Retirement for O’Reilly? He’ll have other options
NEW YORK — Chances are you haven’t heard the last of Bill O’Reilly. He’ll have options, and retirement seems unlikely.
At least three conservative news outlets are eager to speak with him. Mr. O’Reilly, the top cable news personality for two decades until Fox News Channel fired him this week following harassment claims by women, would be a gamechanger for any company trapped in Fox’s shadow.
“He’s an incredible, unparalleled, unchallenged talent, and I would be very eager to discuss the possibility of him on Newsmax,” said Chris Ruddy, CEO of the Florida-based media company. “I think he has been unfairly treated.”
Another right-leaning outlet, One America News Network, has been inundated with emails from Mr. O’Reilly fans who want their hero back on television, said Robert Herring Sr., the network’s founder and CEO.
One America is in 35 million homes, while Newsmax’s television operation is in 10 million. Fox, in 90 million homes, is the nation’s most popular cable network, carried on most cable or satellite systems. Fox also commands fees commensurate with its status, squeezing out rivals because many carriers believe they don’t need more than one news network appealing to conservatives.
Mr. O’Reilly’s representatives had no comment Friday on his plans.
The 67-year-old host, despite his reported $25 million payout from Fox, doesn’t seem ready for a rocking chair. He had just signed a contract extension to keep him on Fox into 2021. He drew an audience of 4 million viewers a night in the opening weeks of the Trump administration, his best ever. He’s a fighter who continues to maintain the accusations against him are unfounded.
Those accusations didn’t seem to hurt Mr. O’Reilly with his fans, however. During his only full week on the air between The New York Times story detailing settlements reached with five women and his firing, Mr. O’Reilly’s ratings went up.
Mr. Herring said he hadn’t examined the validity of claims against Mr. O’Reilly.
“Clearly, Mr. O’Reilly should have the opportunity to address the accusations made against him,” he said. “I also recognize anyone expressing a viewpoint can come under attack, and Bill has been a big target for years due to his top-rated political talk show. From the top down, our organization doesn’t tolerate discriminatory or inappropriate behavior of any kind. It’s an open issue that would need to be vetted by any television organization, including One America News.”
He said he believed Mr. O’Reilly has a future in television.
Mr. Ruddy said he believed Newsmax’s populist leanings were a good match with Mr. O’Reilly’s. The host essentially put Fox on the map and has the opportunity to lead another media revolution with Newsmax’s plans to establish itself as the go-to conservative stream for mobile devices, he said.
“In a lot of ways we would be a perfect fit for him,” he said.
Mr Ruddy and Mr. Herring said there hadn’t been any discussions with Mr. O’Reilly’s representatives. That’s also the case with former Fox colleague Glenn Beck’s network, The Blaze, but a spokesman said Mr. Beck would be interested in speaking to him. Mr. Beck spoke out strongly in Mr. O’Reilly’s defense this week, but it attracted little attention because it happened hours before Mr. O’Reilly’s firing.
SiriusXM satellite radio simulcast “The O’Reilly Factor” along with other Fox News programming, but that ended with O’Reilly’s TV show. Mr. O’Reilly had his own syndicated radio program that aired between 2002 and 2009.
His show did well but wasn’t nearly at the level of radio stars Rush Limbaugh and even Fox colleague Sean Hannity, said Michael Harrison, publisher of the radio trade publication Talkers. Mr. Limbaugh ruled radio but never translated to TV; the opposite was true with Mr. O’Reilly, Mr. Harrison said.
“In O’Reilly’s case, I’m sure he believes he’s directly responsible for the Fox News Channel being successful, so why couldn’t he do it somewhere else,” Mr. Harrison said. “I believe he needs to be in the game.”