Image via Getty. Gif by Bobby Finger.

I was on Bill O’Reilly twice—on the show, not the man, a clarification that apparently needs to be made these days. In fact, O’Reilly never sexually harassed me. But his viewers did.

His producers invited me on The O’Reilly Factor in 2009 to try out a recurring segment, with the presumption that I would be both liberal and funny. At the time, I accepted that invitation with naïve enthusiasm. I imagined Bill and I would have an on-air “thing”—nothing sexual, just some kind of playful intellectual chemistry. Sure, a healthy exchange of ideas was not his style, but obviously I was the woman to bring that out in him! He’d call me “Salie,” and we’d be the Benedick and Beatrice of Fox News.

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I was so eager to conduct a “merry war” on the highest rated news show in America that I never considered what it would mean to chat irreverently with O’Reilly after being introduced, quite bafflingly, as a “social observer...a former Rhodes scholar among other things.” By naming me “a former Rhodes scholar,” Fox news cast me as “a current intellectual asshole” for millions of viewers. They could just have easily called me a “public school kid from Georgia,” but that’s not Fox viewer catnip.

The morning after my first appearance, during which I’d been asked to opine (jocularly, of course) about Sarah Palin’s resignation speech as Governor, I woke to find my inbox turgid with rancor:

How shall I put this? God are you are stupid kunt. You’re a comedian? I get the weird looks thing, but you have never said two words that were funny. Harvard educated lit major, wow! How much did that cost daddy, you pathetic whore? Sarah Palin is so far above you in class, intelligence,common sense and beauty, in and out, that a wiser person would have kept her f*ing mouth shut. Yet there you were.

Crawl back into your hole and just be glad you don’t have to make a living being a whore.

Doug M.

Re: sara palan on O’rielly

Hey Bitch Faith Your a Big Fucking Bitch and have no right to get any air time .Your a worthless Bitch with no IQ worth the listening public. Go to hell Bitch Before Somebody takes Voodoo a seriously way to do you in. Pleasent dreams Bitch.

Steve R

You know, you are, without a doubt, the most vile human I have ever seen on TV. you should have seen your face. Why don’t you go to the pigs on The View....you would fit right in.

Ms. Barbara W

I don’t know if you have kids.....but I’m sure if you do....when they were born

they must have smelled like fish. You probably aborted your pregnancies. Michele Obama’s kids are just nappy headed brats......is that fair?

I know you have no shame. Thats why I don’t mind pointing out that your kids

were born smelling like fish. Have a great life funny girl BTW.....getting a late start attempting to be a in show biz aren’t you?

Respectfully,

Kim

you really don’t have much of a sense of humor for a fat asses skank

Robert S

you are just JEALOUS of her!!!! Jealous, jealous, jealous! Ronnie K

I Don’t BELIEVE YOU ARE A RHODE Scholar. you were very critical of Sarah Palin. Most Americans love her and the ones like you are just envious because she is beautiful and smart. Jan R

You are an ignorant insecure female who wishes she had everything Sarah Palin has going for herself. Give it up, were sick of you. Sarah Palin is an intelligent, attractive and a very respectful woman. Something you are not!!!!

Gina E

You are an ugly woman—-in appearance and attitude!! And, you look really old and wrinkley!!!

ssmews

You have a Stupid airline SLUT!!!!appearance

You cow like creature, very disgusting... Smelly like. You slutty bitch!!!

Fondest Regards

Steve B

You should stick to failed comedy attempts (aka grade school sarcasm) and leave the thinking to men. Play to your strengths. Then people won’t keep mistaking you for a fire hydrant. And you’ll stay much drier.

manhood101


And those are the ones relatively fit for print.

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I’ve been on TV for years, probably most prominently as a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning, and occasionally hear from people who disagree with me—but I’d never before drawn such obscene ire. Some Sunday Morning viewers take issue with my apparently provocative opinions about, say, why people who swear are smarter or the scourge of vocal fry, but while their comments can sometimes be grammatically creative, they never speculate about my vaginal effluvium.

Bill O’Reilly had millions of viewers, so these emails obviously do not offer a nuanced representation of his fans, but this Factor-flavored hate mail must tell us something, particularly given how vocal his fans have been since he left the air.

It’s worth noting that both O’Reilly’s male and female fans took the time to compose their thoughts. The ladies’ notes shared a theme of accusing me of being jealous of Sarah Palin, highlighting her smarts and beauty. The gentlemen, on the other hand, focused on my lack of intelligence and my repulsive and wizened appearance. (In my 30s, I was apparently too elderly to be Fox-y enough.) Everyone agreed I wasn’t funny. I don’t blame them. It was hard to be hilarious when Bill kept aborting my jokes with his characteristic interruptions.

