Bill O’Reilly, the disgraced cable host with so many sexual harassment claims against him that even Fox News gave him the boot, is selling a book. So he chatted with the Hollywood Reporter to show off his “unrepentant” side in a well-executed coup of brand rehabilitation. For whatever reason, the magazine happily colluded with him.
The exclusive interview, published Wednesday, is being shared by many movers-and-shakers in the media business—a “good get,” as they say—and it will no doubt be featured in industry newsletters that keep tabs on such things. So congratulations to THR, I guess. But it also managed to include no direct questions about the long and ugly history of sexual harassment and domestic violence accusations that cost Fox millions in settlement payments to O’Reilly’s accusers, pushed advertisers to flee his program in droves, and ultimately led to the “king of cable” being ousted from primetime.
O’Reilly built his Fox News empire by creating a towering image as a moralistic strongman. Yet his former employer, no beacon of healthy workplace culture, paid at least $13 million to several women who accused the now-68-year-old of harassment. The New York Times, whose reporting forced the propaganda network’s hand in firing its biggest star, described the allegations this way:
The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.
The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.
You’ll be forgiven for thinking that such behavior, which O’Reilly continues to deny as he records podcasts from his home, would make for a good line of questioning. And The Hollywood Reporter certainly piqued my interest in this respect when the first line of its piece Thursday invited me inside the magazine’s “no-spin zone.” Topical!
Yet the exclusive with this media pariah instead frames O’Reilly as an aging prizefighter lunging out from the ropes and punching back. He “has scores to settle — with his accusers, the media and the ‘far-left precincts’ that have ‘viciously attacked’ and plotted to ‘destroy’ him,’” Marisa Guthrie writes. Forget that O’Reilly did a lot of Very Bad Things, according to many, many coworkers and his ex-wife. The man has books to sell, and revenge to take.
The few questions about the way in which O’Reilly allegedly destroyed himself are meanwhile indirect at best and actively collaborative at worst.
- “When the allegations surfaced in April and the Murdochs were debating your fate, did you have any direct conversations with Rupert, James or Lachlan [Murdoch]?”
- “Your 20-year career at Fox News was gone in two weeks. How did that make you feel?”
- “Did you feel like you had support from colleagues at the network?”
O’Reilly implies that he was offered as a sacrificial lamb at the altar of social justice gods, and he’s just now rising from that unfortunate fate. But read between the lines of his Hollywood Reporter interview, and another image will emerge. He’s close to sealing a deal with a new TV network; he just can’t say with whom. The audience for the podcast he sometimes makes in his car is growing; he just can’t say by how much. He isn’t booking A-list guests for that program, “but we don’t even try.” He doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, miss the influence and money that came from the highest perch of cable news in primetime. And he could’ve interviewed Vladimir Putin better than his former Fox colleague Megyn Kelly did, even though he’s the one podcasting in a polo shirt in a Long Island bunker.
It’s all pretty pathetic—which makes you wonder even more why THR was so eager to roll out the red carpet for him. O’Reilly may be unrepentant, but he doesn’t deserve media comeback narratives to save him from being knocked out.