The Firing of Bill O’Reilly

A TEACHABLE MOMENT FOR THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT

Fox News fired its most popular host, Bill O’Reilly, this week. The firing came after The New York Times reported details of more than $13 million paid to women who worked on or appeared on O’Reilly’s show. The women had accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment. O’Reilly at first “denied the claims have merit,” but Fox apparently concluded otherwise.

It must have been a difficult conclusion at which to arrive. O’Reilly has been a ratings and economic juggernaut for Fox. He attracts about 4 million viewers, and in 2015 the program generated about $178 million in advertising revenue.

I do not want to put O’Reilly on trial here, but it is fair to say that Fox would not have made this decision unless the evidence was compelling. A statement released by Fox read, in part, “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”

O’Reilly’s fans are attempting to paint him as a victim of a politically correct environment. Ed Martin, president of Eagle Forum, the organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly, wrote: “O’Reilly is a folk hero to the regular folks in America who know the truth.”

I have a different perspective. I commend Fox for making a courageous decision that will no doubt cost it millions of dollars in the short term. What is sad is that a man many people saw as an effective spokesman for their values has been rendered impotent because of his character.

This story is not a new one, of course. Moses, David, and Samson are just three of many powerfully gifted men whose character flaws kept them from being and doing all that God intended for them. More recently, Roger Ailes and Michael Flynn have likewise risen because of their competence and fallen because of their character. Young media celebrities such as Tomi Lahren and Milo Yiannopoulos have flamed out in spectacular fashion.

But National Review columnist David French has pointed out that the rises and falls of these conservative celebrities may be as much our fault as theirs. French writes that we have created a “toxic culture of conservative celebrity” in which we value not the character of our leaders, but rather their ability to inflict wounds on our political enemies. “Knifework, not character or integrity, is what we demand from our ideological gladiators,” French writes. “We’re paying the price.”

So what can we learn from the O’Reilly episode? Here are a few possible lessons:

First, we should demand character, not merely competence, from our political leaders and cultural spokesmen. Those who oppose conservative and Christian ideas will seize any opportunity to discredit the message by attacking the messenger. We should be careful about whom we look to as spokespeople.

Secondly, let’s remember that “conservative” does not always equal “Christian.” We live in an era in which the culture is trending away from Christian ideas and toward secularism. So conserving what came before often—not always, but often—means conserving Christian ideas. But when and where that is not the case, we should be careful to promote Christian ideals and not merely conservative ideology.

Thirdly, we should remember that the ends do not justify the means. The Christian worldview is true, but it is not merely true. It is also good and beautiful. If we resort to the ugly, the evil, and the banal in our public discourse and private lives, we undermine the truth of the story we want the world to hear.

Finally, let’s not depend so much on our media stars to do the heavy lifting of cultural change. Here at the Colson Center we talk often about “de-professionalizing” the work of the Gospel, including the work of cultural change. By that we mean that raising our kids means more than just sending them to the right youth group. And cultural engagement means more than following a media celebrity on Facebook or retweeting a clever meme.

I often speak to young people who are burning with enthusiasm to “make a difference” in the world. My counsel to them is usually “If you want to change the world, first make your bed.” We should remember that the best evidence for the transformative power of the Gospel is the testimony of our own transformed lives. Christians should live differently if we want our ideas to have credibility in the public square.

To conclude: I cannot say with certainty whether Bill O’Reilly is guilty or innocent of the sexual harassment charges, but the evidence we do have, and his spectacular fall from public favor, should lead to a teachable moment for the conservative movement and Christians in particular. We should take a good, long, hard look in the cultural mirror and remember Shakespeare’s words: “The fault . . . is not in our [media] stars, but in ourselves.”

Image courtesy of Wikipedia, used under CC BY 3.0.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.


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  • Robert Cremer

    I have found that when anybody gets into a position of great power and/or influence, the easier it is to delude themselves with an attitude that they can do no wrong and believe they are bullet proof. They are too busy working on maintaining their personal glory to pay attention to, as Mr. Smith says, making their own bed.

