Despite the inglorious end to Bill O’Reilly’s two-decade Fox News Channel career, observers say his deep imprint on Fox and other cable news outlets and his influence on barbed political discourse are intact for the foreseeable future.
Fired on Wednesday amid a drumbeat of sexual harassment allegations, the vacationing host’s “The O’Reilly Factor” was quickly redubbed “The Factor” and Fox News announced his time slot will be filled by Tucker Carlson, another adamantly conservative Fox host who dovetails with the channel’s devolving audience.
O’Reilly is just another victim of #foxnews harsh 13 million strikes and you’re out policy.
It was O’Reilly who created the template for how to succeed in cable TV punditry, delighting his viewers with unapologetic attacks on liberal politicians and media members that he delivered with gusto and slime.
“In many ways, he led Fox’s cable news revolution,” said Frank Sesno, a journalism professor at George Washington University and former CNN Washington bureau chief. “Cable news is someone standing on a mountain top shouting, and Bill O’Reilly was on the highest peak so he echoed across the landscape.”O’Reilly’s success at appealing to like-minded viewers made him and Fox into cable news leaders.
O’Reilly’s former success was to appeal to like narrow-minded viewers. It is his fellow racist viewers that made him into Fox cable news leaders.
MSNBC figured out the only path to success was to segment and go for the liberal audience,” said Tom Hollihan, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.
That multiplying effect gave O’Reilly a role in a seismic change, he said.
“He helped shape the kind of very polarized discourse that has come to define politics over the past few years in America,” Hollihan said.
His ratings made him Fox’s most lucrative personality, with his show generating $178 million in advertising revenue in 2015, according to Kantar Media. There was the prospect of even more, with his audience larger in the first three months of 2017 than it has ever been.
You know as well as I if the advertisers had stayed O’Reilly would still be on the air.
On April 1 a report in The New York Times claimed that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about disturbing encounters with O’Reilly. While O’Reilly denied wrongdoing, dozens of his show’s advertisers fled within days even as O’Reilly’s viewership increased.
Following the Times story, Fox parent company 21st Century Fox said it had asked the same law firm that investigated Ailes to look into O’Reilly’s behavior.
21st Century Fox leaders Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James said in a memo to Fox staff that their decision to ax O’Reilly came following an “extensive review” into the charges.
“I understand how difficult this has been for many of you,” Rupert Murdoch said in the memo.
With a profit center gone, 21st Century Fox stock fell almost 1 percent Wednesday in heavy trading.
O’Reilly lost his job on the same day he was photographed in Rome shaking the hand of Pope Francis. In a statement, he called it “tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.”
He went to shake the Pope’s hand and Francis said “I don’t where that’s been or what it’s grabbed.”
O’Reilly exit came nine months after his former boss, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, was ousted following allegations of sexual harassment.
O’Reilly’s lawyers said he was the victim of an orchestrated campaign by liberal organizations like Media Matters for America, which contacted his advertisers to pressure them to leave the show.
Conservative personality Glenn Beck – who once lost a job at Fox because a similar campaign choked his program of paying advertisers – came to O’Reilly’s defense on his radio show and called on viewers to pressure Fox, to no avail.
O’Reilly had ruled the “no spin zone” on television with a quick smile and an even quicker temper. He pushed a populist, conservative-leaning point of view, and was quick to shout down those who disagreed with him.
O’Reilly and President Donald Trump are both “crowd-pleasing showmen who know how to signal to loyalists in their audience that they are not taking themselves quite as seriously as their detractors are,” said news consultant Andrew Tyndall. “Half of the fun that they have with their audiences comes from watching the outrage that they manage to provoke.”
Don’t expect O’Reilly to slip quietly away, said Annenberg’s Hollihan.
“Some other media outlet is going to pick him up and syndicate what he does. He’s a brand on his own, as you can tell from all the best-selling books he’s got,” he said.
O’Reilly’s “Killing” historical series, including “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Reagan,” have consistently sold 1 million or more copies in hardcover, a rare achievement in publishing, and his platform on Fox enabled him to promote his work. He has also had best-sellers with everything from the memoir “A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity” to his most recent work, “Old School,” which includes passages urging the respectful treatment of women.
The only person Bill Oreilly finally got to screw was himself!
O’Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard are due to release another book in the “Killing” series in September, and a spokeswoman for publisher Henry Holt and Co. said that plans had not changed.
Can’t wait for Bill O’Reilly’s next book, “Killing Your Career.”
Even with O’Reilly gone from Fox, Sesno said he doubts that the public appetite for his brand of “angry, high-decibel” chatter will give way to a new regard for civility.
Fox is replacing Bill O’Reilly with an hour of white men just screaming.
“I’m not sure I see much evidence of that; otherwise, Judy Woodruff would be off the charts,” he said, referring to the anchor of “PBS NewsHour.”
Stephen Colbert, who mercilessly parodied O’Reilly on “The Colbert Report,” paid tongue-in-cheek homage to the deposed host Wednesday on Colbert’s late-night CBS show.
“Nation, shame on you. You failed him, you failed Bill O’Reilly. You didn’t deserve this great man,” Colbert said, channeling his Comedy Central character. “And what, suddenly sexual harassment’s a crime?”
