News media are reporting, sometimes gleefully, the departure of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News. The parting was almost inevitable since The New York Times reported April 1 that the network had paid about $13 million in settlements of sexual harassment claims. The settlements, according to the Times, came after Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was pushed out of the company last summer over similar allegations. Among the accusers were Fox stars Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, both of whom have since left the network. Some of the news media have seemed gleeful in reporting O’Reilly’s downfall because, as he often stated, his was the No. 1-rated cable news program and had been for years.
There is also the reason that O’Reilly had for years criticized other news media over bias and inaccuracy and, even as President Trump has done, said other media were “failing.” Some in journalism feel that O’Reilly has played a role in the continuing decline in the public’s confidence in news media. It is difficult to understand exactly the level of culpability for Ailes and O’Reilly amidst the dozens of accusations of sexual harassment. What can be safely said is that a culture existed at Fox that very likely was out of the Mad Men era. And also that such a culture has no business in the modern workplace.
Fox News has been an enormous success for Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. Fox News began in 1996, and it was clearly intended by Murdoch as a balance to what he perceived as the consistently liberal bias of the Eastern media establishment. Fox News became the most popular cable news channel within five years. Even with O’Reilly and Ailes gone and the prime-time lineup undergoing a major shakeup, Fox News has a strong brand among conservatives and won’t be going away. Here’s also a personal prediction that Tucker Carlson will be a success as O’Reilly’s successor in the coveted evening time slot. Carlson is more erudite, nuanced and a less contentious personality than O’Reilly.
I have had a personal feeling for years that O’Reilly’s abrasive personality actually damaged conservatives. He was clearly polarizing for liberals and even many moderates. He played well with the six-pack crowd and many of those who helped elect Donald Trump. But real conservatives, what I call the sane wing of the Republic Party and not the Tea Party crazies, have needed to woo moderates on the basis of rational and sound economic policy as well as social policies that make sense for the majority. Many of O’Reilly’s histrionics made that difficult.
And as media have also reported, what really did O’Reilly in was that advertisers began abandoning the program. This made the decision easy for Fox. Advertisers have too much at stake to be associated with the lightning rod that O’Reilly had become.