Reliable Sources Panel Slams Fox News For Keeping Bill Shine After Firing Ailes And O’Reilly For Sexual Harassment
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The Murdoch family might be looking to replace Bill Shine as co-president of Fox News after multiple reports named Shine as being complicit in burying sexual harassment complaints by helping to coordinate smear campaigns against women who reported harassment, or pushing them to settle and sign nondisclosure agreements. Shine has also been tied to a racial discrimination and harassment lawsuit against the network, and has been named in a more recent lawsuit for surveilling the private communications of a former Fox host who sued the network for harassment.
President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have been defined, in part, by his administration’s hostility to the press. As Media Matters has documented, Trump has attacked the press well over 100 times to date. As Trump vilifies the press, Fox News hosts, contributors, and guests help cheer him on by supporting, enabling, and condoning his attempts to discredit mainstream media outlets.
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One week after Fox News was forced to fire Bill O’Reilly after advertisers boycotted his show because of reports of serial sexual harassment, Media Matters for America released its first ad emphasizing that companies must be mindful about where they spend their advertising dollars. This ad is running on page 67 of issue 13 of The Hollywood Reporter.
The ad features a picture of a forlorn-looking Bill O’Reilly with text that reads: "Harassment, hate, and bigotry are bad for business. Know what you’re sponsoring, and avoid the next crisis."
Graphic by Sarah Wasko.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but based on the way most news outlets cover sexual assault and harassment cases year-round, it seems they didn’t get the memo.
Since the month of awareness was officially instituted in 2001, the goal has been to educate the public about sexual violence and teach people how to prevent it. Yet media tend to make the same three mistakes when covering cases: They blame victims, they treat offenders like the “true” victims, and they almost exclusively cover cases that confirm pre-existing cultural biases about “believable” survivors and culpable offenders.
Although high-profile cases that dominate media coverage may make sexual assault seem like an isolated problem, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.” Similarly, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Given the sheer number of challenges survivors face when reporting sexual assault and harassment, these numbers are likely much higher. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 63 percent of rapes and sexual assaults already go unreported.
Beyond cases of rape and assault, sexual harassment is also rampant in the United States. Although Fox News has finally parted ways with Bill O’Reilly after multiple women reported that he sexually harassed them, the problem goes beyond him or even the network.
After 2005 footage that showed President Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault was leaked to the media last year, networks downplayed the severity of his comments -- calling them merely “vulgar” or “lewd” -- and attacked the credibility of the women who came forward with specific allegations against him.
Sexual assault isn’t just “vulgar” -- it’s unacceptable. And what’s really “vulgar” is media’s refusal to call it what it is. This is rape culture: the willingness to treat sexual assault or harassment as natural, inevitable, or acceptable. Rape culture not only silences survivors, it’s also at the root of why stalking, domestic violence, and workplace and online harassment are so pervasive: People treat these behaviors as if they’re normal or somehow the recipients invite them.
Media have an obligation to cover the issue in a fact-based and stigma-free way.
First, media need to ditch the victim-blaming rhetoric and quit treating survivors as if they are even partly responsible for what happened. Survivors are not, and will never be, responsible for inciting acts of sexual violence. Period.
When writing about sexual assault and harassment, choosing the right words is crucial to clearly, accurately, and compassionately communicate with broad audiences. A report from the Columbia Journalism Review found that when reporting on sexual assault, media rely on “leading language, scant statistics, and a whole lot of victim blaming” -- all of which contribute to downplaying and at times dismissing sexual violence allegations. Similarly, the Dart Center for Journalism instructs media to “avoid any language that might imply that the [survivor] is responsible in any way.”
Media coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed that media outlets also tend to treat offenders as the real victims -- sympathetically highlighting past accomplishments, or bemoaning the costs to their careers.
Particularly when offenders are high-profile figures, media treat the issue as merely a “scandal.” Writing about allegations against his father Woody Allen, The Hollywood Reporter’s Ronan Farrow explained how these reactions cultivate a “culture of impunity and silence” around reporting on sexual assault allegations. By getting caught up in a cult of celebrity -- even when focusing on a deserved fall from grace -- media can either trade fact-based reporting for access or lose sight of their “obligation to include the facts, and to take them seriously.”
