The long-overdue firing of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News is yet more proof that this country needs to have a very long and very painful conversation about how it responds to sexual assault and sexual harassment. As we now know, no fewer than six women came forward with claims that O’Reilly sexually harassed them. Even though the fair and balanced network tacitly admitted that there was a there there by paying millions of dollars in settlements to his victims, it kept O’Reilly on the payroll until earlier this week.
So why did it take so long? Well, one prominent right-wing talk show host may have offered an idea of what much of the Fox News base may have believed for a long time. He actually said–with a straight face–that O’Reilly’s firing was an attempt to bludgeon a good, upstanding Christian man into silence.
It seems hard to believe that anyone would actually publicly come to O’Reilly’s defense. But prominent black conservative pastor Jesse Lee Peterson felt the need to do so on the Thursday edition of his radio show. Listen to a clip here.
To Peterson’s mind, O’Reilly’s firing wasn’t about getting rid of a man with a long and sordid history of sexual harassment. It was “a modern-day lynching of a straight Christian conservative white male of power.” He believed that “the children of the lie”–i. e., the forces of the devil–were working overtime to cut the legs out from under conservatives wherever and whenever they could.
Peterson railed that “the enemies of good” were well aware that those who supposedly stand up for good don’t get a lot of support. He wasn’t pleased that when the allegations against O’Reilly came out, “the people on the side of good” threw him under the bus and told him to resign. As far as Peterson was concerned, they were “supporting the men and women of the lie.” He likened it to the Clarence Thomas confirmation, in which he claimed his opponents “drug Anita Hill out of the gates of hell” in hopes of derailing him.
Peterson called for his listeners to push back against those targeting O’Reilly’s advertisers and tell them, “If you drop Bill O’Reilly, then I’m dropping you.” He claimed that there were more “people on the side of good” than “people on the side of evil,” but they aren’t speaking up. He called for massive boycotts of any company that cut ties with O’Reilly. As far as he was concerned, those on the right who called for O’Reilly to go were trying to prove they were good to people who were evil.
This spiel went on for 10 minutes. Only once did he even acknowledge one of the victims–and only in passing. Unless I’m very wrong, Peterson’s entire rant could be summed up as a call to give unreserved support to O’Reilly just because he had a history of standing up for “good.” Unless I’m very wrong here, Peterson was effectively saying that O’Reilly’s accusers are agents of evil. That should send a chill down the spine of any fair-minded person.
The thought that anyone could even suggest that O’Reilly deserves to be supported, no matter what, is appalling. The fact that a pastor would say this and give short shrift to O’Reilly’s victims is incomprehensible. Indeed, it brings back echoes of the victim-blaming and victim-shaming that have long been standard operating procedure in much of the evangelical world. In those circles, whenever someone comes forward to claim that he or she has been assaulted, it is dismissed as an attack of the devil. So the very people who should be offering support and encouragement to a sexual assault victim are instead kicking them in the teeth, and a lot of other places. Disgraceful.
I’ve learned to expect very little from Peterson. This is a man who thinks blacks were better off before the civil rights movement and thinks that businesses ought to be able to discriminate with impunity. He also thinks that Donald Trump is one of the models for how a man ought to be. But for him to suggest that any attacks on O’Reilly are a demonic attack is simply outrageous. What if one of those victims was your daughter or your sister, Jesse Lee?
Peterson claims that he wants to help “rebuild men” through his organization, the Brotherhood Organization for a New Destiny. Well, if O’Reilly is his idea of how a rebuilt man looks, it may be time to take a wrecking ball to BOND. But in lieu of that, maybe we should let Peterson know what we think of his suggestion that O’Reilly is even an approximation of a role model–politely, of course. Give him an earful on Facebook and on Twitter.
(featured image courtesy BOND’s Facebook)