The bully’s legacy

From an editorial Thursday in the Los Angeles Times:

Years of sexual harassment allegations and settlements finally caught up to Bill O’Reilly this week. But O’Reilly’s surgical removal from Fox isn’t likely to cure cable networks of the disease he helped spread: a culture of on-air bullying and humiliation that now infects programs across the channel lineup.

To the contrary, Fox announced that it was filling the vacuum left by O’Reilly’s departure with Tucker Carlson, another combative host whose specialty appears to be making guests he disagrees with squirm. This conversation-as-blood-sport approach goes back at least to “The McLaughlin Group” and “Crossfire,” two political talk shows that spiced up substantive discussions with contentiousness, but it became a prime-time staple in the O’Reilly era.

Lamenting the decline of honest debate is a bit like arguing that croquet should be more popular than boxing. Humans like to watch conflict, and savvy TV executives indulge them. Still, O’Reilly could have used his enormous viewership and audience loyalty to try to temper the growing polarization and anger in society. Instead, he fed the toxic sentiment that undergirds our divisions, portraying the people who disagreed with him as corrupt, morally bankrupt and dangerous to real Americans.