Bill O’Reilly Sacked, Fox News Gets Off Free

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No matter where you stand on Bill O’Reilly—he’s a serial abuser who deserved his canning or he’s the subject of “a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America,” as his lawyer just put it—the underplayed story of the week is the easy ride being given to his bosses at Fox News Channel.

The network has known since at least 2002 of O’Reilly’s—what shall we call them?—appalling ways around the newsroom. According to the New York Times, which threw a saddle on O’Reilly in January and rode him down hard to his demise, Fox paid a small settlement to a junior producer whom he verbally berated at high volume. (She signed a confidentiality agreement and left the channel.) In 2004, an O’Reilly producer sued him and Fox for sexual harassment. He countersued and promised to fight the suit but settled, paying $9 million out of his own pocket. In 2011, he likewise settled with a Fox Business Network host who accused him of sexual harassment. In 2016, Fox News settled sexual harassment claims directed at O’Reilly by two additional former Fox News employees. Later that year, another Fox personality filed sexual harassment charges against the network, naming O’Reilly as one of her harassers.

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That’s a lot of money, and a lot of allegations. Yet the network waited until the Times assembled the full docket against O’Reilly before it finally took any measures against its popular prime-time host. Surely somebody at Fox, which was O’Reilly’s employer for 20 years, bears some culpability for his alleged conduct. The first somebody, of course, would be Roger Ailes, founder of the Murdoch-owned network, and the man who hired O’Reilly. But he’s not around anymore. Ailes was part of the executive suite that approved sexual harassment settlements in cases filed against him and O’Reilly, and last summer the network dumped him against a similar backdrop of harassment charges and settlements.

If Ailes and O’Reilly had to walk the plank, why not current Fox co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy? Shine figures in a sexual harassment suit filed against Ailes by current on-air personality Julie Roginsky, who claims the executive did not investigate her harassment complaint and then retaliated against her. Last year, Fox settled a sexual harassment complaint leveled against Abernethy and O’Reilly, Law Newz reported in January. Even if you assume their innocence—and I do—they had to know about the years-long pattern of accusations against O’Reilly and the settlements paid. And given the amount of money paid to protect O’Reilly against the charges, some drawn from the Fox treasury, surely uber-boss Rupert Murdoch knew what was going on. What’s his responsibility for waiting so long to take action? Moreover, what did Rupert’s son James Murdoch know? As Michael Wolff writes today, the network belongs to him now.

Double-speaking for itself Wednesday, Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox issued this brief statement: “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.” As my Politico colleagues wrote this morning, shouldn’t the thorough and careful review of the allegations have taken place long ago? The network, it’s worth mentioning, renewed O’Reilly’s contract in the same time frame that it was considering the allegations against him, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s neither thorough nor careful. That’s malarkey.

The corporate culture orchestrated by maestro Murdoch over the decades has traditionally shied away from doing the right thing—until he doesn’t have a choice. In 2011, Murdoch endured the charges of phone-hacking and bribery charges against his News of the World tabloid as long as he could and then stanched the damage by dramatically closing the entire paper. The sacking of O’Reilly follows that template: Resist, resist, resist, resist some more, and then fold to protect the core and live to transgress again. Also, take excellent care of the alleged transgressors. Ailes got $40 million from Murdoch on his way out. O’Reilly is said to be getting up to $25 million. Remember Murdoch executive Rebekah Brooks, who resigned over the phone-hacking scandal? Rupert hired her back.

If sexual harassment happened at Fox, it happened because Fox countenanced it, countenanced it some more, and then again. If the network is guilty, it denied women their rightful position in the workplace and by extension denied Fox viewers their best work. By paying settlements and winking about the settlements O’Reilly paid, did Fox put profits ahead of decency? Were settlements just another cost of doing business—like a capital expense?

One important thing to consider is that O’Reilly is a massively valuable national brand—his show reaped $446 million in ad revenue from 2014 through 2016. His loutishness, which he telegraphs with his leering and eye-rolling, is on-brand in a way that it wouldn’t be for other big TV names. If he did harass fellow employees—and I leave it to you how far the evidence and the settlement tilt toward that judgment—such workplace conduct would be consistent with his on-air persona: Blustering, insulting, domineering, duplicitous, bullying, egomaniacal and mendacious.

