That he recently shook hands with the Pope? That he substituted the word “falafel” for “loofah” while making harassing calls to one of his female producers?
That in the end, two of the few advertisers that stuck by his show were My Pillow and Turbo Scrub?
Obviously, the levels of irony and hypocrisy surrounding his story are so massive it’s hard to keep up. But let’s try to break them down.
As recently as three days ago, the anchor’s attorney put out a statement claiming: “O’Reilly has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America.”
Attorney Marc E. Kasowitz added: “This law firm has uncovered evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons. The evidence will be put forth shortly and is irrefutable.”
Here’s what became irrefutable: The repercussions of having up to 100 advertisers pull their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor” became a higher price for Fox News to pay, in terms of reputation and employee morale, than anything O’Reilly could still produce in terms of revenue or ratings.
Even if the lion’s share of ad revenue was redistributed to other shows on the network, the recent New York Times revelation that he and 20th Century Fox had paid out up to $13 million in hush money to female claimants was just too offensive to hush up now — despite the fact that it had been papered over for more than a decade.
And there are probably other high heels to drop.
O'Reilly’s attorney’s “victim of McCarthyite tactics” pitch was indeed rich, given that one of O’Reilly’s favorite punching bags of political correctness is “playing the victim card.” He’d call that a “pinhead move” for sure.
O”Reilly always maintained, as did the recently booted Roger Ailes, that he was the target of false claims and “agreed to the settlements only to protect” his family.
Contrast that with David Letterman, who was also known for his sometime dalliances with female staffers.
When an ex-boyfriend of a staffer he had had an affair with threatened to extort him for $2 million, he came clean right on his own show. And the direct-to-camera mea culpa was so shocking, direct and earnest the audience started howling, thinking it was a comedy bit.
“I’m terribly sorry,” he said, adding that his wife “has been horribly hurt by my behavior, and when something happens like that … you try to fix it …”
Though O’Reilly left Fox News with a tidy $25 million, is already getting offers from other media, and will no doubt “write” more books, we have yet to hear a single “I’m sorry” or “I have learned something” from him.
It’s also pretty ironic that in the end, ‘twas the advertisers that did him in.
Because on his show, he used every opportunity to threaten global brands with boycotts for commercials that he deemed offensive to his sensibilities — usually too sexual or violent. (You can’t make this up.)
He and his staff also knew that dissecting interesting commercials made for great TV. Valerie Graves, former creative officer at Uniworld, says it “must have been a slow news day” when “The Factor” zeroed in on her Pepsi commercial starring the rapper Ludacris. It had come to O’Reilly’s attention via a Times ad column that had reported favorably on it.
Indeed, O’Reilly admitted there was nothing offensive about the ad, nor its specially adapted PG lyrics. Instead, he aimed his outrage machine at Pepsi’s affiliation with the rapper himself, as part of an attack on the dirty (read “black”) hip-hop culture in general.
When he hit pay dirt on what he thought was a hot-button issue — often involving race — he stayed on it like a dog with a bone. In the face of his nightly attacks and boycott threats aimed at Pepsi, according to Graves, the soda maker “crumpled like an empty plastic bottle” and pulled the ad.
In the end, what did O’Reilly actually say he was most outraged about? That Ludacris “degrades women.” Just drink that in for a moment.
I don’t have to make any of this up, since I had my own surreal experience with O’Reilly.
Many years ago, I appeared on his show to talk about that infamous Carl Jr.'s commercial featuring a young Paris Hilton hosing down a Bentley while wearing a lingerie-like bathing suit — all the while making aggressive oral love to her mega-burger. (It took a multitalent to pull off that amount of multitasking.)
The spot, and use of Hilton, was at the behest of the CEO Andy Puzder, whom President Trump recently nominated as Secretary of Labor.
If memory serves, O’Reilly requested showing the spot several times, and in slow motion, in order to express his full on-air frothing and proper indignation. So, since everything on his show is a scorched-earth fight and zero-sum game, I found myself in the position of defending Paris Hilton and her soft-porn burger commercial, while Bill railed on about having daughters and how the use of such a fresh-faced ingénue was insulting.
Payback is poetic, which no one ever said, but in this case it is.
It was reported by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman that at first, 21st Century Fox owner Rupert Murdoch was intent on keeping O’Reilly on, for, among other reasons, to show The New York Times it could not dictate his behavior. His sons, Lachlan and James, overrode him, as they did on Roger Ailes.
It’s clear that after Ailes’ dismissal, not much changed in the Fox culture.
And Ailes went on to do some consulting work for the Trump administration. The President, as we all know, defended O’Reilly and offered his opinion that he “never should have settled.”
The reality is the corporations that supported O’Reilly with their ad dollars also went along with the Fox “all-spin” zone all of these years, despite reports of harassment. But once Mercedes pulled out, the rest of the advertisers followed like dominoes.
The movement was not, as Bill’s lawyer stated, “orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons.”
Of course, the advertisers were actually concerned that their customers, primarily women, were mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. Still, that wasn’t the reason that Fox rid itself of Bill.
Rather, the actual motive was that Ofcom, the British media regulator, is considering whether 21st Century Fox is a “fit and proper” owner of pay-TV broadcaster Sky. The decision was to be made in mid-May and was just pushed to June.
The criteria for “fit and proper” are broad: The regulator says it considers "any relevant misconduct" when administering its test.
