Fox News Channel’s parent company fired Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday after 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 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 and Warren native Roger Ailes, was ousted following allegations of sexual harassment.
After 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 after 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.”
Among Mahoning Valley leaders responding to O’Reilly’s firing is William Binning, former chairman of Youngstown State University’s political science department and the Mahoning County Republican Party, who said O’Reilly had a great influence on conservatives in the country.
“He was the voice for many conservatives in the United States,” Binning said. “He set the agenda and formed opinions.”
As to what his departure means for the future of Fox News, Binning said he’s not sure. He struggled to think of someone who could replace him and noted that O’Reilly is the third person to leave the network recently, following Ailes and reporter Megyn Kelly.
Fox News sets the agenda for the Republican Party, Binning said, and losing one of their most iconic voices could affect that.
Adam Earnheardt, Youngstown State University department of communications chairman, said Fox News is going to take a hit with the loss of O’Reilly.
“His ratings were up, and he certainly had a huge, loyal following, even after the advertisers jumped ship,” he said. “But Fox’s bigger issue is dealing with the PR fallout from its two biggest names: Ailes and O’Reilly. Their best bet would be to hire someone with major name recognition‚ã to replace him.”
As far as O’Reilly’s future beyond Fox News, Earnheardt said he expects his voice will still be heard, “on the radio, probably through some syndication, and through his books.”
Mahoning Republican Chairman Mark Munroe said O’Reilly “will be missed. When you hear the phrase ‘fair and balanced news,’ it was O’Reilly you thought about.”
O’Reilly’s dismissal doesn’t signal any change of direction for the network: Fox said conservative pundit Tucker Carlson would move into O’Reilly’s time slot – the second time in three months he’s replaced an exiting prime-time personality. Carlson, a veteran who has hosted shows on CNN, MSNBC and PBS, had taken over for Megyn Kelly in January when she announced she was moving to NBC News.
“The Five,” a talk show with five rotating hosts that regularly airs at 5 p.m., will move into the 9 p.m. time slot. Eric Bolling will host a new show that airs at 5 p.m. starting next month, the company said.
Dana Perino, who had been subbing for O’Reilly, who had been on vacation for the past few days, acknowledged his departure at the top of “The Factor.” At the end of the show, she paid him a warm tribute.