Down to the charges of sexual harassment, O’Reilly resembles our current president, a point made at length by Justin Peters in Slate. And like our president, he’s too stubborn and obstinate ever to surrender to his accusers. That’s not a chip you detect on his shoulder: It’s a boulder. O’Reilly’s infinite sense of aggrievement also help him connect his brand with his viewers, whose median age is 67. For many networks, the O’Reilly settlements would have been seen as a potential PR nightmare from the start. But Fox draws only fuel from attacks by the mainstream media, feminists and Slate writers–and it can afford a different calculus.

This week’s O’Reilly coverage has read like a giant Irish wake, but he’s not dead yet. Where he might have been content to retire in a couple of years, his sacking will only embolden him. The calls for an advertiser boycott of his show, which were successful, was only partly about the sexual harassment charges, as I recently wrote. His most ardent foes would oppose him with the same vigor if he became a saint. And for his most ardent fans? The sexual harassment charges, the scathing New York Times investigations, and the liberal boycotts will only Super Glue their relationship together. In their accounting, those attacks are a badge of honor.

So if the boycotters who drove off O’Reilly’s advertisers and scuppered his show want to gloat, they should get it out of their systems this week. Like Trump, O’Reilly connects on a visceral level with enough Americans to have produced a loyal audience. Like the Trump faithful, true O’Reilly devotees don’t care about sexual harassment charges. Hell, many don’t care about sexual harassment, period. They love him because he has captured and channeled their voice, and knocking him off Fox News won’t silence him. They’ll follow him. Without missing a beat, O’Reilly could regain his audience by taking his act to the 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. time slot at the Trump-friendly Sinclair Broadcasting chain, which owns more than 150 stations. In Sinclair-less markets, O’Reilly could syndicate the new show—call it O’Reilly Refactored.

I promise you. You’ll have Bill O’Reilly to kick around for a long time.

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Is O’Reilly educable? In 2003, I wrote of his habit of telling people to “shut up” on his show. He stopped doing it, but also denied that he had such a habit! Tell me to shut up via email: Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts make jokes about sexually harassing my Twitter feed, which has denounced my RSS feed for using hate speech.

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

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How Berkeley became a hotbed of violence in the Trump era

In canceling a planned speech by conservative author Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley, school officials made a startling admission Wednesday: they could not guarantee the safety of the controversial speaker or her crowd.

The university reversed its decision Thursday afternoon, but the about-face appeared unlikely to ease the tensions flaring since Donald Trump’s election. Coulter had vowed to speak anyway, and liberal activists were preparing to confront her and her supporters.

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The entire episode, which follows a February riot and a melee in the city Saturday, served as a jarring acknowledgment that Berkeley, a one-time cradle of anti-war protests and the Free Speech Movement, has emerged as the leading theater of protest violence in the Trump era.

While conservative and liberal activists have staged demonstrations and counter-demonstrations across the country in recent months, Berkeley has stood out for participants’ eagerness to brawl. In February, the university canceled a speech by former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos just hours before he was scheduled to speak, after demonstrators set fires, threw rocks and smashed windows.

Then, at a demonstration billed as a “free speech” rally by conservative activists Saturday, police arrested 20 people and confiscated dozens of weapons after fights broke out between rally-goers and counter-protesters, leaving people bloodied on both sides.

For anti-fascist groups who chased Yiannopoulos from the city, the announcement that Coulter’s appearance had been canceled was another mark of success. Inspired by disruptive tactics that helped curb an ascendant National Front in Britain in the 1970s, the protests are designed to demonstrate weakness in the alt-right’s ranks.

“They keep getting defeated over and over and over again,” said Yvette Felarca, an organizer of By Any Means Necessary, which confronted conservative activists in Berkeley on Saturday. “And I’m proud that Berkeley did it. … We have a history of standing up and fighting racism, and we have a history of putting into action the real principles of progress and democracy.”

Yet mainstream conservatives and liberals alike viewed the volatility in Berkeley with trepidation, fearing their causes would be co-opted by fringe elements on either side. The conflict has already reverberated in Washington, where Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from the university after the decision to cancel Yiannopoulos’ address.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” the president wrote on Twitter last month.

The eruption of violence in the Trump era is not unique to Berkeley, with a skirmish farther south in Huntington Beach in March and stabbings at a rally in Sacramento last year. But the city’s famously liberal politics serves as a ready target for conservatives seeking conflict, while counter-protesters benefit from an abundance of far-left activists steeped in the practices of the World Trade Organization protests, Occupy and Black Lives Matter.

