It’s difficult to conjure much in the way of a defense for Bill O’Reilly and his unceremonious dumping by Fox News.
If you knew nothing of O’Reilly other than what you have seen on television during the course of his two decades as host of “The O’Reilly Factor,” you would probably come away with the impression that while he presided over an interesting and provocative hour of TV each night, he was likely as arrogant and condescending off camera as on.
That impression also came across in person based on my one-time, limited exposure to him during the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia, where he was the featured speaker at an Ohio Republican Party breakfast and it was my job as communications director for the ORP to make sure he was comfortable and cozy. Need more coffee, Mr. O’Reilly?
Bill wasn’t happy about having to be up so early to do the breakfast thing, and he made that clear. On the other hand, I’ve always reminded myself not to judge anyone too harshly based on one encounter. Even celebrities are allowed to have bad days, and frankly I was no happier about being up for the 7 a.m. breakfast than he was.
So I never let his less than warm-and-fuzzy attitude that day or his obvious ego and temperamental behavior define him forever in my mind. After all, I was working in state and national politics, where large egos and temperamental behavior are par for the course.
But that limited encounter hardly makes it more difficult to imagine O’Reilly being boorish and narcissistic on a regular basis. It may well be those attributes that allowed him to be a pretty tough interviewer and to call out guests who famously violated his “no spin zone” rule.
O’Reilly is smart and informed, and despite being obviously right-leaning he often did walk a more middle-of-the-road line than other more blatantly conservative and partisan Fox personalities.
While it is true that with great power comes great responsibility, it is also too often true that with great power comes great feelings of invincibility and entitlement. The multiple accusations of sexual harassment leveled at O’Reilly by women ranging from former on-air contributors to low-level staffers are legally unproven, but the millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements, as reported by The New York Times and not denied by anyone, don’t exactly help paint O’Reilly as an innocent victim.
Big Media outlets like The Times, the Washington Post, and, on the TV side, CNN, have been openly gleeful for the opportunity to bring O’Reilly down. CNN was the first national cable news network, the granddaddy of them all, and CNN officials have never been happy that Fox so quickly, dramatically and consistently knocked them off the top perch for the last 16 or 17 years.
Fox hosts have never been shy about ridiculing CNN (and MSNBC) over ratings or content, and CNN in particular is more than happy to kick O’Reilly when he’s down.
Fox didn’t care at all about the accusations against O’Reilly or the costs of the settlements (some of which were apparently paid by Fox, some by O’Reilly personally) because “The O’Reilly Factor” was a huge cash cow. Not until advertisers began deserting O’Reilly did Fox have a sudden crisis of conscience.
To be fair, we have not heard O’Reilly really address the issue except with very vague statements focused on the perils of being in the public eye. We have not heard his side of the story, and it’s always important to remember that there are at least two sides, and usually more, to every story. Accusations cannot be taken at face value; there is always more information that can dramatically alter the first draft of conventional thinking.
Over the weekend it was announced that O’Reilly will begin hosting a podcast starting Monday. Perhaps he’ll have more to say about the subject, or maybe he’ll ignore it and take up where he left off on his last Fox broadcast, focusing on current events (other than his own current events).
The only thing truly crystal clear through this experience is that the leftwing media is not at all abashed about the double standard it employs against conservatives and Republicans. Many articles in recent days have already pointed out the hypocrisy of much of the media that investigated and denounced O’Reilly compared to its defense and apologies for a former president of the United States who engaged in his own unique brand of intern mentorship during private time in the Oval Office.
But that double standard is so understood and expected as to be almost openly acknowledged by our most revered newspapers and TV networks. If O’Reilly was a liberal and a Trump-hater, we’d be tuning into “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox tonight at 8 p.m. as usual.
But O’Reilly should have been smart enough to recognize the playing field for what it is. The left was only able to bring him down because he gave them a sword. That’s something he apparently failed to recognize.
It could be he was blinded by his own hubris, which might be the O’Reilly factor that will end up being remembered above all others.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]