Finally, media scrutinize every move made by a survivor -- how they dressed, when they reported, and even their possible “ulterior” motives. While doing so, they tend to focus on cases that confirm pre-existing cultural biases about the identities of survivors and offenders.
Sexual violence happens in a wide variety of contexts and communities. And more often than not, survivors know their assailants prior to the assault. Nevertheless, media fixate on the myth of the “perfect victim”: an unrealistic expectation that believable victims of sexual assault are attractive, innocent white women who unwittingly provoke attack from an unknown (usually non-white) predator. As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon reported, accounts of sexual assault shouldn’t have to “be black and white, starring a perfect victim and a perfect set of villains, in order for us to get outraged.”
Rather than fixating on only these “perfect” examples, media should cover cases from across the spectrum of experience, and they should provide audiences with critical context about the widespread nature of sexual violence.
Sexual assault isn’t just a problem at Fox News or in “other communities”; it’s all around us. People look to the media to tell stories about their lives and the world at large, so reporters and outlets have an obligation to educate audiences about this reality and correct harmful misconceptions.
If the Trump-era media have shown us anything so far, it’s this: Survivors deserve far better.
Greg Gutfeld: "If You Are Pro-Life And You Believe It Is Murder, You Should Be Willing To Fight For It"
After the ouster of Bill O’Reilly following public reports that he sexually harassed multiple colleagues (and a subsequent advertiser boycott), Fox News was forced to shuffle its evening lineup -- a move that elevated the show The Five to the coveted 9 p.m. time slot. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for co-host Greg Gutfeld to take a page out of the O’Reilly playbook and call for anti-abortion violence.
O’Reilly spent years at Fox not only spreading misinformation about abortion and reproductive rights, but also openly bullying abortion providers. Dr. George Tiller -- who was assassinated in 2009 by anti-choice zealot Scott Roeder -- was a frequent target of O’Reilly’s. Prior to Tiller’s death, O’Reilly referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was a “special place in hell” for him. After a deadly shooting attack at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, O’Reilly defended his previous attacks on Tiller, claiming his reporting on the doctor was accurate.
Although Gutfeld did not target an individual abortion provider like O’Reilly did, his call for violence in the service of the anti-choice movement is an inauspicious start to The Five’s new time slot.
Alongside co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle, Jesse Watters, Bob Beckel, and Dana Perino, Gutfeld engaged in an incendiary segment about abortion advocacy in the Democratic Party. After Guilfoyle falsely suggested that so-called “partial-birth” abortions or “abortion on demand” were issues Democrats must contend with (in reality, neither describes a medically accurate or extant procedure in the United States), Gutfeld compared abortion to slavery, saying that it would have been cowardly in the 1850s to have expressed opposition to slavery but said there's "nothing I can do about it" and that the same was true of what he called "pro-life cowards." He said he had “a problem with saying you’re pro-life but you respect the other side” because “if you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight” and “start a war” over this.
Conservatives have frequently made inappropriate allegations that abortion providers are targeting black communities. Anti-choice groups have even gone so far as to openly co-opt the language of Black Lives Matter to attack abortion access -- this in spite of the disproportionately negative impact anti-abortion laws have on women and communities of color.
Gutfeld’s disturbing call to arms also comes after a recent report from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) warned of a disturbing trend of escalating threats and harassment against abortion providers, patients, and clinics. According to NAF, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats” as well as “an escalation in hate speech and internet harassment, which intensified following the election in November.”
The severity of this targeted harassment is exacerbated by the fact that evening cable news shows rarely discusses the topic. As a recent Media Matters study found, during 12 months of coverage about abortion and reproductive rights there was almost no discussion of anti-choice violence or its consequences for abortion access. Out of 354 total segments about abortion or reproductive rights on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, only four discussed anti-choice violence.
There has been a great deal of speculation about what O’Reilly’s departure means for Fox News’ toxic culture, and in particular, its new evening lineup. If this debut performance by the The Five is indicative, we should expect more of the same attacks on abortion access and on those who obtain this legal and essential medical service.
A transcript of the April 24 edition of The Five is below:
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): Since when is it OK to just be abortion on demand? Why do you have to put that -- but why can't you say yes we respect life and we respect the lives of women and we respect the lives of children and babies? And I understand the idea to say you want to have individual choice, and the state not telling everyone what they have to do. But there is a healthy interest in protecting life in terms of not going for this, with partial-birth abortions. There has to be some regulations. Just like we have regulations with the FDA or with health care, et cetera, to make sure that people are protected. That the innocent are. And so I don't think [Democrats are] currying any favor by being that strident and just really that caustic in terms of their rhetoric.
