Bill O’Reilly’s more than 20-year reign at Fox News was, essentially, a series of confrontations.
Pinheads, culture warriors, political correctness and the “media elite” were the favored targets for a host who structured his show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” as a nightly account of the larger fight he and, presumably, his audience were waging against Where This Country Is Headed (i.e. away from what he called traditional values).
O’Reilly was a pugnacious and assured onscreen presence, and he helped shift the TV news landscape toward the ratings potential of opinion and outrage entertainment. “The O’Reilly Factor,” which aired daily at 8 p.m. EST and again at 11 p.m., spoke primarily in absolutes and paved the way for Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann and, to an extent, Stephen Colbert, who based his pundit persona on O’Reilly for Comedy Central’s Emmy-winning “Colbert Report.”
But before the controversy, his beginnings as a broadcaster were far more conventional.
Cutting his teeth
After graduating from New York’s Marist College with a history degree in 1971, O’Reilly briefly taught high school in Florida before heading to Boston University in 1973 and earning a master’s in broadcast journalism. There, he was a classmate of Howard Stern, who is certainly no stranger to evoking a response with his on-air antics, either.
From there O’Reilly bounced around a number of network affiliates in Dallas, Portland and New York in the early ’80s before being picked up as a correspondent for ABC and CBS News, where he covered combat situations in El Salvador and the Falkland Islands.
Switching tacks on ‘Inside Edition’
In 1989, O’Reilly transitioned into the tabloid arena with “Inside Edition,” a syndicated news magazine that competed with “A Current Affair” and was originally hosted by David Frost. O’Reilly left the show in 1995 to pursue a second master’s degree, this time in public administration, from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Becoming ‘The Factor’
The following year, O’Reilly was hired by Roger Ailes of the newly launched Fox News Channel. Originally called “The O’Reilly Report,” “The O’Reilly Factor” kicked off its hourlong taped broadcast by welcoming its audience to a “No Spin Zone,” a tidy encapsulation of the network’s “We Report, You Decide” tagline. (A syndicated radio broadcast, “Radio Factor,” also ran from 2002 to 2009.) Regular segments looked back at the stories of the day or the week with interview segments with news makers in addition to his fellow Fox News voices. O’Reilly drew large numbers, and over his run he interviewed presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
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Allegations of misconduct begin
In 2002, O’Reilly was investigated by the network for verbally abusing junior producer Rachel Witlieb Bernstein (who later left Fox with a small settlement). In October 2004, O’Reilly was sued for $60 million by his show’s 33-year-old associate producer, Andrea Mackris, who cited the host sharing inappropriate stories about his sex life as well as propositioning her. O’Reilly filed suit the same day, alleging this was a multimillion-dollar extortion plot on the part of Mackris.
The two parties reached a settlement out of court for approximately $9 million and agreed to release a statement that “no wrongdoing occurred whatsoever.”
Allegations within the network return
In 2011, Rebecca Gomez Diamond of the Fox News program “Happy Hour” filed a suit similar to Mackris’ with recordings of O’Reilly’s voice to support her claims. Terms of a settlement were not revealed, and Diamond left the network under a confidentiality agreement.
Two more former Fox News employees reach settlements
In the wake of the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Ailes, Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, settled two more complaints against the network. Laurie Dhue, a Fox News anchor from 2000 to 2008 outlined harassment claims against O’Reilly and Ailes during her time at Fox News and reportedly reached a settlement for more than $1 million.
Juliet Huddy, who was with Fox News from 1998 to 2009 and was a frequent guest on “The O’Reilly Factor,” claimed that O’Reilly propositioned her and placed numerous explicit phone calls to her in 2011. 21st Century Fox reached a settlement with Huddy for $1.6 million.
Advertisers flee and O’Reilly’s exit from ‘The Factor’
Shortly after a report was published on April 1 that recounted about $13 million in settlements that had been paid as a result of O’Reilly’s behavior toward women over the previous 15 years, major advertisers such as Mercedes-Benz discontinued their relationship with “The O’Reilly Factor.” As of April 10, just over eight minutes of ad time was sold during the show, which stood in contrast to the 15 minutes of ads that had aired during the time slot a month earlier, according to the ad-tracking firm iSpot.tv.
On April 12, O’Reilly announced on his show he was going on vacation. A week later, Fox News announced it had officially cut ties with its biggest star. “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement.
That afternoon, O’Reilly issued his own statement that read with a defiance typical of the opinionated pundit. “It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims,” he said. “But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.” O’Reilly, according to two people familiar with the matter, left the network with a payout of $25 million (equivalent to one year’s salary).
Tucker Carlson, who joined Fox News’ weekday lineup in 2016, took over O’Reilly’s time slot. The chat show “The Five” was moved to take over Carlson’s place on the schedule.