The day before Bill O’Reilly was cut loose from Fox News after 20 years with the network, his handlers appeared to believe they had at least one more card to pull that might help save his job in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal engulfing the top-rated prime time host.
On Tuesday, O’Reilly and his legal team debated whether to share with the leadership of parent company 21st Century Fox an April 13 email from Mary Pat Bonner, a Democratic fundraiser and ally of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, which had spearheaded what she called an "advertiser education campaign" to get advertisers to pull out of O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. nightly broadcast, "The O’Reilly Factor."
The email, whose recipients’ names were redacted in the version that was shared with POLITICO, announced two conference calls — originally scheduled for this Thursday and Friday — with Media Matters President Angelo Carusone. The purpose was to discuss "the success of the campaign so far, and our plans moving forward."
To O’Reilly’s camp, it was evidence of a left-wing plot to oust the profit-making anchor and conservative media star, who maintains that the sexual harassment allegations against him, including $13 million worth of settlements first reported by The New York Times on April 1, are "unfounded."
Perhaps Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch, the top executives of 21st Century Fox, could be persuaded that O’Reilly was unfairly under attack?
Probably not. But in any case, O’Reilly was against going to them with the Bonner email anyway.
"If we show to Fox tomorrow , word will get out and the Thursday call may be cancelled," O’Reilly wrote in an April 18 email exchange that was forwarded to POLITICO by a member of O’Reilly’s legal team at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, but which a representative for O’Reilly subsequently said had been sent by mistake.
"So no formal sending to Rupert until after the call," O’Reilly continued, before venting: "You all should know that I will not put up with much more from FNC."
The exchange sheds some light on the internal deliberations that were unfolding in the final moments before O’Reilly’s defenestration on Wednesday. It also shows O’Reilly’s agitation as the scandal was snowballing to its stunning conclusion the following day — an outcome that would have been unimaginable for the reigning king of cable news just weeks earlier. Ultimately, the Murdochs decided that O’Reilly had become too much of a liability for Fox News despite the value of his show to the network and to 21st Century Fox. His exit deal is reportedly worth up to $25 million, a figure that POLITICO has confirmed independently.
Bonner’s Media Matters email would appear to be at least part of the "evidence," as described in a statement by attorney Marc E. Kasowitz earlier this week, that O’Reilly was the target of a "smear campaign … orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons."
It’s no secret, however, that Media Matters was promoting a "#StopOReilly" campaign that put pressure on businesses — dozens of them, in the end — to pull their ads from the "Factor."
Carusone, the Media Matters president, discussed the campaign in a POLITICO feature earlier this month.
“This is not based off of an outrage moment, but rather, it’s responsive to a deep pattern of sexual harassment,” he said. “It doesn’t have a political partisan lens, the way maybe a comment around an individual would have or a statement that some people may find outrageous and others may not. This is about behavior that is universally wrong.”
O’Reilly’s spokesman didn’t have a comment.