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How Bill O’Reilly Defined The On-Air Jerk Culture At Fox News

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How Bill O’Reilly Defined The On-Air Jerk Culture At Fox News


Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

“He seems to be kind of a pathological guy.” Bill O’Reilly biographer Marvin Kitman.

Fox News should have fired Bill O’Reilly a long time ago.

Clearly, O’Reilly should have been ousted over his years-long reported pattern of sexual harassment, which the network spent years enabling and covering up until it was forced to take action this week.

But O’Reilly also deserved to be booted from his lofty prime-time perch for shredding any semblance of ethics in journalism.

I’m thinking specifically about two years ago, when O’Reilly was caught fabricating his resume by claiming to be have been a war correspondent who had a courageous knack for popping up at dangerous hot spots around the world where he witnessed killings firsthand.

Remember? He supposedly risked it all during the Falklands War in a “war zone.” He watched as those four American churchwomen were gunned down in El Salvador in 1981. And he nearly got killed by bricks while covering the bloody 1992 L.A. riots, and witnessed first hand the trauma of an urban civil war in Northern Ireland.

Or something.

Turns out those life-threatening “combat” claims were made up.

Like a modern-day Walter Mitty, O’Reilly just concocted the tall tales in order to make his life seem more compelling and make himself seem more accomplished. It seems the closest O’Reilly ever came to combat duty was filing dispatches from the channel’s never-ending War on Christmas.

The 2015 controversy represented a humiliating and very public undressing. But Fox News didn’t seem to care, and neither did O’Reilly. (He even lied that the media firestorm had boosted his ratings.)

“In a way, it’s impossible to win a debate with O’Reilly because he is not bound by reality,” noted Mother Jones’ David Corn, who broke the story about O’Reilly’s fabrications.

And that’s been the secure bubble O’Reilly built for himself at Fox: He wasn’t bound by reality and neither were his producers or viewers, which meant all bets were off.

In 2011, Glenn Beck lost his highly rated show on Fox when advertisers fled after he called President Barack Obama a racist. That was a big deal because it pulled back the curtain of invincibility and showed that the cable news ratings giant was susceptible to online activism; that boundaries of acceptable behavior could, occasionally, be applied to Fox.

Then last summer, Fox founder and architect Roger Ailes was fired after numerous women reported that the Fox chief had harassed them.

Neither of those sackings compare to the media bombshell that went off when O’Reilly, the most-watched and highest-paid man in cable television news, was fired this week. O’Reilly’s unceremonious sacking is, hands down, the most important personnel move in Fox’s 21 years on the air.

And that’s because, in addition to being part of a seemingly systemic culture of sexual harassment at the network, O’Reilly shaped the Fox News persona. O’Reilly’s bitter, bullying, and self-pitying DNA is the same DNA that defined the channel’s jerk culture for two decades.

Yes, O’Reilly’s a liar and a nativist and a bully (to guests and staffers) who has polluted the public dialoguewithout remorse. But what also defined O’Reilly, and what helped define Fox News for much of the last 20 years, was an ingrained sense of self-aggrandizement coupled with bottomless victimization. That became Fox’s hallmark pathology, suggesting that (wealthy) white middle-aged Christian men in America face an obstacle course full of cultural and political barriers that make life unbearable.

It’s a feel-bad fantasy that revolves around the idea that powerful and often-unseen forces are working against Everyday Joes. And O’Reilly has led that gloomy parade as a kind of Eeyore figure, constantly bemoaning the state of affairs and most often blaming others, usually the less powerful.

That’s been O’Reilly’s M.O.: self-puffery fueled by narcissism and self-pity, coupled with a deeply flawed view of his own abilities. And that’s basically been the Fox News on-air model for two decades: Be brash, make stuff up, tell guests to shut up, and smear people.

And it worked. Propelled by the impeachment of Bill Clinton, followed by the Florida recount in 2000 and the relentless on-air flag waving of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, O’Reilly’s ratings at Fox News soared as he and his cohorts both delivered an openly partisan take on the news and morphed into the marketing wing of the Republican Party.

O’Reilly patented the jerk model and forged a connection with his angry viewers to the point where they didn’t care, for instance, if he fabricated his resume and lied to them about his “combat” reporting from years past.

He was a jerk. But he was their Irish, Long Island-born jerk. The one who told his aging white viewers that together they could stand at the barricades of cultural and political change.

“In a business where there are a lot of reprehensible people, he stood out as particularly dishonest, obnoxious, self-centered,” is how one former colleague described working with O’Reilly.

He was a “pompous jerk,” added Rory O’Connor, who went to high school with O’Reilly and then worked with him at Channel 5 in Boston. O’Connor told Boston magazine that O’Reilly “was despised in the newsroom —  but he didn’t care.”

Marvin Kitman, who interviewed O’Reilly more than two dozen times for the biography he wrote about the broadcaster, told Media Matters in a 2015 interview, “He’s a pretty lousy human being.”

But don’t take their word for it. Take it from the man who gave O’Reilly his Fox News perch, Roger Ailes:

I said Bill, you’re authentic. You’re an authentic prick. It’s just not on the air. Like, you’re a prick to your staff, you’re a prick to management. You’re a prick to your family. You’re authentic. You’re actually a prick. And that has allowed you to become very successful.

But it allowed him to become successful only because Fox News embraced O’Reilly’s persona and built a cable channel around it. And then it spent years looking the other way and enabling its top-rated host despite numerous incidents of reported harassment — because he made the network money.