“These are just manifestations of a broader, radical left milieu,” said Mark Bray, a visiting professor at Dartmouth University and author of the book, “Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street.” “The Berkeley protest from the other day represents an escalation in the conflict … It’s not just a game.”

If agitators in Berkeley are intent on physical confrontation, Bray, who worked as an organizer in the Occupy movement, attributed part of the protests’ escalation to a local police force leery to trample crowds.

“Something like what happened in Berkeley would just never happen in New York because the police there … give little leeway on either side,” Bray said.

In a post-incident memo this week to Berkeley’s city manager and council members, the city’s police chief, Andrew Greenwood, said officials made 20 arrests, confiscated dozens of weapons and responded to 11 injuries. But he also said police sought “to not get swept into the volatility of the crowd.”

“A fight within a volatile crowd is not a simple matter in which to intervene,” he wrote. “Intervening on intermixed groups of armed participants fighting or eager to fight presents challenges. Intervention requires a major commitment of resources, a significant use of force, and carries with it the strong likelihood of harming those who are not committing a crime.”

In a prepared statement following the demonstration Saturday, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin lamented “outside groups” that “chose Berkeley as the location for a confrontation with intentions to create violence.” Yet while protesters arrived from as far away as Missouri, three-quarters of the people arrested were from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Levi Romero, a member of the pro-Trump group Proud Boys, said after being arrested on a charge of battery that he did not go to the rally to pick a fight, but “there was this one huge woman, I had to shove her out of my way to get to safety.”

“They’re saying get rid of us by any means necessary,” said Romero, 23, of Palmdale. “We’re tired of getting pushed around.”

John Beavers, a Trump supporter who said he was hit with brass knuckles and suffered a broken nose and split lip, suggested such a level of violence would not be tolerated in other states.

“The difference between California and here,” he said from his home state of Washington, “here and in other states, it’s concealed carry, and I guarantee you if you hit somebody with brass knuckles, people will shoot you.”

Michael Heaney, a political sociologist at the University of Michigan who surveyed participants at protests during the election and earlier this year, said the proportion of activists who favor violence at political rallies is so small that at most larger gatherings “the peaceful people win out in the balance.”

“It’s at the bigger protests where you’re less likely to see violence, because the peaceful people, they just take up all the space,” he said.

But at recent, relatively small demonstrations in Berkeley, Heaney said, “Basically, you had small crowds of extremists, and you had small crowds of extremists on both sides.”

Following the latest incident, city officials reported minimal property damage and said no bystanders were injured, though a weekly farmers market was canceled in anticipation of the violence.

Bob Mulholland, a Democratic strategist in California, said the effect of a restrained conflict is “good for the system … as long as it doesn’t get way out of hand.” Protests that spark conflict draw media attention, he said, potentially inspiring viewers to engage in politics.

But the history of conflict in Berkeley is also fraught with political peril. Amid sit-ins at the campus during the Free Speech Movement, Ronald Reagan defeated then-Gov. Pat Brown in part by harnessing middle-class anger over protests at what Reagan called a “hotbed of communism and homosexuality.”

Decades later, some longtime observers of Berkeley’s protest culture fear escalating violence could now undercut the left’s own cause.

“They have this incredible ideology which somehow conflates smashing windows with bringing down the state,” said Lynne Hollander Savio, the widow of Mario Savio, one of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement. “The protests in the early ‘60s were never like this, and even the anti-Vietnam War marches, where you had more physical interaction, were not, I don’t think, as mindless … There’s something very creepy about these people, the black-masked people.”

Some conservative activists said they worry about fringe elements on their side, too, even as many of them prepare to return to the Bay Area for Coulter’s appearance next week.

“They’re all trying to co-opt … they’re trying to drive the bus,” said Stewart Rhodes, founder of the militia group Oath Keepers.

“We’re going to have to be vastly more militant in kicking [white nationalists] out,” Rhodes said, while adding that his opponents on the left “can’t be tolerant of people that want to burn the First Amendment to the ground.”

On Thursday afternoon, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks offered an alternative venue for Coulter in May, while warning that her plan to speak on the campus next week “without regard for the fact that we don’t have a protectable venue available on that date is of grave concern.”

“Our police department has made it clear that they have very specific intelligence regarding threats that could pose a grave danger to the speaker, attendees and those who may wish to lawfully protest the event,” he said in a prepared statement. “At the same time, we respect and support Ms. Coulter’s own First Amendment rights.”

