THE HUFFINGTON POST
In the first quarter of 2017, Bill O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor” was the highest-rated cable news program in history. He enjoyed an $18 million salary and the most coveted television slot on the most-watched network in all of cable, bringing in almost $111 million in ad revenue for Fox News just last year.
On Wednesday, he lost all of that … except some of the salary.
Fox News parted ways with O’Reilly after a bombshell New York Times report revealed $13 million worth of settlements he and Fox had made in sexual harassment suits brought by five of the host’s former colleagues. After dozens of companies pulled their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor” and the man himself took time off the air for a “vacation,” the network formally ended the show.
Many public figures have watched their wealth and influence slip through their fingertips. But O’Reilly’s fall may be uniquely dramatic. Few in recent memory have been the undisputed most powerful person in their line of work, enjoying vast influence (an audience of 4 million nightly viewers, in this case) only to lose it so abruptly.
Take Bill Cosby. The 79-year-old comedian has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women, with some allegations about incidents that occurred decades ago. But the comedian’s wildly popular eponymous show had ended its run in 1992, and though he continued to have his hand in film and television projects up through 2014, when the allegations resurfaced, the peak of his career was decades gone. Cosby still has nine Grammys, three Emmys and the Kennedy Center Honor to his name, though countless honorary degrees have been revoked since 2014. He’s due for trial in June.
Then there’s Mel Gibson. The actor and director was exposed in 2006 as racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic. A 2007 police recording ― “F***ing Jews … the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” ― had Gibson temporarily blacklisted in Hollywood. But by that point, his leading man status had begun to fade (”Braveheart” came out in 1995! “The Patriot” came out in 2000). And while his Hollywood reputation took a hit, the incident wasn’t career-ending. By 2017, Gibson was enjoying orchestra seats at the Oscars, where he was nominated for best director.
Another example is world-renowned athlete Lance Armstrong, who was slammed with a lifetime cycling competition ban and stripped of his Tour de France titles in 2012 for long-term doping offenses. But Armstrong had retired from competitive cycling following his 2005 Tour de France win, briefly returned to racing, and retired again in 2011. His competitive career was over by the time he finally admitted that the long-rumored doping was, in fact, true and he was officially banned.
Martha Stewart, the hugely successful lifestyle entrepreneur, was arguably as influential ― if not more so ― than O’Reilly when her career came crashing down. She served six months in prison in 2004 and 2005 after being convicted for insider trading. Her company lost $7.33 million during the fourth quarter of 2004. But just one year later, it was profitable once more, and Stewart was back on the board of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia by 2011. She may no longer be a billionaire, but she’s still worth hundreds of millions, and her media empire continues to thrive.
Perhaps the closest parallel to O’Reilly is Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chairman who was ousted after a sexual harassment suit brought by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson led other women from the network to come forward with similar allegations. Like O’Reilly, Ailes was forced out in disgrace over his alleged repulsive treatment of female employees. He also was at the peak of his powers at the time of his dismissal and received a healthy severance on his way out the door. Where Ailes and O’Reilly’s stories diverge is primarily in the jobs they held. Ailes played the role of puppet master behind the scenes, and his legacy lives on in the conservative hosts he hired that the network continues to employ. Not to mention, he has the ear of the president. O’Reilly was the public face of Fox, whose influence came with his ability to be on TV.
All of these cases featured their fair share of humiliation, and rightfully so; while courts, when involved, can come up short in granting the afflicted the justice they deserve, the lapse in fame and fortune count for something. But history has shown us time and time again that the rich and famous (and usually male) can overcome a great deal, that the public quickly forgives or chooses to forget. Just look at who was elected president of the United States.
O’Reilly is losing his throne, yes. But only time will tell whether the bombastic host and alleged serial sexual harasser will come back from this like others who have fallen from grace have done before.