Fox News Channel's parent company fired Bill O'Reilly on Wednesday following an investigation into harassment allegations, bringing a stunning end to cable news' most popular program and one that came to define the bravado of his network over 20 years.
O'Reilly lost his job on the same day he was photographed in Rome shaking the hand of Pope Francis. By the evening, "The O'Reilly Factor" no longer bore his name, simply titled "The Factor."
The downfall of Fox's most popular — and most lucrative — personality began with an April 2 report in The New York Times that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about disturbing encounters with O'Reilly, who continued to deny any wrongdoing in a statement hours after he was fired. Dozens of his show's advertisers fled within days, even though O'Reilly's viewership increased.
O'Reilly's exit came nine months after his former boss, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, was ousted following allegations of sexual harassment.
Following the Times story, 21st Century Fox said it had asked the same law firm that investigated Ailes to look into O'Reilly's behavior. 21st Century Fox leaders Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James said in a memo to Fox staff that their decision to ax O'Reilly came following an "extensive review" into the charges.
"I understand how difficult this has been for many of you," Rupert Murdoch said in a memo to Fox staff.
O'Reilly, denied a chance to say goodbye to his Fox viewers, did so via a statement.
"It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims," he said. "But that is the unfortunate reality that 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."
If the claims were truly unfounded as O'Reilly asserts, then I find it highly unlikely he'd go down without a fight. So either he was paid handsomely to exit quietly or, at age 67, he was just ready to move on with life. Either way, it takes a highly coordinated smear campaign (as has been alleged recently) to get five different women to allege improprieties against O'Reilly, so I have a hard time believing that he's a completely innocent victim.
I guess I never fit the stereotypical conservative in that I rarely indulged in any programming on FNC. If I ever watched The O'Reilly Factor, it was solely because of the guests who appeared on the broadcast, particularly the hilarious Dennis Miller. But I've never been a fan of O'Reilly himself for no reason other than he came across as boorish and insufferably arrogant.
There's no way to know for sure, but I can't help but wonder if Fox would have pulled the plug on O'Reilly's show had there not been a mass exodus of the show's advertisers. The Murdochs can talk all they want about the principles of this move but there's no denying that losing advertising dollars has a direct impact on the bottom line.
So what's next for Fox?
5 PM/ET – A new show, hosted by Eric Bolling, will debut on May 1st. From April 24th-28th, Special Report with Bret Baier will air from 5 to 7 p.m.
7 PM/ET – "The Story with Martha MacCallum" will debut on Monday, May 1st. Until then, MacCallum will continue anchoring "The First 100 Days" through April 28th.
8 PM/ET – "Tucker Carlson Tonight"
9 PM/ET - "The Five" (LIVE) with co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle, Dana Perino, Bob Beckel, Greg Gutfeld, Jesse Watters and Juan Williams.
10 PM/ET – "Hannity"
Tucker Carlson will move to the 8 p.m. slot, and "The Five" will move to the 9 p.m. slot formerly occupied by Tucker Carlson. Jesse Watters also joins "The Five" as a co-host.
I've seen Carlson's program a few times since he replaced Megyn Kelly in the 9 PM/ET slot. He often invites on as guests radical left personalities but, unlike O'Reilly, lets them talk mostly uninterrupted to prove how flippin' nuts they are. The fact a program like that (which is essentially red meat for conservatives) is moving to The Factor's old time slot means FNC will get along just fine without O'Reilly.