue,” even though they were aware of the complaints against O’Reilly. But when he was asked if offering Bill O’Reilly a $25 million contract after such an enormous settlement threw a sort of wrench in the company’s effort to improve workplace culture and maybe not promote men who sexually harass and abuse women, Murdoch tried to focus on the bigger picture here (emphasis mine).
“I can’t make sure that everyone in the business doesn’t behave badly at times, right?” he said. “What I can make sure is if we know something, we can react to that information. We can be decisive about it.”
Uh. Actually it is literally the company’s job to make sure employees don’t behave badly, and while there is a chance that the company may not have known the precise number of the $32 million settlement, the company was obviously fully aware of O’Reilly’s alleged behavior. Besides, Murdoch and 21st Century Fox did react to the information about O’Reilly. They reacted by doubling down and supporting O’Reilly and his extremely clear pattern of harassing women under the assumption that the settlements would not become public. It was only when they did that O’Reilly was considered a liability and let go.
Congratulations to James Murdoch for receiving a certificate from the Matt Damon School of Pretending You Didn’t Know About Something You Obviously Knew About But Somehow Managing to Play the Victim Anyway.