JESSE WATTERS (CO-HOST): Greg, quickly, how much damage do you think is done by these comments?
GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): I don’t know. First, I would like to state the obvious: The strongest pro-choice voices have the amazing luck of being born. It’s an incredibly obvious point, but we -- a lot of people forget about that. We can’t be hypocrites here. Would a pro-choice Republican win the presidency ever? Trump is pro-life, but that’s after a lot of pro-choice-ing. So, this prison of two ideas both parties are involved in -- there’s another, I have a problem with saying you’re pro-life but you respect the other side. Because that’s a PLC -- I’m a PLC, I’m a pro-life coward, which means I believe, and it’s untethered to religion, that it is killing a baby. But I’m not going to do anything about it because I realize there’s nothing I can do about it.
GUILFOYLE: Well, you talk about it.
GUTFELD: Yeah, you talk about it --
GUILFOYLE: You educate.
GUTFELD: Yeah, but think about it. If in the 1850s there was a talk show called the Ye Olde Five Shoppe and we're sitting there and we’re going like --
GUTFELD: And you're going, "I'm against slavery, but you know, I think it's immoral, it's wrong, but there's nothing I can do about it.” If you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight for it. That’s the hypocrisy behind this whole idea is that you should be able to start a war if you believe in this that strongly, but we aren't. We aren't because we are “PLCs.” I'm a “PLC.” I'm a pro-life coward. It's what I am.
Bill O’Reilly, the king of cable news, has fallen. He was a victim of his own monstrosity. The network that had willingly written large checks on his behalf to make the women he had sexually harassed go away withdrew its support after the payments were revealed and his show’s advertisers ran for cover.
The O’Reilly Factor was the linchpin in an evening lineup that was once the most stable in the industry. But in less than a year, O’Reilly, Greta Van Susteren, and Megyn Kelly have all left or been shown the door, along with the man who hired them, former Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. The only remaining host from the 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time block the network was rolling out a year ago is Sean Hannity.
Removing O’Reilly gave the network’s top executives the opportunity to dramatically reshape their network’s programming. But the new evening lineup, which debuts tonight, presents as much of the status quo as possible -- O’Reillyism without O’Reilly. The result will test whether hosts actually matter at Fox, or whether the network’s audience will sit for any pro-Trump conservative put in front of them.
Since Fox’s inception in 1996, O’Reilly has been the anchor of the network’s ratings and the keystone of its “fair and balanced” mantra with his so-called “No Spin Zone.” After an undistinguished career as a broadcast newsman, O’Reilly used his position at the newly launched Fox to reimagine himself (falsely) as a son of working-class Levittown, Long Island, who was looking out for “the folks.” His show became the platform for his “culture warrior” mentality, presenting the average American as under constant attack by never-ending waves of elitist secular progressives who hate Christianity and traditional American values and want to reshape the country in the image of Western Europe.
Fox’s executives were not ready to lose O’Reilly -- earlier this year, they signed him to a new deal through 2020 with a raise to an annual salary of $25 million, in full knowledge that The New York Times was investigating the network’s sexual harassment payouts. They were betting that his high ratings, which spill over to the benefit of the rest of the evening’s programming, would be difficult to retain with only the other personnel they had under contract.
Tucker Carlson, Jesse Watters, and Eric Bolling, the three hosts who will benefit the most from the shakeup, built their careers at Fox by imitating the same “culture war” racism and misogyny O’Reilly helped weave into the network’s DNA. Like O’Reilly, each has gained attention during the presidential campaign and the early days of Donald Trump’s administration as stalwart supporters of the president.
Where each rising Fox star's O’Reilly imitations fall short, however, is in their ability and skill in grounding their commentary as coming from a working-class “man of the people.”
Carlson, who spent virtually his entire life living among the elite, is the son of a U.S. ambassador and former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the stepson of a scion of the Swanson frozen foods empire. He has hosted shows at two other networks and remains known for the bow-tied prepster image he cultivated at CNN.