    • Yes, Wyatt Earp was sort of a bad guy, but he was ‘our bad guy’. We should retain biblical, Christian principles on our own personal lives. But when we live on a ‘football field’ of anti-biblical principles, it is foolish to play by soccer rules.

      • Robert Cremer

        Ours or not a bad guy is a bad guy and needs to be called out and held accountable. When the rules the world pays by violates the biblical principles you will fall like Bill O’Reilly and everyone else that has violated biblical principles before him. History has clearly pointed that out.

        • David

          Robert Cramer, I agree, but… it does seem the ones who fall after violating biblical principles are only those on one side of the aisle. MSM was silent about WHC, HRC, Obama’s hiding not just his birth certificate, but his college and law school transcripts, sources of funding, explanation of how he went from community organizer to multi- multi-millionaire on salaries that never topped $400,000/year; not to mention all the bottom feeders who get huge grants for ephemeral alternative energy boondoggles and those who award the grants. Yes, we do need to hold people accountable for both their personal and public lives, but it is dishonest to castigate only conservatives when the progressives and liberals standing next to them in flagrante. If we won’t stop calling the kettle black, let’s not neglect to call out the pot.

          • Phoenix1977

            Like I said, liberals are far more forgiving than conservatives are. If you fall from grace as a conservative you are an outcast while the Left believes in second (or third, or fourth, or millionth) chances.
            That’s why there are less abd less conservatives in position of authority and power while the liberals continue to be there and grow in number.

          • gladys1071

            I think the reason for that is because it is the conservatives that seem to be big on biblical and family values. Conservatives are the ones that tend to be self-righteous moralizers with supposedly God on their side. So when they fall they have more to lose because of their position and influence over people that look up to them.

            Liberals don’t tend to appeal or care so much about biblical values, so if they fall they don’t end up looking like hypocrites.

  • Sean Curry

    Thank you for this excellent article. A very thoughtful perspective that I have posted on my Facebook page

  • Dawn Andrick McClain

    Personally, I was not a huge fan of Mr. O’Reilly but I do have some doubts about whether the character assassination against him are all true. The owner of Fox supported HRC for president. I believe FNC will become more liberal and, therefore, no different from MSM. Only 4 people left on Fox that I will watch. I’ll be getting my news from DML who is not afraid to report the truth!

    • Dave Malone

      Bill O is not going very far – Watch his Podcast on Monday -April 24 2 7:00 P.M. The Murdoch sons and wives are the individuals responsible for parting ways with Mr. O –

      • Phoenix1977

        Doesn’t matter where he goes. His reputation is gone and, therefor, his credibility. He can say anything and everything now but fewer and fewer people will take him seriously.

    • Gloria Huber

      How about OAN, One America News Network. We like them and not many ads. I can’t think of who DML is…? Nor FNC, for that matter. I’d be interested.

      • Dawn Andrick McClain

        FNC is Fox News Channel. DML is Dennis Michael Lynch. I have the DML App on my phone. I get the news (the truth) all day long. I know it’s the truth and not the garbage that the mainstream media (MSM) tries to shove down our throats. MSM has a liberal agenda and their goal is to brainwash the public with their lies.

        • Phoenix1977

          Strange. 2 minutes on the Dennis Micheal Lynch website and I already know everything there is to know: the entire world is one big conspiracy by the Left, with no evidence or even solid arguments made to back up that claim.
          As Donald Trump would say: “Fake News!”

          • Dawn Andrick McClain

            Some people don’t bother to search for the truth. They are as gullible as pigs and swallow all the swill that MSM spews at them. I praise God for people like DML, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh who aren’t afraid to report the truth.

          • Phoenix1977

            Well, it shows not only beauty is in the eye of the beholder than. Personally I fear for society when people consider what DML says to be the truth.

          • Dawn Andrick McClain

            And I pray for God to open the eyes of the blind.

