Column: What I Know About Bill O’Reilly


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Editor’s Note: The following testimonial was contributed by Steve Cohen, who is not only News Director of KUSI-TV in San Diego, but a close friend and former colleague of Bill O’Reilly. The views expressed here are his alone and provide a different point of view from much of what we have seen of late about the Fox News host.

Bill O’Reilly is the current target of the mainstream media, the left, and a coterie of pundits who do not like him. The New York Times made it so, reporting on settlements by Fox News and O’Reilly with female colleagues, who claimed he had harassed them.

By now O’Reilly has been arraigned, tried, and found guilty, with no due process, in the artificial court of public opinion. The cases were settled, of course, with no admission of guilt by either Fox or O’Reilly, and with the requirement that the parties would not speak about the case. O’Reilly seems to have honored his legal commitments, but it’s evident that certain unnamed sources have not. The result has been the repetition of allegations that are all unproven.

Unlike Bill O’Reilly’s detractors, I actually know the man. I have been his boss, colleague and friend for over 40 years. He is not as portrayed, and he does not fit the canard that the American liberal establishment has thrust upon him.

That stereotype is that white men of independent or conservative thought, who work at Fox News, are by nature and inclination, homophobic and misogynist. This is not O’Reilly, and never has been. He has not had a single human resources complaint or charge brought against him in more than 40 years of work in the broadcast business, until now. That is not to say he has not been admonished, including by me, for being too tough on writers, displaying anger at incompetence, or being less than empathic during a hectic day of preparing for broadcasts. But, none of that had anything to do with sexuality.

When we first met in Boston, I was running a local newsroom, in the late 1970’s. He had finished his studies at Boston University and was well on his way as reporter. He was driven by his own ambition, but it was filled with purpose, to get to the truth of things, fearlessly. He was preternaturally lower middle class — more Breslin than Buckley. And the values that went with that were just as obvious: his faith, respect for people who had something to offer, and a desire to poke at the powerful.

It did not take long for us both to wind up in New York. I was running WCBS, America’s largest and arguably most prestigious local newsroom. It was a time when newsrooms were filled with intramural dating, some philandering, and hard partying away from work. None of this was on O’Reilly’s top 20 list. He pushed hard for the toughest assignments, often with complexity, and never said no to any shift or assignment. And he had a stamina that was reminiscent of his days on the NY Monarchs baseball team, where the coach had to order him to get off the practice field.

Women in those newsrooms were formidable. Whether it was Meredith Vieira or Linda Ellerbee in New York, or Connie Chung in Los Angeles, they often were the fulcrum of entire broadcasts. O’Reilly, John Stossel, and Lester Holt all walked the halls of that WCBS newsroom, and they were all gentlemen. They were acculturated in the emerging newsrooms embedded with women as hard hitting and resilient as they were.

I next encountered Bill O’Reilly in Los Angeles, when I ran an independent newsroom there. He had an idea for a late-night news program that would capture the events of the day with a special twist, unlike the network offerings. It was The Factor, waiting to be unleashed. Fortunately for Bill, as it turns out, I could not get the program launched.

But the leaders at Fox News Channel could, and the fully realized O’Reilly emerged. Still, he was never so consumed by his life and rising star that he did not have time to offer help to an old friend. When my son died in an auto crash, the very year he sealed the Fox deal, he called to offer his prayers and condolences.

There is no question that Bill was surrounded by women of intelligence, meritorious communicators, with dreams of their own. And, Bill O’Reilly now had the allure of perceived power, money and fame. But to believe that he used any of it as a quid pro quo for any carnal activity is absurd.

There is no pattern of such behavior. There is no proof. Nowhere is there a record or admission of guilt in any of it. And certainly the reporters who so gleefully have targeted O’Reilly might have considered calling some character witnesses to their show trials. They saw no reason to trace a pattern of behavior, weigh in on his character, his speech, or the impact of any of it on his career, or his children.

If they had, they would have learned Bill O’Reilly hates injustice, ignorance, stupidity, and intellectual cowardice. And he despises the powerful picking on the regular folks, of which he still sees himself as a kindred spirit. This man can handle being a target, the raw unfairness of it. He fights bullies; he is not one. It is his intellect that brought him to be a successful author, his drive that keeps him in first place, and an inherent sense of fairness that drives him forward.

O’Reilly’s advertisers exhibited a misunderstanding of his viewers. His public knows it is a set up. They would embrace companies that stand by him, not reject them. For whatever else Bill O’Reilly might be, he is not this demon. He is but a kid from Levittown who through smarts and hard work got to say what is on his mind, to millions every night.

This is the Bill O’ Reilly I know.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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