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.