In no way do I mean to suggest that being on the receiving end of this viewer negativity is remotely tantamount to the harassment that O’Reilly’s accusers allegedly experienced. My livelihood, self-esteem, and dignity were not threatened by the man behind the series of books with “Killing” in the title.

But these comments a reflective of a verbal culture of misogyny, a sense that you signed up for this textual harassment simply by being a woman on TV. You’ve been Fox-porned in the Fox News hair and makeup chair, so we get to assault you on your looks. You’re a female, so we get to question not what comes out of your mouth but what comes out of your vagina—aborted fetuses or smelly live babies. We get to comment on the size of your ass even though you’ve been shot from the bust up. If you criticize a political figure who happens to be a woman, you’re catty and envious of her. And although I wasn’t aiming to be trenchant in my humor, the fact that I was a woman audacious enough to crack jokes while being unknowingly advertised as poshly educated made me fair “f*ing” game.

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O’Reilly may have been anomalously powerful, but he’s not anomalously misogynistic. While Bill’s gone from his chair, his viewers haven’t disappeared. At the height of accusations against him, a mere 23 percent of people who watched his show thought it should be cancelled. We can’t talk about “the culture of Fox News” without including its millions of viewers who’ve made it the number one cable news channel for the past 14 years. Those are people who enjoy tuning in to watch a sexual predator. Those are folks who buy his books—his latest, Old School, espousing his family values, debuted at #1 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list just days after that same newspaper broke the story of O’Reilly and Fox News paying $13 million to silence his accusers. Those viewers are also voters who put a man who brags about assaulting women in the White House.

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That old fresh piece of humanity didn’t create a culture where mistreatment of women thrives, even if he basked in it, spun its gospel, and perpetrated it. I’m glad he’s off the air, but he’s not out of the ether. Our country so condones the hatred and denigration of women that we’ve voted it into the highest office in the land (with a helping, hairy hand from Fox News). Former FNC CEO Roger Ailes advised Trump during the campaign, and before Ailes chose to resign rather than be fired due to revelations that he’s a serial harasshole, Trump called the accusations against his pal, “Totally unfounded....” Current Fox News CEO Rupert Murdoch shares balls with Trump on the golf course and secretly sat in on the President’s interview with the Times of London. Even Trump’s daughter Ivanka was, until recently, an overseer of a $300 million trust fund belonging to Murdoch’s daughters. These men are consensually cozy with each other. And what’s far more frightening than having these people in power is that millions of Americans are led by them, and in turn empower them. They cast their eyes on “America’s Newsroom,” and they cast their ballots.

Harassment doesn’t just happen to “social observers” and “comedians”—women who express themselves publicly are reliably verbally attacked online and in person, not for their substance but for their form. We’ve witnessed this dramatically with Trump and his supporters; let’s not forget the halcyon days when he was merely a candidate, threatening to unleash his “beautiful Twitter account” on former Fox News host Megyn Kelly and singling out NBC reporter Katy Tur at rallies. The Fox viewers who sent me those baleful emails years ago now have a role model in their President, a man who disseminates his threatening messages gapingly and at rapid pace.

I returned to The Factor one last time, a month after my first appearance, having received an email from O’Reilly’s producer (“bill said he’d like to have you on again soon!! Yay! :)”). I figured Papa Bear’s approval meant more than his audience’s. He threw me into a chatty ménage à trois with a woman named Juliet Huddy. When I corrected Bill about one of his anti-Obama claims by informing him I’d spoken to someone in the White House that day (and I wasn’t joking), our merry war instantly turned into a cold one. Bill’s eyes stopped sparkling at me, and he cut to commercial. I was never asked back on the show. Juliet stuck around, and then, early this year, Fox paid her to never talk about how O’Reilly had allegedly repeatedly harassed her.

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Since I wasn’t harassed, except by his fans, there was no settlement for me—except one with my soul. The experience has helped me determine what’s worth my energy and time. I’ve found other audiences and have long outgrown the quest to entertain folks who think we should arm ourselves for the war on The War on Christmas. I’ll never again seek a Papa Bear hug from people who will never embrace me, an audience who spells the “C” word with a “k.” It’s sic.

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Faith Salie is an Emmy-winning contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning and a panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! She also hosts the PBS show, Science Goes to the Movies. Her new book, Approval Junkie, a collection of essays chronicling her lifelong quest for validation, has been called “disturbingly hilarious.”