"Caution! You are about to enter the No Spin Zone.”
That’s how Bill O’Reilly opened his nightly show on the Fox News Channel, and we have heard it for the last time at FNC.
His The O’Reilly Factor dominated cable news ratings for two decades -- his ratings often surpassing those of his top two competitors combined.
His show produced hundreds of millions in advertising revenue each year, but FNC decided not to keep a man accused, not for the first time, of being a sexual predator.
When news broke almost two weeks ago that Fox and O’Reilly had paid $13 million to settle claims of sexual misconduct with several accusers, advertisers began to jump ship, first a trickle, then a flood.
In the middle of last week, in the middle of the controversy, O’Reilly,67, announced he was going on vacation. O’Reilly declined to tell his large and loyal audience where he was going, but I’m looking at a story of him meeting with Pope Francis. The Vatican is in Italy.
Without doubt, the man (also a best-selling author) who constantly invoked his humble upbringing in Levittown, Long Island, is a multimillionaire who will never have to work again, but is this how he wants to leave the stage?
Probably not, but Fox decided to bite the bullet, as it did last year when it discharged Fox CEO Roger Ailes, when accusations fell on him like rain.
What can I, a regular viewer of The Factor, tell you? One thing is don’t draw conclusions. I’m also a regular viewer of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CNN’s Don Lemon.
I can’t conclude O’Reilly is guilty, he didn't address the harassment charges or the settlement on The Factor, and I doubt he will ever come clean about it.
Steve Cohen, who ran NBC-10 for a while three decades ago, circulated a defense of O’Reilly, a onetime colleague. Cohen was sincere about never witnessing inappropriate conduct on O’Reilly’s part, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. If it did happen, O'Reilly deserves what he gets because the big shots, the bullies, shouldn't be allowed to push people around, whether women, minorities, children, the handicapped... you name it.
My personal brush with O’Reilly came 10 years ago, when I was the chair of the 2007 National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual conference, that year in Philadelphia.
The NSNC is always looking for a “name” to keynote the conference and I challenged O’Reilly -- a frequent critic of the press -- to show up in person to call us out for our real and imagined sins.
He agreed, asked nothing but a room at the Sofitel, where the conference was held, and a train ticket. (Our Lifetime Achievement Award that year went to liberal columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune.)
O’Reilly’s address was noteworthy in that he picked a fight with a columnist in the audience, claiming a column of his -- that O’Reilly found in our conference booklet -- was inaccurate.
He also had a problem with my introduction of him, which I carefully crafted to reveal some of O’Reilly’s views that would surprise some -- such as his opposing the death penalty and believing in global warming. He called me to task on air, but that’s OK.
During his visit, he told me he knew most of the columnists were leftists, probably falling somewhere between Trotsky and Lenin.
I told him the bulk of our membership was from the interior, not the coasts, and San Francisco State University had polled the NSNC membership and found us equally divided among left, right, and center. The inconvenient facts made zero impact on him and he reported his erroneous belief about us on the air. That's OK.
In the years since, I have stuck up for him on occasion and criticized him on occasion. His show is well-produced; I’d often see things there that I didn’t see elsewhere. The thing most likely to make me scream was O’Reilly interrupting guests, claiming they were “bloviating.” Most often they were just attempting to finish a thought.
In the days immediately after the scandal, his ratings went up by 10 percent. Once his vacation began, ratings dropped 26 percent. Without Big Bill, they are unlikely to recover because he was a unique personality.
With O’Reilly gone from FNC -- despite meeting with the pope -- my guess is he will seek revenge.
The only question is what form it will take.