By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Bill O'Reilly has signed up for another tour of duty at Fox News, saying that he decided "to put myself through all the attacks and smears" for several more years.
The pugnacious pundit said that he signed the contract despite what he sees as a constant assault on his reputation. "I couldn't care less whether the establishment media respect me," he said yesterday in an interview. "I feel they're corrupt. They, I'm sure, resent me feeling that way."
Fox is expected to formally announce the four-year deal today, and the decision by O'Reilly -- who will be paid more than $10 million a year -- was not unexpected. After re-signing Sean Hannity and luring Glenn Beck from CNN's Headline News in the past two weeks, Fox has solidified a right-leaning lineup that has kept the channel's ratings well ahead of its rivals'.
"The O'Reilly Factor" has been the top-rated program in cable news for nearly eight years, with the host's high-decibel commentary generating both loyal fans and fervent critics. The program has been averaging more than 4 million viewers nightly since last month -- an unheard-of figure in that corner of the cable world.
O'Reilly said he will probably give up his syndicated radio show, which has been far less successful than his television program. "My duties at Fox are expanding," he said, adding: "I just can't work 60 hours a week."
Although O'Reilly, 59, openly disdains the mainstream media, they also provide him with a target that he delights in pummeling night after night. On Monday, for instance, he warned that "fair-minded Americans might have something to fear if hard-core leftists gain control of the government in two weeks. They already control the [New York] Times, NBC News and other powerful media."
Sen. Barack Obama recently told the New York Times Magazine that he would be two or three points higher in the polls were it not for Fox News, which, he said, portrays him as "the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal."
In a contentious interview with Obama last month, O'Reilly kept interrupting to challenge the Democratic nominee's tax plan, saying: "You want 50 percent of my success. . . . That's class warfare." But the Obama camp seemed pleased with the session, the first part of which aired on the night that John McCain gave his acceptance speech at the Republican convention.
Afterward, O'Reilly said, he told Obama that "if you have a beef with Fox in the news coverage area, if you feel you're being treated unfairly, please call me directly." He said that Obama's comments "might be just to rev the base up."
One Obama aide spoke with O'Reilly this week and expressed concern about Fox's heavy focus on the candidate's reported ties to onetime terrorist William Ayers and the organizing group ACORN, which has been accused of registering bogus voters in several states.
O'Reilly occasionally blows up on the air, whether at colleagues such as Geraldo Rivera or at politicians who enter the so-called No Spin Zone. This month, he repeatedly shouted at Rep. Barney Frank while arguing that the Massachusetts Democrat is partially responsible for the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and at one point demanded: "Come on, you coward. Say the truth." Frank shot back that the problem with going on the show was that "you start ranting, and the only way to respond is almost to look as boorish as you."
O'Reilly allowed yesterday that he might have gone too far, but he said he grew frustrated with Frank's answers. "I could see how people could say it was over the line," O'Reilly said. He added that he hasn't had to pay for a meal since then because small-restaurant owners liked the assault on Frank so much that they keep treating him.
"Other people say I'm a barbarian," he admitted.
O'Reilly's outsize persona has become part of pop culture. His new memoir, "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity," is No. 4 on the Times bestseller list, and O'Reilly said it could become the biggest of his five adult nonfiction books.
A video of an expletive-filled scolding of his staff when O'Reilly hosted "Inside Edition" has been viewed on YouTube more than 3.6 million times and has been set to rap music. O'Reilly contends that someone -- he would not say who -- was paid to leak the footage "in an attempt to demean and diminish me. . . . It's a pretty nasty game."
O'Reilly said that by early next year, he would probably give up his radio show, which is syndicated by Westwood One, but that he hopes to maintain a presence on radio -- perhaps by recording his "talking points memo" commentaries. "The Radio Factor" has had mixed ratings and was recently dropped in the Washington market.
Asked how long he would stay in the nightly cable wars, O'Reilly said: "I'm not going to be Andy Rooney, much as I respect him. There comes a point where what you're doing isn't worth it anymore. I don't need any money."