While Bolling grew up without Carlson’s privileged background, he evinces an on-air contempt for the working class rooted in his previous career as a commodities trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where he eventually became a member of its board of directors. And Watters, who spent his career as an O’Reilly minion, conducting ambush interviews of the leading Fox host’s various perceived enemies, bills himself as a “political humorist,” not a commentator.
None of the three has O’Reilly’s on-air presence or skill. But Fox’s hope is that aping O’Reilly is enough to keep his audience on board.
Fox’s promotion of three white, male, grievance-mongering Trump sycophants is no accident. The network had other options available. Executives could have given a show to Dana Perino, a more substantive conservative who has been much more skeptical of Trump. They could have tried to pivot to airing more hard news by promoting one of the reporters who contribute to the flagship news program Special Report.
They could have even tried to bring someone in from outside the network, though admittedly it’s hard to imagine that journalists are banging down the doors to join a network mired in a year-long series of sexual harassment reports.
No, instead, Fox doubled down on pro-Trump racism, sexism, and xenophobia because that is what the network wants to put on its airwaves. Its executives are priming the resentment pump because they think O’Reillyism will keep their audience coming back for more.
Without O’Reilly, we will now be able to see whether Fox’s audience is stable and willing to keep watching no matter who hosts the network’s programs, or whether O’Reilly’s talent was the key factor in retaining his viewers.
If the network’s ratings stay the same, -- or even improve -- it should be cold comfort for Fox’s executives. They kept O’Reilly around, even though they knew about the many reports that he was sexually harassing his colleagues, because they thought he was essential for the network’s ratings. If that turns out not to be the case, they enabled a predator for no reason at all.
Images by Sarah Wasko.
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Seven more African-American Fox News employees are expected to join two black colleagues who are suing the network for racial harassment from former comptroller Judy Slater and accounting director Tammy Efinger, according to a new report from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman.
This escalation in Fox’s legal troubles comes amid longtime host Bill O’Reilly’s ouster due to multiple sexual harassment allegations and an adviser exodus from his show, and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch’s bid to take over British satellite broadcasting company Sky News -- which threatens British broadcasting standards thanks to the toxic corporate culture exposed by allegations of widespread sexual and racial harassment at Murdoch’s key American TV network. It also comes as the explicit sexism and racism of Fox News continues to fester, with the leadership of Fox now under Bill Shine, a man who helped cover up harassment at the network by former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.
The network was originally forced to fire Slater after she made racist comments to co-workers. According to The New York Times, the original lawsuit from a Fox payroll manager and payroll coordinator alleges they were racially harassed with “racially charged comments” from Slater, “including suggestions that black men were ‘women beaters’ and that black people wanted to physically harm white people.” The lawsuit alleged, “Slater’s superiors did little to address her behavior, which created a hostile work environment that resulted in ‘severe and pervasive discrimination and harassment.’”
New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported in an April 23 piece that seven other black employees plan to join this racial discrimination lawsuit. According to lawyers representing the affected employees, “Not once did Ms. Efinger step in or attempt to interfere with Ms. Slater’s outrageous conduct," instead “laugh[ing] or giggl[ing] following Ms. Slater’s vitriol.” The letter also details new racist, Jim Crow-era behavior from Fox’s accounting department, such as forcing the black employees to have “‘arm wrestling matches’ with white female employees in [Slater’s] office.” In an appearance discussing his report on MSNBC’s AM Joy, Sherman said these new descriptions of racist behavior at Fox “are really evident of a culture that is entrenched and that has not changed in the wake of Bill O'Reilly's departure.” From the report:
The Murdochs hoped firing Bill O’Reilly would signal a changing culture at Fox News. “We want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect,” Rupert and his sons, James and Lachlan, wrote in a memo to Fox News employees on Wednesday. But the dismissal of Fox News’s highest rated host isn’t going to end the crisis at the network. The toxic culture, fostered for 20 years by former CEO Roger Ailes, is proving far more difficult to remedy.
Next week, according to sources, seven black Fox News employees plan to join a racial discrimination suit filed last month by two colleagues. The original lawsuit alleged that Fox News’s longtime comptroller, Judy Slater, subjected members of Fox’s payroll staff to racial insults for years. (Fox News fired Slater in February after those employees began litigation against the network.)
