The Bill O’Reilly Firing Aftermath: How Have Things Changed?
Following last week’s bombshell firing of Bill O’Reilly, the world of cable news — Fox News in particular — is a stranger, less-ordered place without its patriarch on top. The pieces on the board have all been moved around, and no one is quite sure how everything will settle.
Let’s take a look at what’s new and different in the S.P.O.R.E. (Strange Post-O’Reilly Era):
Most prominently, Tucker Carlson has assumed O’Reilly’s former time slot at 8 p.m., considered by many to be the most valuable real estate in cable news. His show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, will air for the first time at that hour tonight (Apr. 24).
Carlson’s first guest? None other than Caitlyn Jenner, a frequent target of O’Reilly’s ever since she came out as a transgender woman in 2015. Jenner, like Carlson, was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign, so perhaps the interview will focus on the new president’s first 100 days in office.
However, Carlson has a troubling history of interviewing transgender women. In February he had Jillian Weiss, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, on his program and said to her, “I’m a 47-year-old man, I think that’s pretty obvious. If I were to decide tomorrow [that] I were a 47-year-old woman, should I be allowed to go shower [in the] women’s locker room?”
Weiss responded like this:
The idea that there [are] no objective factors to be considered in who is transgender and how we determine bathroom use is really not the way that this works. The fact is that people make this decision after a lot of serious consideration. They see medical doctors, there [are] psychologists involved. There’s a lot to think about. It’s not an easy process. As someone who’s gone through that, I can tell you [you] just don’t decide tomorrow. That’s really not the way it works.
We’ll soon see if Carlson has taken Weiss’s words to heart, but odds of his being any more enlightened now that he’s in Bill O’Reilly’s old chair are pretty slim.
Taking Carlson’s former 9 p.m. slot is The Five, a group talk show that had been airing at 5 in the afternoon. The program has a rotating cast featuring Eric Bolling, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Greg Gutfeld, Dana Perino, Bob Beckel and Juan Williams discussing the political issues of the day. It’s a bit of a risk for Fox, because while the show was popular in the daytime, there’s no telling whether this kind of format — with a cast lacking star power — can flourish in prime time.
Can O’Reilly’s stunning downfall bring about massive changes outside Fox, though? This is much harder to tell.
CNN and MSNBC, Fox News’s chief rivals, have, like Fox, seen big ratings bumps since Trump took office — but they’re still miles behind. While there may be only a slight chance that Carlson can exceed or even match O’Reilly’s ratings, it’s much harder to foresee any CNN or MSNBC show claiming the No. 1 spot — a perch owned by The O’Reilly Factor for 15 years.
MSNBC’s 9 p.m. offering, The Rachel Maddow Show, has averaged 2.4 million viewers a night in 2017, putting it in fourth place behind the 8, 9 and 10 o’clock shows on Fox in the primetime ratings race, and way short of the 4 million average for O’Reilly’s now-defunct program. It seems fairly obvious that O’Reilly’s former viewers won’t be jumping over to MSNBC now that he’s gone, but it’s likely some of them will resent O’Reilly’s firing and tune out of cable news altogether.
Things won’t be the same without the man Stephen Colbert called Papa Bear. Younger viewers in particular, and the broader age 25–54 demographic advertisers covet, watch more MSNBC and CNN, while older viewers prefer Fox. (Fox maintains an overall lead among all ages, but that advantage diminishes the younger the age group gets.) That dynamic seems unlikely to switch, and may even exacerbate with such a polarizing figure in the White House.
As for O’Reilly himself, how is he handling the S.P.O.R.E.? We’ll find out quite soon, as he’s set to return tonight, actually, albeit in mere podcast form. “The No Spin Show returns — 7 p.m. Eastern” reads a banner on his website. No doubt O’Reilly will kick off the show with a heartfelt mea culpa, promising that he’s learned his lesson and will treat women like human beings from now on.
Well, probably not, but at least he won’t be screaming at us on TV anymore.
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