clock menu more-arrow no yes

The bro-code that makes men stick together when they’re accused of sexual harassment

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees
Donald Trump and Bill O'Reilly drink milkshakes during a New York Yankees game against the Oakland Athletics on August 30, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. (Photo by Robert Sabo/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Sabo/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

When powerful men are accused of sexual assault, they stand strong together. When their accusers become vocal about being sexually harassed, they're paid to shut up.

Nothing seems clearer in the aftermath of Bill O’Reilly’s exit from Fox News.

Sure, O’Reilly is leaving the network, but Fox News knew of the several sexual harassment allegations against him long before the rest of the world found out. Executives even shielded him by paying large sums of money to buy victims’ silence. In other words, the network put its money exactly where its mouth is: right between the lips of its alleged victims.

Ironically, it seems like being a sexual harasser gets you more financial compensation than being a victim, since none of the five women who settled got close to the $25 million dollars O’Reilly will reportedly receive to leave Fox.

Add that to former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes’s $40 million payday after leaving under similar circumstances. (Meanwhile, his accuser, Gretchen Carlson, walked away from the network with half that.)

Both Ailes and O’Reilly swore up and down they were targets of fake sexual assault claims, issued so the accusers could make wads of cash. O’Reilly himself clung to this claim in his last public statement, saying, “Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them.”

Donald Trump (L) and television personality Bill O'Reilly attend a game between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on July 30, 2012.
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Perpetuating the myth that women make false accusations for money has a purpose: It keeps women silent. In fact, it’s been proven that people who experience sexual harassment at work are typically unlikely to report it, often citing the fear of not being believed. Falsehoods about women who report sexual assault don’t just prevent women from coming forward, they make the public less empathetic. And the people who do it know exactly what they’re doing.

Tamara Holder, who joined Fox as a contributor in 2010, knows this first hand. Holder says that in February 2015, Fox News Latino Vice President Francisco Cortes shoved Holder’s face onto his genitals and tried to force her into a sexual act in his office.

“When I reached out to my agents, they told me not to report or my career would be over,” she told me Thursday night. “I’m a criminal defense attorney and I was afraid of going to the police.”

Tamara Holder
Tamara Holder

Holder explains that the aftermath of her sexual assault case proved some of her fears right. She explained that since coming forward in March, other than Carlson, not one current or former female employee at Fox News attempted to support her. “What happened after the fact is proof, since no one even reached out to me,” she said.

When I asked her why, she hypothesized that people there were under the influence of “Stockholm syndrome.” Both men and women at the company, she said, create and prop up a culture of silence around sexual harassment.

So far, Holder is the only woman who came forward with allegations and successfully got Fox to admit publicly abuse took place. Cortes was eventually let go from Fox News Latino, although it’s unclear what kind of severance package he received. His Twitter bio currently reads “founder Fox News Latino.” Holder fought for an internal investigation so she could speak up about the sexual harassment and assault she sees not just at Fox, but in workplaces across the country. “It’s not just about Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, or [Chair of Fox News Rupert] Murdoch, this is about an epidemic.”

It’s a problem that even President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault several times, seems to be aware of. While he declared April “sexual harassment month” — and the internet debated whether or not it was an elaborate April Fool’s joke — he took the time out of his busy schedule of raising awareness about sexual assault to defend a man accused of it. “I don't think Bill did anything wrong," he said about O’Reilly, who he also called “a good person,” in an interview with the New York Times.

As Rebecca Traister noted at the Cut, it’s perfectly fitting that Trump defends O’Reilly, especially if you consider the host’s pivotal role defending him after Trump’s crude Access Hollywood tape leaked. O’Reilly downplayed Trump bragging about sexual assault as being simply spouting “guy talk.” And of course, O’Reilly and Trump both happen to have discredited Ailes’s alleged victims when the then-CEO was accused of sexually harassing several women.

Trump even defended Mike Tyson in 1992 after he was convicted of rape, and called his conviction a “travesty.” In a recent head-scratching public appearance, Tyson repeatedly seemed to suggest Trump had promised him pardon. And who did the boxing champion just so happen to openly support in the 2016 election? His pal Donald Trump.

Sense a pattern here? Nothing brings men together quite like being accused of violence against women.

Men accused of abuse against women defend other men and invalidate their alleged victims for a reason. It’s not camaraderie, it’s survival and it’s utilitarian. When you can discredit other alleged victims, it makes it easier for you (and members of the public) to discredit yours. Holder describes it as a “bro-code” that goes beyond Fox. “There’s a good old boys club in America where rich men rule, and if there’s a sexual assault claim, what is a couple million dollars’ [worth] when you’re bringing in millions more every month.”

I asked Holder if her experience and the latest news around O’Reilly leaving the network made her feel like Fox News’s leaders genuinely care about stopping sexual harassment.

Holder laughed and uttered a flat “no.”

She said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if other women would come forward with their own accounts of sexual harassment at Fox. But given that the memo sent to staff about O’Reilly’s departure spent more time venerating him than explaining what he did, it’s worth asking if Fox thinks he did anything wrong, or if they’re just mad they got caught.