In a new interview with the so-called “failing” New York Times, President Trump came to the defense of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. According to an investigation by the Times, Fox News and O’Reilly have paid at least five women a total of about $13 million to quell sexual harassment claims. Though dozens of advertisers have abandoned the his show over the claims, Trump apparently has his back.
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump told the Times. O’Reilly has interviewed Trump many times over the years.
The President went on to say, “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
It’s unclear whether Trump has ever discussed the accusations with O’Reilly or has any other knowledge of the underlying facts.
There are two ways to interpret Trump’s comments that he didn’t do anything “wrong” — and neither of them is good. It could be that Trump honestly thinks O’Reilly didn’t sexually harass the women, which inherently means that the women are all liars trying to exploit him and the network for money. This interpretation aligns with O’Reilly’s own messaging; Fox News issued a statement to the Times explaining that O’Reilly “denies the merits of these claims,” but he “has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility.”
According to the Times’ investigation, one of the women actually had recorded conversations with O’Reilly, which prompted the settlement — bound by a confidentiality agreement.
This would be in line with Trump’s own rejection of all of the sexual harassment and assault allegations against him. Trump has repeatedly insisted the woman making accusations against him are liars. He notably suggested they were all too ugly for him to have pursued.
Trump was, however, caught on tape bragging about groping women. He talked about how he just starts kissing women he finds attractive. “When you are a star… you can do anything,” he boasted. “Grab them by the pussy; you can do anything.” Even that tape aside, Trump has a long history of making insulting and degrading remarks about women, such as saying that Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” or insisting it’s a wife’s job to change diapers.
O’Reilly isn’t even the first other person Trump has defended from sexual harassment charges. Last summer, he also came to the defense of former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who had also been accused by several different women. Using almost identical language as he did with O’Reilly, Trump called Ailes “a friend of mine” and a “very, very good person” and claimed that Ailes had “helped” the women accusing him. It was the allegations against Ailes that prompted Fox News to conduct the internal investigation that led to O’Reilly’s two recent settlements.
When Trump said O’Reilly didn’t do “anything wrong,” he could have also just meant that O’Reilly did do what he was accused of, but that behavior was perfectly acceptable. In other words, it could mean Trump believes it’s fine to hold back women’s careers if they don’t perform sexual favors — and that a court of law would agree with him.
And of course, it’s possible that Trump believes both of those interpretations: that O’Reilly didn’t do anything he was accused of but that even if he had, there’d be nothing wrong with it.
Last Friday, Trump officially declared April to be National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. He has been widely ridiculed for the hypocrisy of that announcement, but in his own misogynistic way, he is creating a platform for more awareness about sexual assault.