The Lasting Power Of O'Reilly's Anger And Arrogance

What I distinctly remember was his arrogance. He all but wore a sign on his chest saying “I’m more important than you.”
04/22/2017 09:23 am ET Updated May 24, 2017

One primping, sneering, leering racist misogynist down, one to go. Well, many more than one to go, but one in the White House to go.

Bill O'Reilly is out at Fox News, though we have hardly seen the last of him. He still has millions of followers, who, like those of his alter-ego Donald Trump, will always stand by him, through thick and thin, lawsuits and allegations, rants and hatefulness.

That blind (and dumb) loyalty has been the key to O’Reilly’s success for well over 20 years, and as long as there is narrow minded anger nervously itching for minorities and women to blame, there will be an audience for Bill (and Donald).

I never understood O’Reilly’s success. To me, he’s just a not particularly interesting pig and bigot who often seems to go on unstable tirades that make one hope he doesn’t have a gun handy. But hey, that’s just me.

I was unlucky enough to have two opportunities to see up close O’Reilly’s smugness and abusiveness.

We were both young journalists in Denver, Bill at KMGH-TV, me at the Denver Post. He is a bit older than I, and we were both starting our careers back in the late 70s. O’Reilly used to strut around town often with his fellow on-air reporter Joe Spencer. Both were tall, good-looking, self-assured guys. (Spencer, who I remember as a pretty nice guy, died in a helicopter crash in the mid 80s en route to cover a story about a meatpackers strike in southern Minnesota.)

I met O’Reilly on several occasions covering stories, though I am certain he has no recollection of me. After all, I was a lowly print journalist, and I wasn’t particularly tall.

I didn’t know him well, and his stay in Denver was brief, even briefer than mine, before he went out to conquer the new frontier of cable TV.

What I distinctly remember was his arrogance. He all but wore a sign on his chest saying “I’m more important than you,” and when he walked onto the site of a news story, there was a distinct moment where he seemed to be saying, “I’m here now. Look at me.”

So, I never liked O’Reilly personally and when he became a media superstar, I was amazed that the unpleasant traits I loathed appeared to be revered by millions.

As with Trump, I was genuinely baffled that so many people loved O’Reilly’s bombast and self-promotion. Having never been a self-promoter, and having always detested – yes, that’s the word – people who are all about themselves, I wondered, “who are the people who find this guy mesmerizing?”

But of course, his fans were legion, and wondering about his popularity, like wondering about Trump’s, is an exercise in the wasted pursuit of logic. A large segment of people looking for a vessel for their hatred love the O’Reillys and Trumps of the world. And always will.

I have to tread lightly about my other opportunity to learn up close about O’Reilly, since it came as a result of a brief “relationship” with someone who worked directly with him.

Very early on, she told me of O’Reilly’s frequent sexual advances. There was nothing ambiguous about them. They could not have been misinterpreted, assuming what she told me was accurate, as I believe it was.

It didn’t appear that her success was linked to succumbing to O’Reilly’s approaches, and I don’t know with certainty that she in fact gave in to him.

But from what she said, it was clear that playing the game with O’Reilly – smiling at his pathetic sexist jokes, laughing off his “harmless” frat boy pranks, being at his beck and call for his amusement – had a significant role in her continued success. He was not someone she wanted to piss off, that was obvious.

O’Reilly’s arrogance and debasement of women seemed to me to be so utterly obvious and offensive that I never thought anyone could think otherwise. But he thrived for years and it became well known that he, like his pussy-grabbing ally Trump, could get away with anything because they were, after all, celebrities.

One of the possible benefits to come from his departure is we will no longer be burdened by some of his regular clown car of on air sycophants. If this gets Don Imus ass-kisser Bernard McGuirk off the air, great. He’s just a dumber, louder version of O’Reilly. If this spares us from the perpetually unfunny and self-absorbed Dennis Miller, hooray. Unfortunately, it appears Jesse Watters, his man-on-the-street insult Mini Me will remain. (I tend to believe that who one surrounds himself with tells us a lot, and O’Reilly is surrounded by Neanderthals and narcissists.)

But Bill will still be here. Loud, angry, demeaning. And as with Trump, that will say more about those who support him than it does about the man himself.