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DOJ official leading Trump-Russia probe to step down

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A former Justice Department official who worked with Mary McCord said he didn’t expect her departure to throw the investigation off-course. | Getty

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The Justice Department official who is leading the government’s investigation into potential collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government will step down next month.

Mary McCord, who has served as acting assistant attorney general for national security since October, informed DOJ employees this week that she will be leaving in mid-May, a spokesman confirmed to POLITICO.

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DOJ’s National Security Division is leading the agency’s inquiry into possible links between Trump campaign aides and Moscow, as well as the Kremlin’s alleged digital meddling campaign during the 2016 presidential race.

FBI Director James Comey confirmed the counterintelligence operation during a March hearing on Capitol Hill.

A former Justice Department official who worked with McCord said he didn’t expect her departure to throw the investigation off-course.

“I don’t think there’ll be tremendous disruption in terms of NSD’s interface with the FBI and its ability to carry out the investigation,” the former official said.

But, they added, it is important to have “somebody of significant seniority” who can “run interference” on “any sticking points or other controversial matters that arise in the Russia investigation.”

“You sometimes need somebody who can step in at a senior level and firmly plant their feet in the ground and say, ‘Here is the position of the National Security Division,'” the former official said.

McCord replaced John Carlin, an Obama administration appointee who retired on Oct. 15. It is not yet known who will succeed her. There are four deputy assistant attorneys general, each of whom oversees a different part of the NSD’s portfolio.

The former DOJ official said the Russia probe is “the type of matter that is cross-cutting and is going to likely involve all of the deputies in the National Security Division.”

During her brief tenure as head of the NSD, McCord oversaw the indictments of four alleged Yahoo hackers and multiple botnet takedowns.

The Intercept first reported McCord’s departure. NPR later reported that, in a note to her staff, McCord said, “The time is now right for me to pursue new career opportunities.”

McCord initially joined the National Security Division in 2014, after spending nearly 20 years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, where she eventually became head of the criminal division.

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Emails show O’Reilly lawyers’ last-ditch effort to save his job

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Bill O’Reilly’s legal team debated whether to share with the leadership of parent company 21st Century Fox an email from a Democratic fundraiser. | AP Photo

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.”

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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.

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Chaffetz says ‘absolutely’ no scandal is forcing him out

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Asked if he is resigning because of a yet-to-be revealed scandal, Jason Chaffetz said, “Absolutely, positively not. | Getty

The Utah Republican said in an interview that he planned to stay in office for at least several more months.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz — who shocked the political establishment when he announced his retirement earlier this week — said that he has already started looking for post-congressional employment, and hopes to serve on boards of directors and link up with a television network.

“I started poking around to see what I might be worth and what sort of possibilities are there,” Chaffetz said in a phone interview with POLITICO Thursday afternoon. “And I got a series of ‘Let us know when you’re serious.’ Well now I can say, ‘Can you tell I am serious?’… I’ll take a little bit of time to sort out. I’d be thrilled to have a television relationship. But there’s a number of things I’d like to do.”

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Chaffetz, 50, is leaving a high-profile perch. He is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — the top investigatory body in the chamber. He was first elected to the House in 2008, and signaled to reporters that he would stay in Washington until he reached his term limit atop the committee.

But a series of strange events unfolded over the past few days. He first announced in a Facebook post that he wouldn’t run for any office in 2018, and now, he is saying that he might leave Congress in the next couple of months.

“I might depart early,” he said in the interview. “It’s not tomorrow, it’s not next week. If it is, it’s going to be in the months to come.”

Asked if he is resigning because of a yet-to-be revealed scandal, Chaffetz said, “Absolutely, positively not.

“Not in any way shape or form,” he said. “I’ve been given more enemas by more people over the last eight years than you can possibly imagine. From the Secret Service to the Democratic Party. I am who I am. If they had something really scandalous, it would’ve come out a long, long time ago.”

But Chaffetz said his political career might not be over. The governor’s mansion in Salt Lake City opens up in 2020, and Chaffetz’s political team has begun snapping up URLs associated with potential future runs.

“I’m preventing the cybersquatters and I’ve also said that potentially I might get back into politics at a later date,” he said. “I want to keep those doors open. I’m not closing any potential future run.”

For now, he said he’s taking things as they come.

“I don’t know exactly where these winds are going to take me,” he said. “I just know that I wanted to explore those. And by making the announcement early, it helps on several fronts. I can pursue those opportunities and see what is out there. And also gives potential candidates for my seat time to gear up in terms of money, policy and building a grassroots organization. And I’m just being candid with people.”

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