  • You make some good points, but they are the wrong ones and you miss the big picture.
    It is not for ‘us’, living under our secular constitution and laws, to demand biblically-defined character from our protectors. Protectors like Bill and Trump surface and exist because of specific needs. When we need a knife fight, we stand behind a marine, not Billy Graham.

    My ‘God-fearing Conservative Christian’ neighbors have given up most of my God-given constitutional rights and freedoms to these Humanist oppressors. They have given them without a fight to loud, mean, rude bullies who intend to impose their religion, Secular Humanism (aka Political Correctness) upon us.

    They have allowed SH to be the official religion of my country. Only these SH beliefs are allowed by my government and in my schools. They alone are the basis of the laws and rules imposed, as well as these that are ignored. Only these beliefs can be voiced on my streets and even in my home. They have abandoned scriptural teachings rather than make a fuss. Sp Humanists oppress Christians so much that the few courageous and bold Christians now pay huge fines when refuse to sell out on God’s word. I emphasize ‘few’.

    So, yes, bring a knife-fighter to a knife fight. But, better, you bring a gun-fighter to the knife fight if we really intended to win it, rather than just sheepishly fight off the worst of the attacks. And that is why Donald Trump is now President.
    Not for his lofty Character, he was elected to pull a gun on this out-of-control society. If he succeeds in restoring some sanity, perhaps even constitutionality or even biblical principles to American, then you can go back to pretending on principles and talk about how nice it would be if people would only get along.

    In fact, from what I have heard to this point, we have allowed O’Reilly to be fired because of sneers and suggestive comments, perhaps even overtures. But I have not heard of any forcible rape or ‘actual’ sexual abuse. No one ran to the police after an O’Reilly encounter. Yes, when he buckled and opened his wallet, many years later some women showed up to chew on the corpse. But the conduct he is accused of is part of humanity and takes place in bars every Friday night. If I hear evidence or ACTUAL sexual abuse, then this becomes a different story.
    The fact that ‘conservatives’ are not up at arms about his firing is just more proof of my points above. Bill was fired for being human and for comments and actions that opened him to attack under Politically Correct (read; Secular Humanist) religious doctrine. He was fired because he was an enemy of their religion. Period. If he were a Democrat President he would be celebrated.
    Yes, we would prefer that a Catholic like Bill exhibit biblically-obedient restraints, but which of you will support firing people for not following the bible? I will be happy to be the second person to support a biblically-based society, if I can find the first. Until then, walk with your head down in shame that, again, you have allowed this Humanist religion to enforce THEIR rules when you don’t stand up for your own beliefs.
    And, by the way, name one liberal who has lost their job as a result of immoral, much less distasteful behavior. Bill Clinton? John Edwards? Ted Kennedy? There are millions of Bill O’Reilly’s who fall short in many ways. You are one of them. I am one of them. So stop and reflect about all that Bill did (moderate that he is) to defend us from Humanist oppression. It is we who will suffer the most from his departure.

  • David, you said it much better that I could, and with about 1/10th as many words !

  • Phoenix1977

    “I do not want to put O’Reilly on trial here, but it is fair to say that Fox would not have made this decision unless the evidence was compelling.”

    I’m not so convinced of that. Conservative networks like Fox still depend largely on advertisement and for that you need Big Business. And Bill O’Reilly was a thorn in Big Businesses side for quite some time already. In an era where streaming companies like Netflix are eating away a lot of business from regular networks you cannot alienate those who pay your bills. And scandals like the one Mr. O’Reilly is facing will cost you. Bottom line, Bill O’Reilly may have been a large hitter for Fox but he also held them back and this might just as well be the perfect opportunity Fox had been waiting for to get rid of him.

    “let’s not depend so much on our media stars to do the heavy lifting of cultural change. Here at the Colson Center we talk often about “de-professionalizing” the work of the Gospel, including the work of cultural change.”