Lawyers representing the payroll employees are demanding that Fox’s accounting director, Tammy Efinger, also be removed from supervising an employee because she allegedly participated in Slater’s racist behavior. In a letter to the network’s lawyers obtained by New York, the attorneys state: “Not once did Ms. Efinger step in or attempt to interfere with Ms. Slater’s outrageous conduct.” The letter adds, instead, “Ms. Efinger chose to laugh or giggle following Ms. Slater’s vitriol.”
According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Slater demanded that black employees hold “arm wrestling matches’” with white female employees in her office, just down the hall from Ailes’s office on the 2nd floor of Fox headquarters. “Forcing a black woman employee to ‘fight’ for the amusement and pleasure of her white superiors is horrifying. This highly offensive and humiliating act is reminiscent of Jim Crow era battle royals,” the letter says, referring to the practice of paying black men to fight blindfolded at carnivals for white spectators’ entertainment. The lawyers argue that Efinger bragged about wanting to “fight” a black employee.
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Shine Continues At The Helm Despite Reports That He Helped Cover Up Sexual Harassment At The Network
It took years of sexual harassment reports, millions of dollars in non-disclosure agreements, and a successful advertisers boycott, but Bill O’Reilly was finally fired from Fox News. But his ousting cannot be taken as indicative of a major culture shift within the network as long as current co-president of Fox News Bill Shine continues to be at the helm. As senior executive vice president, Shine reportedly retaliated against women who reported sexual harassment by former-CEO Roger Ailes and helped participate in covering up the reports that eventually led to Ailes’ ouster.
After Ailes was fired in August 2016, the network swiftly promoted Shine and Fox executive Jack Abernethy as co-presidents. In September, Fox announced that Shine had signed a new multi-year contract with the network, saying the deal guaranteed "stability and leadership to help guide the network for years to come.” Shine, however, has been named in various lawsuits against the network for his “complicity,” and it has previously been reported that Shine played a key role in helping cover up Ailes’ conduct by silencing and “smearing” women who complained.
According to New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, Shine aided Ailes in handling Laurie Luhn, a woman who reported Ailes for sexual and psychological harassment, by checking her into hotels in different cities after she suffered a mental breakdown and monitoring her outgoing emails. Former Fox host Andrea Tantaros named Shine as a defendant in her sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Fox News and Roger Ailes. According to Tantaros’ lawsuit, she met with Shine to discuss “relief from Ailes’ sexual harassment and [Executive Vice President Irena] Briganti’s retaliatory media vendetta against her," but Shine “told her that Ailes was a ‘very powerful man’ and that she ‘needed to let this one go.’” Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky also named Shine in a lawsuit against Ailes, in which she said Shine was complicit in “Ailes’ harassment and of punishing her for raising the issue.”
Shine, who has been described as Ailes’ “right-hand man,” has reportedly “pushed women into confidential mediation, signing nondisclosure agreements in exchange for their contracts to be paid,” which is consistent with the recent New York Times reporting about five women who “received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or the company in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations.” The payouts amount to “about $13 million.” According to Sherman, Shine “played a role in rallying the women to speak out against Roger Ailes’ accusers and lead this counter-narrative to try to say don't believe Gretchen Carlson.” NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik corroborated such reporting in a tweet, writing, “Some within Fox News tell me programming/opinion EVP Bill Shine, an Ailes confidant, knew of misconduct & ensuing complaints by women.”
If Fox wants people to believe that they’re trying to improve the culture at the network, Shine should be the next one to leave.
“He seems to be kind of a pathological guy.” -- Bill O’Reilly biographer Marvin Kitman.
Fox News should have fired Bill O’Reilly a long time ago.
Clearly, O'Reilly should have been ousted over his years-long reported pattern of sexual harassment, which the network spent years enabling and covering up until it was forced to take action this week.
But O'Reilly also deserved to be booted from his lofty prime-time perch for shredding any semblance of ethics in journalism.
I’m thinking specifically about two years ago, when O’Reilly was caught fabricating his resume by claiming to be have been a war correspondent who had a courageous knack for popping up at dangerous hot spots around the world where he witnessed killings firsthand.
Remember? He supposedly risked it all during the Falklands War in a “war zone.” He watched as those four American churchwomen were gunned down in El Salvador in 1981. And he nearly got killed by bricks while covering the bloody 1992 L.A. riots, and witnessed first hand the trauma of an urban civil war in Northern Ireland.
Turns out those life-threatening “combat” claims were made up.
