Money Over Moral Leadership: Fox News & O’Reilly

Apr 20, 2017

Money vs. Moral Leadership

Every day leaders are faced with choices that put the financial performance of their company at odds with doing the right thing. This week Fox News is front and center, issuing their statement confirming they are finally severing ties with Bill O’Reilly. Why did it take so long? They put money ahead of moral leadership.

O’Reilly’s behavior had been known by his employer for well over a decade, and the company took direct action to keep it quiet. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, the network’s super-star, had paid out approximately $13 million to settle complaints brought by five women. The complaints alleged sexually harassment and generally inappropriate workplace behavior.

Fox News leadership orchestrated a way for a bad egg to keep making them money. And that set the tone for a culture of discrimination and hostility at Fox. Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was ousted last summer amid claims of harassment, including a lawsuit filed by former anchorwoman Gretchen Carlson. Then the top on-air woman at Fox News, Megyn Kelly, left the network – and O’Reilly’s behavior was partly to blame.

Protesters brought intense pressure on the show’s advertisers, causing dozens of them to flee. And many of Fox’s own employees, sick and tired of a culture that enabled Ailes and O’Reilly to not just survive but to thrive, made it known that they wanted O’Reilly gone.

Finally forced to act, Fox News has now cut ties with O’Reilly.

Leadership Sets The Tone

What’s disturbing is that the organization, the leadership, and a culture that put money over morality, keeps marching on. They have found a slick way out with clean-cut, well-spoken Tucker Carson stepping in. The public relations teams have probably helped run the numbers and determined the best way to distance Fox News from O’Reilly. This puts the focus on him and minimizes the focus on Fox. It’s called damage control.

But the leaders who allowed this behavior to go on for years are still there. And as long as people tune in and support Tucker — or anyone else at Fox News– they are saying they will look the other way on ethics as long as Fox News programming keeps telling them what they want to hear.

The press is full of examples of leaders selling out and caving to the pressure. What is less heard about are all the acts of leadership by people every day – at every level – doing the right thing and speaking up. This shows up in a million small actions, frank conversations, and moral decisions that steer a corporate culture in a positive, healthy direction.  They may not be flashy, but they can be heroic.

The big lesson here is that holding leaders accountable is only half the battle. Employees and customers must take a stand for what’s right as well—or be held accountable, right along with leaders, for being complicit.


Al Preble founded Cambridge Leadership Group to help organizations empower their people to make a greater impact in their work and in their world. He leads the Cambridge team, and he’s passionate about keeping it real,  always learning, and making sure everything we do with clients has strong business impact. Al consults with Fortune 500 organizations on leadership mindset, building coaching cultures, and driving results in complex, matrixed organizations.