Terkel also noted that O’Reilly has also ambushed columnist Cynthia Tucker, then of the Atlanta Journal-constitution, after she criticized O’Reilly and Seattle Post-Intelligencer editor and publisher Rogers Oglesby. A quick Google search also uncovered O'Reilly ambushes of New Yorker Editor Hendrik Hertzberg, after he wrote something about Newt Gingrich O’Reilly didn’t like, former PBS host Bill Moyers, producer and director of Outfoxed, Robert Greenwald, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and the editor of the Virginian Pilot, Denis Finley.In this case, of course, O'Reilly is not just sending underlings out to ambush reporters -- he's personally issuing threats. At New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman says that's because this story is an obvious winner for O'Reilly:
Thanks to the Mother Jones article, O’Reilly has been given an opportunity to wage war against a phalanx of liberal media aggressors. This is what his audience expects.Sherman suggests that a different sort of scandal might seriously threaten O'Reilly -- in fact, once upon a time, one actually did, Sherman says:
Since joining Fox News at the network’s launch in 1996, O’Reilly built the biggest audience in cable news by appealing to viewers’ sense of cultural victimhood at the hands of coastal elites and the mainstream media. His boss Roger Ailes runs the network not like a news organization, but as a political campaign. In Ailes's world, factual accuracy matters less than whether an anchor is advancing the daily agenda. Which is why the Mother Jones article has been such a boon for O’Reilly and Fox. The allegations, dredged up from the early 1980s, lack the punch of Stars & Stripes' report on Williams's Iraq embellishment and can be seen by Fox's viewers as a nasty swipe at their biggest star. As a piece of journalism, Mother Jones raised legitimate questions about O'Reilly's past claims. As politics, they threw him a meatball to hit out of the park.
One indication that O'Reilly is waging a calculated media campaign is to compare his ferocious response to a true scandal with career-ending implications: the 2004 lawsuit by a Fox News producer named Andrea Mackris, who accused O'Reilly of having lurid phone sex. In my biography of Ailes, I reported how Ailes and Rupert Murdoch were furious at O’Reilly for creating the humiliating mess. Ailes instructed O'Reilly that if he spoke out in public, he was in danger of losing his show. Aside from a handful of muted comments, O’Reilly remained silent about the allegations. His ratings held, and O'Reilly hung on to his job.Sherman is offering a selective reading of his own book. It's true that O'Reilly -- at Fox's insistence -- refrained from public comments on Mackris's suit, but Mackris, as Sherman's book notes, says O'Reilly tried to intimidate her privately:
This time around, Ailes is giving O’Reilly the freedom to open fire.
“If you cross Fox News Channel, it’s not just me, it’s Roger Ailes who will go after you,” he assured Mackris. “I’m the street guy out front making the loud noises about the issues, but Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day BAM! The person gets what’s coming to them but never sees it coming. Look at Al Franken, one day he’s going to get a knock on his door and life as he’s known it will change forever,” O’Reilly said. “That day will happen, trust me.... Ailes knows very powerful people and this goes all the way to the top.”And once Mackris's lawsuit was filed, Ailes and then-VP of media relations Brian Lewis did much of the rough stuff on O'Reilly's behalf, according to Sherman's book:
“Top of what?” Mackris asked.
“Top of the country. Just look at who’s on the cover of his book,” O’Reilly replied, referring to Bush and Cheney. “They’re watching him and will be for years. He’s finished, and he’s going to be sorry he ever took Fox News Channel on.”
From the outset, Ailes and Brian Lewis sought to be in control of the message. Ailes made sure O’Reilly got the directive: if he opened his big mouth, he could eventually lose his show. Except for a few fleeting comments, O’Reilly remained silent about the headlines. But O’Reilly had loud voices speaking for him. Fox’s PR department and his lawyer, Ronald Green, fed the pack of tabloid reporters a steady supply of nasty gossip about his accuser. To gather dirt, O’Reilly hired the celebrity private investigator Bo Dietl. Sources with damaging anecdotes were tracked down. “This could be a message to people,” Dietl said on MSNBC on the evening of October 15. “When you file these frivolous lawsuits ... we’re going to investigate you and we’re going to uncover things.”O'Reilly eventually settled, but that was only because he got cold feet, according to Sherman; Fox's Brian Lewis "told executives that Fox could have prevailed if he had been allowed to continue the PR campaign," Sherman writes.
Fox had a crucial ally in the war over O’Reilly: Murdoch’s New York Post. On October 15, the front-page headline blared “EXCLUSIVE: O’Reilly Accuser in Bar Blow Up.” The article, the first in a series of personal attacks on Mackris, quoted a pastry chef named Bethenny Frankel accusing Mackris of provoking a fight with her at the bar of the Peninsula Hotel after Frankel asked to borrow a chair from her table. “She literally verbally attacked and abused and harassed us ... like a raving lunatic,” Frankel told the tabloid. A few days later, one of O’Reilly’s private investigators convinced Matthew Paratore, the owner of a bar and restaurant on the Upper West Side that Mackris frequented, to talk to O’Reilly’s lawyers. On October 19, the Post ran a story headlined “BOOZY BOAST,” which quoted Paratore alleging that Mackris had recently dined with Al Franken and that a few months before returning to Fox, she bragged about writing a book to “take [O’Reilly] down.” O’Reilly’s lawyer also told the Post that Mackris once drunkenly started stripping off her clothes in front of Paratore. “If you think I’m going to fuck Bill O’Reilly, I’m going to fuck you even more,” Green quoted her as saying.
... Green went after Mackris viciously. He told the [New York Daily News] Mackris was “insolvent” and that when she was a White House intern in 1991, she gave herself the nickname “Andrea Mattress.” “It speaks volumes to what was going on then,” he said.
And what did the Mackris scandal do to O'Reilly's reputation with his fans? Sherman again:
The success of Fox’s PR offensive was validated by the most important measure: ratings.... O’Reilly survived a sex scandal by retaining the support of his fans. Ratings for the Factor jumped 30 percent during the heat of the scandal.And history seems to be repeating itself. TVNewser reports:
“The O’Reilly Factor” averaged 3.3 million viewers on Monday, [February 23,] its highest total viewers since November, 25, 2014 when the Ferguson verdict was announced.It going to take a hell of a lot more than this to bring O'Reilly down.
UPDATE: Gawker asks, "Why Has Fox News Stopped Defending Bill O’Reilly?"
Over the past week, Fox News has aggressively rebutted accusations that its star host Bill O’Reilly lied about his whereabouts during the Falklands War in 1982. But after a new report challenged O’Reilly’s recent claim that he was present at the violent suicide of a Lee Harvey Oswald acquaintance in 1977, the network declined to defend him. Is Fox blinking?Nahhh. Fox obviously regards this story as dangerous (like the Mackris story) rather than not dangerous (like the Falklands story). But the nasty reaction will be more or less the same. If the JFK story gets legs, expect ugly tactics in response that can't be traced to O'Reilly or Fox rather than those that can. But they'll come.