Like a modern-day Walter Mitty, O’Reilly just concocted the tall tales in order to make his life seem more compelling and make himself seem more accomplished. It seems the closest O’Reilly ever came to combat duty was filing dispatches from the channel’s never-ending War on Christmas.
The 2015 controversy represented a humiliating and very public undressing. But Fox News didn’t seem to care, and neither did O’Reilly. (He even lied that the media firestorm had boosted his ratings.)
“In a way, it's impossible to win a debate with O'Reilly because he is not bound by reality,” noted Mother Jones’ David Corn, who broke the story about O’Reilly’s fabrications.
And that’s been the secure bubble O’Reilly built for himself at Fox: He wasn't bound by reality and neither were his producers or viewers, which meant all bets were off.
In 2011, Glenn Beck lost his highly rated show on Fox when advertisers fled after he called President Barack Obama a racist. That was a big deal because it pulled back the curtain of invincibility and showed that the cable news ratings giant was susceptible to online activism; that boundaries of acceptable behavior could, occasionally, be applied to Fox.
Then last summer, Fox founder and architect Roger Ailes was fired after numerous women reported that the Fox chief had harassed them.
Neither of those sackings compare to the media bombshell that went off when O’Reilly, the most-watched and highest-paid man in cable television news, was fired this week. O’Reilly’s unceremonious sacking is, hands down, the most important personnel move in Fox’s 21 years on the air.
And that’s because, in addition to being part of a seemingly systemic culture of sexual harassment at the network, O’Reilly shaped the Fox News persona. O’Reilly’s bitter, bullying, and self-pitying DNA is the same DNA that defined the channel's jerk culture for two decades.
Yes, O’Reilly’s a liar and a nativist and a bully (to guests and staffers) who has polluted the public dialogue without remorse. But what also defined O’Reilly, and what helped define Fox News for much of the last 20 years, was an ingrained sense of self-aggrandizement coupled with bottomless victimization. That became Fox’s hallmark pathology, suggesting that (wealthy) white middle-aged Christian men in America face an obstacle course full of cultural and political barriers that make life unbearable.
It’s a feel-bad fantasy that revolves around the idea that powerful and often-unseen forces are working against Everyday Joes. And O’Reilly has led that gloomy parade as a kind of Eeyore figure, constantly bemoaning the state of affairs and most often blaming others, usually the less powerful.
That’s been O’Reilly's M.O.: self-puffery fueled by narcissism and self-pity, coupled with a deeply flawed view of his own abilities. And that’s basically been the Fox News on-air model for two decades: Be brash, make stuff up, tell guests to shut up, and smear people.
And it worked. Propelled by the impeachment of Bill Clinton, followed by the Florida recount in 2000 and the relentless on-air flag waving of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, O’Reilly’s ratings at Fox News soared as he and his cohorts both delivered an openly partisan take on the news and morphed into the marketing wing of the Republican Party.
O’Reilly patented the jerk model and forged a connection with his angry viewers to the point where they didn't care, for instance, if he fabricated his resume and lied to them about his “combat” reporting from years past.
He was a jerk. But he was their Irish, Long Island-born jerk. The one who told his aging white viewers that together they could stand at the barricades of cultural and political change.
“In a business where there are a lot of reprehensible people, he stood out as particularly dishonest, obnoxious, self-centered,” is how one former colleague described working with O’Reilly.
He was a “pompous jerk,” added Rory O’Connor, who went to high school with O’Reilly and then worked with him at Channel 5 in Boston. O'Connor told Boston magazine that O'Reilly “was despised in the newsroom -- but he didn't care.”
Marvin Kitman, who interviewed O'Reilly more than two dozen times for the biography he wrote about the broadcaster, told Media Matters in a 2015 interview, “He’s a pretty lousy human being.”
But don’t take their word for it. Take it from the man who gave O’Reilly his Fox News perch, Roger Ailes:
I said Bill, you’re authentic. You’re an authentic prick. It’s just not on the air. Like, you’re a prick to your staff, you’re a prick to management. You’re a prick to your family. You’re authentic. You’re actually a prick. And that has allowed you to become very successful.
But it allowed him to become successful only because Fox News embraced O’Reilly’s persona and built a cable channel around it. And then it spent years looking the other way and enabling its top-rated host despite numerous incidents of reported harassment -- because he made the network money.
Today, Fox is belatedly trying to clean house. But the culture runs deep.