What really happened with Fox News and Bill O’Reilly

Photo: Reuters via Daily Kos

I’ve just read the statements about Fox News host Bill O’Reilly leaving. It is hard to believe statements this short can be this overblown and vacuous.

Here’s some context. O’Reilly had the top-rated show on Fox News. Reporters Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt published a story in The New York Times that detailed five allegations of sexual harassment against O’Reilly, settled for $13 million. After the Times story went live, dozens of advertisers deserted O’Reilly and the owners of Fox News began an investigation. O’Reilly has been off the air for two weeks; now he’s done for good.

While there are statements from Fox News and O’Reilly, there’s hardly anything there to analyze. So I am going to fantasize instead about the process that led up to the creation of these statements. Everything you read here is invented with the exception of the statements themselves; the statements, shown in italics, are real.

Deep in the bowels of Fox News, a PR professional and a representative of Rupert Murdoch’s management team have a conversation

Representative of management: Well, we finished our investigation and we need you to write a statement.

PR: You mean the Bill O’Reilly investigation?

RM: Yup.

PR: What did you investigate?

RM: Can’t say.

PR: What did you find?

RM: Can’t say.

PR: So why are we even talking?

RM: We’re dumping Bill.

PR: Because of what you found?

RM: We’re not saying that.

PR: Are we firing O’Reilly?

RM: Can’t say that.

PR: So he’s quitting?

RM: Can’t say that either.

PR: So we’ve completed an investigation that we can’t talk about, and found stuff we won’t say, and O’Reilly is gone, but the details are unspecified.

RM: Yup.

PR: Give me something. This statement is going to look pretty dumb unless you give me something.

RM: The investigation was thorough and careful.

PR: So you conducted a thorough, careful investigation of unspecified accusations and can’t say what you found.

RM: Exactly. Make a statement about that.

PR: Can I say anything about restoring respect for women at Fox News?

RM: Let’s not say anything else about women at Fox News.

PR: Can I say that we thank Bill for his work for so many years?

RM: I’m in no mood to thank Bill given this shitshow.

PR: This is going to be the shortest, emptiest statement in the history of media. Here’s what I came up with. I’m sorry it’s so meaningless:


New York, NY – April 19 2017 – 21st Century Fox today issued the following statement:

“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.”

RM: Perfect.

PR: I hate my job.

RM: Well, it could be worse. You could be working here as a woman.

Meanwhile, Bill O’Reilly is talking to his publicist in his house on Manhasset

Bill O’Reilly: Well, it’s been a good run, but I’m leaving the network.

Publicist: Is it the harassment claims?

BO: Of course it is, but we can’t say that.

Pub: People aren’t stupid.

BO: Have you seen my ratings?

Pub: Fair enough. What do you want to say?

BO: Well, let’s start by making sure people understand how great I was and how much I made Fox News what it is today.

Pub: That doesn’t sound like an apology.

BO: I have nothing to apologize for.

Pub: So you want to deny everything.

BO: Of course. But I don’t want any specifics.

Pub: So a blanket denial. You don’t want to get into what these women said.

BO: My lawyer says that now that I’ve settled I can’t.

Pub: Can I call them “unfounded claims?”

BO: Yes, that’s perfect.

Pub: If you’re not apologizing, do you at least want to thank Fox?

BO: Screw Fox. They never backed me up, and now that Ailes is gone they have no backbone. Just thank the viewers.

Pub: You’re going to sound like an unrepentant, narcissistic, egotistical bully and sexual predator.

BO: Maybe I ought to run for office.

Pub: OK, try this:


April 19, 2017

Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and significantly contributed to building Fox into the dominant news network in television. It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. 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.

Pub: Now that I’ve written it down, it seems to have a lot of weasel words. Let’s see, “extremely,” “consistently,” “millions,” “significantly,” “tremendously,” “completely,” “unfortunate,” “great,” “unprecedented,” “deepest.” Do you want me to dial it back a bit? That many is a little hard to swallow.

BO: Let’s add more.

Pub: No, let’s not. Let’s leave it as is.

BO: Thanks for your help.

Pub: I hate my job.

BO: Have I told you how beautiful your hair looks in this light? Although you’d look better off if you unbuttoned one more collar button.

Pub: I wonder if Rachel Maddow is hiring.

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