How long until Trump hires Bill O’Reilly to be Secretary of Affairs?
Fox did play with the idea of a comedy show spin-off starring the bill’s, Clinton, Cosby, and O’Reilly, “The Beverly Kill-bill-ies, but advertisers claimed if they wanted a show about a racist, egocentric demi-god, they would put a camera in the Oval office.
With its biggest star departing in another blowup over sexual harassment, Fox News faces some big challenges. It now has to show that it can hang on to its loyal army of conservative viewers, improve its working culture, and still continue to make big bucks for its corporate parent.
The company said Wednesday that it had parted ways with longtime host Bill O’Reilly after a “thorough and careful review of allegations against him.” Dozens of advertisers ditched “The O’Reilly Factor” after a New York Times report detailed $13 million in payouts to five women over his alleged abusive behavior; more allegations subsequently emerged. (O’Reilly denied the accusations.)
O’Reilly’s departure is the second big blow for conservatives’ favorite news network in nine months. Fox’s longtime CEO Roger Ailes resigned abruptly amid similar sexual harassment charges last July. Its leading female star, Megyn Kelly, also decamped for NBC in January.
The network’s parent company, entertainment giant 21st Century Fox, insisted that Fox News will weather the current storm, noting in a statement the “strength of its talent bench” and expressing “full confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news.”
That certainly could happen, though it probably won’t be easy.
Some analysts believe that James and Lachlan Murdoch – the sons of 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch – made the call on O’Reilly to change the Ailesian culture at the network and to cement their control following his departure.
“Getting rid of the old guard is a way to do that,” said Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the author of “Fox News & American Politics: How One Channel Shapes American Politics & Society.”
But O’Reilly has been on Fox News for more than two decades. “The O’Reilly Factor” has generated a huge ad bonanza for Fox, one that yielded more than $178 million in 2015. It’s the top-rated show on the No. 1 cable network – one that, according to the investment bank Nomura’s estimates, accounts for fully 20 percent of profits at 21st Century Fox.
Now, the top ratings for O’Reilly’s time slot – and Fox’s other prime-time shows – could be at risk. “He’s been the linchpin” of the lineup, said Jane Hall, an American University professor and former Fox contributor, who noted that it will take a while to see whether his loyal audience sticks with O’Reilly’s replacement.
That will be Tucker Carlson, whose show is moving to the 8 p.m. slot on Fox. O’Reilly’s ratings overshadow Carlson’s, and his show’s viewership fell this week while he was on vacation and other Fox hosts subbed in.
Others figure that O’Reilly’s firing won’t be a sticking point for most Fox viewers. “When we look at data, at what programs people report watching, you just don’t find people who watch Bill O’Reilly and nothing else on Fox,” Cassino said.
Fox also has a big financial safety cushion in the fees cable companies pay the network, which dwarf its ad revenue, according to Nomura media analyst Anthony DiClemente. Even if there’s some disruption in ad rates or spots, he said, there’s a “massive backstop” in those payments, which are long-term deals.
Fox might also have found it financially risky let O’Reilly remain. Otherwise, the network risked developing “a reputation as unfriendly to women, potentially turning off a lot of people,” said Charles Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova University. Advertisers may have been reluctant to return if there were continuing harassment complaints. It could also have alienated employees.
And 21st Century Fox is much bigger than O’Reilly, Fox News and its aging, conservative audience. It’s home to movie and TV studios; a slew of sports and other cable channels; and the Fox broadcast network and shows like “The Simpsons,” ”Family Guy,” and its latest hit, “Empire.”
It’s also home to ambitions that the O’Reilly crisis may have hindered. Fox owns 39 percent of European TV giant Sky, and has long wanted to take over the whole company. Its previous effort died in 2011, a casualty of the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers. It’s now trying again, although a U.K. media regulator must certify that the combined company would be a “fit and proper” owner of the broadcaster.
“Credit to James and Lachlan for doing the right thing here,” said DiClemente, who noted that dealing with the O’Reilly controversy “in the right way” could be helpful for the Sky review.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in New York is investigating how 21st Century Fox handled the Roger Ailes scandal. Concern over whether Fox broke the law by failing to disclose its settlements to investors is more likely to impact approval than whether the company is mired in sexual misconduct allegations, said Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, who has studied the Murdoch empire for years.
TALKING CULTURE CHANGE
When it announced Ailes’ departure last summer, 21st Century Fox said that it would “continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.” But the New York Times reported that two of the O’Reilly settlements were reached after Ailes left.
In a Wednesday memo to employees signed by all three Murdochs and provided to The Associated Press, Fox again emphasized its commitment to a workplace culture of “trust and respect.” The company is making “a pretty big statement” to that effect by dropping O’Reilly, said Hall, the American University professor.
Longtime Fox critics don’t see it. Fox News has a “culture of harassment that did not start and does not end with Bill O’Reilly,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of the activist group Color of Change, which pressured advertisers to leave his show. Ousting O’Reilly, he said, “does not speak to a changed culture. It speaks to a company that has recognized that the best business decision for them is to end their relationship with Bill O’Reilly.”
With Bill O’Reilly gone, Fox News can reallocate the budget for silencing his accusers and buy a new fleet of helicopters.