Given its past scandals with hacking, Murdoch & Co. sacrificed the arrogant, bullying, harassment-prone, headline-making Factor guy in order to buy a bigger piece of Sky.
Surely, there is more than enough blame and hypocrisy to go around here.
But to put it simply, the fault, dear Rupert, is in your stars, and in selectively blind-eyed media lords like yourself.
An excellent assessment. Thanks!
Excellent indeed and very interesting reading.
I give you credit for writing one side of the story from a few facts that exist. However would you like to hear all the facts first? Yes, $13M is a big payout but that in itself is not prove of guilt. Also no criminal charges was filed against Mr. O'Reilly was there? If he is guilty then he should be tarred in the press. If not, then tell the other side of the story.
That is how the free press should consider this matter isn't it?
What be the other side of the story Mr. Fairpress?
Thanks for the witty, insightful and far-reaching column. Another great read.
I agree with Chuck Lantz. Excellent.
I do take issue, however, with the carefully embedded, and ongoing excoriation of Trump. Barbara writes…
The President, as we all know, defended O’Reilly and offered his opinion that he “never should have settled.”
A quick correction on that. While we do “all know” that Trump offered his opinion that O’Reilly “never should have settled”… it is far less clear to “everybodys’ knowing” whether that statement rises to a “defense.” After all, Barbara gives Letterman kudos in this very piece for Letterman making that same decision to not be held hostage by extortionists.
Bill Clinton, in his pathetic, recorded attempts to deny his sexual harassment of a female intern (she, three decades his junior with the internship opportunity of a lifetime… he, occupying the most influential, and powerful office on planet earth) uttered the infamous words “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” while building his case that he did not use that power, and influence to get that young woman to “perform” for him.
So, what’s the meaning of the word “is” here? Is opining that paying hush money is not a good idea, that it not only never puts out the underlying fire, but barely eliminates any of the “smoke” really a defense of O’Reilly’s behavior?
Great piece, Barbara, but I have to laugh at the irony of anyone representing Fox or Bill O'Reilly crying "smear campaign" after so many women have been brave enough to come forward and talk about their experiences at Fox with Mr. Ailes and Mr. O'Reilly.
Fox built its business on their hosts' mostly baseless, unproven and overblown smears against prominent Democrats including Hillary and Bill Clinton, President Obama, Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Chuch Schumer, and the list goes on. The 24/7 hate "journalism" generates ratings and the ratings generate revenue. As you correctly point out, the responsibility for that strategy all goes to Rupert Murdock.
Mr.Mcdaniel; ... may I direct your attention to the word prominently displayed, in all caps, at the very top of this article. ... "COMMENTARY"
An innocent person has no need to pay out $13 million to accusers. As Barbara Lippert pointed out, others like Letterman have "manned up" and dealt with the controversy head on. O'Reilly is a lying, sniveling hypocrite who brought the level of TV discourse to its nadir. Too bad for the rest of us.
Thanks, Barbara, for including the account of O'Reilly's unwarranted attack on the Ludacris/Pepsi campaign created by a woman-led team at a small, minority-owned agency. Although he is still rich and likely to soon be back on the air, your column is still a small blow for truth and against the rampant hypocrisy of our times.
What more is there to say about the now-dumped Bill O’Reilly?
Ironically, it could be said that his uber-successful existence, and the existence of too many cads just like him was made far more likely by the left's election, and ongoing elevation of Lecher-In-Chief Bill Clinton (a proven serial harasser of women).
Clinton's smarmy "depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" to deny having sex with an intern three decades his junior in the most powerful, and influential office (Oval) on Planet Earth nicely set the stage for women to continue to be mistreated by men in positions of authority in the workplace. And one of Clinton's lies (as well as his damaged surrogate Hillary's) was that he was "pro-women." What a farce! Bill abusing women, with Hillary standing by to denigrate them, and call them liars for speaking their truths (a la O'Reilly)... both of them proclaiming themselves to be the next best things for women since sliced bread. True enough... this "half-baked" stuff, and bread cannot be made up.
More irony... Bill Clinton made it possible for a buffoon like Trump to win the White House in two ways. First, by so drastically lowering the bar on the personal behavior front. Secondly, by turning his "stand by my man wife" (political partner) into such an illogical, and pathological liar that she rendered herself unfit for that very same office.
That kind of personality takes a psychic toll on viewers and the public after a while. A reliably conservative friend (late Gen X) called O'Reilly a "boorish clown" which I thought was pretty apt, he can't stand him.
Valerie Graves, did you do the Ludacris spot? If so, congratulations. He's more a role model than O'Reilly for sure, assuming I need a role model at my age.
Fabulous and smart, as always, Barbara. Way to expose the all-too-common tactic among sexual predators: call it "smear campaign," the victim of a McCarthy-esque witchhunt. Thanks for shining the light into the darkness!
Reason why I believe him, to a point anyway, is that Monica went after Bill. It didn't matter whether he stayed with his wife or not and probably better for her that he wouldn't. Where would she be without him or any other rich married man ? Cynical - no. I have know women who have done this and proud of it. One woman got pissed off at someone because she didn't want him to take on a 3rd girlfriend. She wanted to be the second after his wife with no other competition.
Please see my comment above.
Thanks Barbara. But I wonder if O'R has really been punished. He'll leave FOX with millions more, and probably be back on TV in some form in near future. I thought Trump's Access Hollywood episode would harm him, but no, it might even have helped him win election.