After a series of sexual assault lawsuit settlements and departed advertisers, conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly was ousted from his long-standing role as the host of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.
O’Reilly’s departure has spurred many discussions about his lasting legacy on cable, political news and implications for Fox’s future.
According to some, O’Reilly leaving means that his self-centric rhetoric will leave as well—as manifested in the host’s nightly “Talking Points Memos” that dished out the day’s headlines in O’Reilly’s personal style.
“The old model of balanced, if dueling, punditry was replaced by just one voice: his. The man, not the news, was the star,” writes Lorraine Ali of The Los Angeles Times. “O’Reilly’s talking points often set the agenda for the rest of right-leaning media.”
“He spent countless hours talking about himself—usually as the victim of various conspiracies.” writes Isaac Chotiner for Slate. “It was a playbook that won him a huge audience […] A legacy that will outlast his grip on the 8 p.m. time slot.”
Others saw O’Reilly’s exit from cable news as one that would affect American political conversation—which happened over many dinner tables as O’Reilly’s show went live at 8:00 p.m. every weeknight.
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg points out how O’Reilly’s traditionalist, populist appeal paralleled with Fox News’ reporting style: “Fox News was always more populist than conservative, but its populism is often infused with a New York sensibility.”
A column from The Economist describes O’Reilly’s enduring political legacy as “the corrosion of public discourse in America.” The piece also condemns the pundit for previous mistakes in reporting, calling him “television’s most successful purveyor of fake news long before there was a name for it.”
That O’Reilly will receive a $25 million “golden handshake” (or one year’s salary for him) upon leaving the network speaks to his value as the crown jewel of Fox’s lineup.
“The decision to force out Mr. O’Reilly, who was considered the network’s top asset, was a stunning reversal for a company that had long stood by him,” Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt write for The New York Times. Even with the reversal, they note that “some employees said they were skeptical about whether the treatment of women at Fox News would actually change.”
While Fox Network’s decision to drop O’Reilly was shocking and unexpected to some, many in media are curious as to how this scandal will change Fox News, if at all. With Tucker Carlson slated to replace O’Reilly’s primetime spot, this conversation has become all the more relevant.
“What happens to the company, and the culture, that allowed him to thrive for so long?” writes Pam Vogel, for the left-wing watchdog Media Matters, who is skeptical that Bill O’Reilly’s ousting will solve the corporation’s systemic problems. “These are the same men who greenlighted a sham investigation into the workplace culture at Fox News, who oversaw decades of mistreatment of women employees, and who profited when O’Reilly and his peers (including replacement Tucker Carlson) launched racist and sexist attacks on their shows.”
But what about viewership? O’Reilly was a huge draw for the network—now what?
“The attitude… has always been there’s nobody we need that we don’t already have,” writes Forbes contributor Mark Joyella, who is convinced that the decision exemplifies how unchanging Fox News remains. “It can do what it always has done—fall back on what has kept it on top for so long, and trust that its audience (many of whom won’t watch the competition anyway) will adjust and remain loyal.”
“Experts say don’t expect Fox to lose much of the momentum it’s enjoyed since the beginning of the U.S. presidential election campaign,” writes Deana Sumanac-Johnson in an analysis for CBC News. She notes that Fox will above all prioritize their profit margins and that “advertisers, hungry for ratings but leery of controversy, will decide the fate of Fox News.”
Bill O’Reilly’s unique brand of populism, personalization, and popularity on cable news has undoubtedly had a large effect on American media and politics. Only time will tell if and how his sudden fall from grace will send ripples in today’s political climate.