Once when I was a young reporter covering an election, a district that should have gone for one candidate surprisingly went for his opponent. A veteran journalist turned to me that election night and said, “Boy that’s a bellwether if I ever saw one.” I nodded as if I understood what he meant but soon after looked up the word and learned it meant a major shift in a trend. I thought of that word today when I heard Bill O’Reilly was shown the door by Fox News. This is a bellwether moment for women in the workplace.
For decades society has slowly shifted its view on sexual harassment and enacted laws going after people who violate the many policies that are now in place. As nice as that is sometimes it takes the killing of a whale to get people’s attention and truly bring a shift in workplace culture. That just happened today with O’Reilly. Here was a man getting huge ratings and pulling in a truckload of money for his employer and at this moment he is unemployed. Ten or twenty years ago the rumors of harassment and the settling of lawsuits would have been a headline for a day or two but the world would have moved on and someone as popular as O’Reilly would have kept his job or simply gotten a slap on the wrist. Not anymore.
Today we saw the biggest fish in cable news get kicked to the curb. One could argue fairly that O’Reilly was only tossed out after the news of multiple settlements came to light and for that, you could say, “Shame on Fox News.” Still, this is a very big moment for the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Put simple nobody, and I mean NOBODY, is above the law or too big or important to fire.
A final thought. If you look up the term “bellwether” it has another meaning. It refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram. Given what O’Reilly is accused of doing to multiple women and what happened to him today, one can’t help but notice the dual meaning.