Today, Fox is belatedly trying to clean house. But the culture runs deep.




  1. Michael Allen April 21, 2017

    Now can we look more closely at the broadcasting history of another east coast Irish Catholic, Chris Matthews. He has a history of despicable behavior as well.

    1. Sand_Cat April 21, 2017

      Have you any specifics, or are you content with a generic smear?

  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth April 21, 2017

    As we observe the unraveling of FOX from a distance, one can’t help but note what an iconic symbol this pathetic network represents as a statement of what much of America has come to represent.
    Ostensibly founded on Christian principles and values, the signs of a decay were present the moment the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. This isn’t to say that every man and woman stepping off the Mayflower was destined to sow seeds of tragedy, but something on the other side of the Atlantic had already insinuated itself into the fabric of the Settlers’ ethos, and O’Reilly, and Trump are personal embodiments of this centuries-old rot and decay in today’s world.
    I would wager that a major crack in character of the generality of American society is the notion of unbridled liberty, one without any sense of restraint, and which we might associate with the ideology of libertarian thought.

    Freedom is a necessary quality in human affairs, but w/o the counter-balance of principles and restraints on behavior, as envisioned and outlined in any Religion. But whatever is the recent Religion for the Day and Age must be intact, and not eviscerated by distortions and a plethora of individual interpretations by individual clerics, vying with each other for the right to have their interpretation as the standard interpretation.

    The multiplicities of interpretations of Religion left open the door for a variety of sects and factions, which in turn muddied the waters and allowed for each Tom, Jane, Ailes, Bill, and Donald to define their own world-view, bolstered by a distortion of the concept of freedom of speech.

    Therefore, we have FOX and an entire segment of America seeing themselves as having the right to redefine what is right and wrong, what is morally acceptable and what isn’t, and similar hypocrisies. This will continue so long as a Standard, unassailable and incapable of being twisted and contorted, is allowed to take root in the country, and in the world at large.

    After all, “the earth is but one country, and humankind its citizens”.

    1. kep April 21, 2017

      And back in the REAL world, FOX has become the most reliable outlet of REAL news, unlike most of the LIBERAL fake news outlets, that only repeat the liberal propaganda.

      1. Sand_Cat April 21, 2017

        You become more entertaining by the post!!! :>))))))))))))))
        More projection of your own faults on “liberals” and further proof that you’re just another credulous sucker who supports Trump.
        Thanks for the biggest laugh today, though it is a bit “illiberal” to laugh at the handicapped.

        1. The lucky one April 22, 2017

          It’s OK to laugh if it’s willful ignorance and embraced stupidity like it is with kep.

  3. ray April 21, 2017

    Bill O’Reilly prick,jerk and draft dodger. What man?

  4. itsfun April 21, 2017

    I don’t like Bill O’Reilly, but didn’t he prove he was in those places he claimed to be in?

    1. Sand_Cat April 21, 2017

      Yeah, you “don’t like” Donald Trump, either, but of course you’re here defending every lousy thing he does.
      Why not face up and fess up? You’re no different from Fox News (“News for Dumb Fux”) and most “conservatives” and GOP officials: if you can “win,” honesty, ethics, and patriotism be damned.

    2. The lucky one April 22, 2017

      No, can you provide any evidence otherwise. BTW, O’Reilly’s claims don’t suffice as evidence. O’Reilly and Trump, twin sons from different mothers. Both are as the late great Molly Ivins would say, all hat and no cattle.

  5. ray April 21, 2017

    The trolls are out in force to defend there man.

  6. Sand_Cat April 21, 2017

    So Bill is a (much) milder version of Donald Trump. Fox news cares nothing for ethics in journalism or providing a harassment-free work environment to women and minorities.
    Nice of the National Memo to point these facts out, but anyone with half a brain should have known them long ago.

    1. Victoriasewers April 22, 2017

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  7. dtgraham April 21, 2017

    The danger of an O’Reilly to the political atmosphere and culture was the believable, authoritative way that he would lie. He would present an argument as though it was carved in stone on a tablet that he was bringing down from Mount Sinai. I never saw a more commanding, authoritative presence on a political talk show. Chris Matthews is just a hyperkinetic speed talker in comparison.

    The thing with O’Reilly was that he would fashion a supposedly winning set of talking points based on false data and false facts, and he did that routinely. If you knew a few things, you’d recognize the falsehoods immediately. If suspicious, you’d check it out later only to find more O’Reilly hot gas. Yet, he presented it in such an assertive and compelling way as to sound authentic. Serene, yet forceful and imposing. You knew that millions would buy it totally, including reachable independents and moderates of various stripes. That was his nasty gift.

    1. latebloomingrandma April 22, 2017

      I hear his books are the same way. A lot of made up stuff, passed along as “history.”

  8. Charles van Rotterdam April 21, 2017

    I will miss him, like a sore tooth. How am I now going to get my daily dose of the cranks. It used to take only 5 minutes of watching the idiot to get me fired up for the rest of the day, I was then able to deal with any idiot annoying me.

    1. dpaano May 18, 2017

      Don’t fret, FAUX News has plenty more idiots where that one came from!!!

  9. stsintl April 22, 2017

    Rupert Murdoch [Fox] started out as “Voice of the Republican Party” but soon Republican Party became “Voice of Rupert Murdoch”, with the poison he spread through his WMDs [Words of Mass Deception]. Of course, O’Reilly was the main delivery system for his WMDs.


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