    Personally I would applaud you to do so, basically because you will make the Left’s job so much easier. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to being likable or even respectable the social / religious conservatives are not doing the best job imaginable. People like Aaron and Melissa Klein, Baronelle Stutzman and Kim Davis make it very easy for liberals to make Christians look bad. Every word coming out of Aaron and Melissa Klein is a new law suit waiting to happen and whenever Kim Davis shows her face in the media the disdain she holds for those opposing her is clearly visible. And even likable conservatives, like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert De Niro, have taken it down quite a few notches since Conservative America got Donald Trump as poster boy. Not to mention your career takes quite a beating when you confess you are a conservative in Hollywood or anywhere else in the entertainment industry, unless you have quite a name already. Last year, during the presidential campaign, actor Jared Leto “came out” as a social conservative and admitted he would never have done that in his starting days in Hollywood because it would be a career ender.

    Normal (meaning non-famous) conservatives don’t stand a chance against heavy hitters like Emma Stone (her wairing a golden Planned Parenthood logo on her purse was almost as much in the media as her winning the Oscar for Best Actrice), Emma Watson (publicly endorsing Planned Parenthood and donating to them), Oprah Winfrey (ambassador to the Born This Way Foundation), Jake Gyllenhaal (among the first straight male actors playing a gay character) or Zac Efron (openly speeching on LGBT rights every single chance he gets). One interview of only a few minutes from any of these stars (and the list is much, much, much longer) and your work will take a serious beating that will set you back months if not years.

    In the end we can only conclude social and religious conservatives don’t stand a chance. Where a person like Bill O’Reilly lost all his credibility in a New York minute liberals have forgiven Zac Efron his drug problems over and over again, just as we have done with Miley Cyrus and even Bill Clinton. Liberals even forgave Arnie for being a Republican Governor of California when he publicly turned against Donald Trump. That’s how we manage to keep our heavy hitters in the field, fighting our cause, while yours keep striking out.

  • clmont

    “The fall from public favor”?He has not lost a fan base,he just got screwed by some advertisers and two leftist sons of Rupert.

  • Stan Colbert

    You certainly don’t see many Democrat champions lose their job over character issues!

  • Steve6

    We should question character and integrity despite the race and skin color of the leader being questioned. The last eight years have proven the unwillingness to question obvious flaws and character weaknesses out of possible fear of being labeled a racist. Also the determination to not fall afoul of the prevailing PC culture!

  • John Stone

    Why isn’t Hillary in jail?

  • Aleta King Biddy

    Well said! My personal commitment to Christ and the morality that governs a Follower are both challenged by a world that wishes us to conform to its own standard, or lack thereof. However, I’m observing that a Christian who fails to uphold this commitment to righteous behavior is MORE despised by his lack of moral backbone. I pray we Believers in Jesus Christ stand strong, espousing His truth and His standards, despite the pushback from cultural expectations. Yes, we may suffer for it, but isn’t that what His Word tells us will happen? I’m strengthened this day in the knowledge that I have the opportunity to stand firm for His principles and that heaven rejoices over that choice. I pray we ALL hold fast to the Word, trusting the promises given to us aren’t just platitudes. And I pray for Mr. O’Reilly, that this fall from his lofty position will cause him to focus upon the foundation of Conservative principles and hold onto them — and make restitution in appropriate fashion.

  • “Conservative does not always mean Christian…” Here here. I am Conservative. I am a Christian. But the two are not always the same. And we really get in trouble when we tie ourselves at the hip to a particular party or ideology. How many of us are grimacing at Trumpisms and trying to distance ourselves and having an awkward time doing so. Thanks Warren– as always — for speaking truth.

    • gladys1071

      i agree, we need to separate our faith from our politics, I never felt comfortable putting those two together. Being a Christian means being follower of Christ and loving our neighbor. Their is no command to involve ourselves in politics and political ideology, remember Jesus said my kingdom is NOT of this world.

      I am neither conservative or liberal, i think both ideologies are flawed why? because these idealogies are of men and men are flawed.

  • David J Pedersen

    King David. Say no more.

  • gladys1071

    Which was what?