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O’Reilly in Exile

Just a few days since he was forced out from Fox News, the host returns with a new podcast. Can he bring his audience to the format?

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

"Hey, I missed you guys," Bill O’Reilly said Monday night. His voice was familiar — prickly and without charm. But the words emanated from No Spin News, a podcast on O’Reilly’s website. This is where he has taken refuge after being pushed out of Fox News after The New York Times reported that he and the network have spent $13 million since 2002 to settle claims brought by five women for sexual harassment and other sins. Of all the upheaval that happened in cable news last week, the most shocking news might be this: Bill O’Reilly is primarily a podcaster now.

It makes a weird kind of sense. When podcasting was in its first wave, its practitioners were people who lacked the golden throat for radio or the hairdo for TV. Now, many of the people flowing into podcasting are male media stars (Tony Kornheiser, say) who are tired of the constraints of the MSM, or else have been booted out of it outright. They see the podcast as a digital man cave without the PC bullcrap.

The news everyone wants to know is what O’Reilly had to say about his ouster from Fox. Unfortunately, O’Reilly didn’t say much on Monday. "I don’t know if you’re going to be surprised," he said. "But I think you’re going to be shaken, as I am." O’Reilly promised the truth would emerge, perhaps in a later podcast. That kind of tease is the best evidence O’Reilly has mastered the podcasting medium.

No Spin News is an analogue of O’Reilly’s TV show: a brisk news digest for people who like being terrified or pissed off. O’Reilly talked about his recent Italian getaway ("great vacation"), where he was struck by the number of armed military types surrounding the country’s tourist attractions. He blamed the show of force — of course — on Islamic terrorism. "Europe has changed, and it’s a scary thing," he said.

As he did on The O’Reilly Factor, the host continued to throw lead blocks for his pal Donald Trump. Sure, Trump was polling in the low 40s, a record low for an administration at such an early stage. But the mainstream media, he said, "deceive … on a daily basis." And given the media’s all-out assault on Trump, "for him to poll in the low 40s favorable isn’t that bad!" It was a weak defense, even for a Trump apparatchik.

So was O’Reilly’s insistence that Trump’s tax cut is "really the key to Donald Trump’s whole presidency"; it’s a move that actually seems like the basic test of competence for a GOP president with a friendly Congress.

Finally, O’Reilly took a swing at Barack Obama, who emerged from his own vacation Monday to engage in "discussions" with youth leaders in Chicago. "OK, does anybody out there think anything is ever going to happen from these discussions?" O’Reilly said. "Anyone?" This — along with his reading of a poll showing that Trump would still beat Hillary Clinton if the election were rerun today — confirms that O’Reilly has not lost his gift for fighting the last war. Or the last two wars. His next book should be called Killing Democrats Who Already Left Office.

So No Spin News was The O’Reilly Factor without pictures. But O’Reilly has already adopted podcasting’s cheerful lack of professionalism. "What else do we have to tell you?" he said at one point, groping for his next topic. "Oh, I want to read more mail. I almost lost my train of thought there." O’Reilly made allowances for the age of his listeners (his average Fox viewer was 72), who might be new to the digital world. A podcast, O’Reilly explained, is "not appointment viewing as television is, although you’ve got the DVRs and all that."

O’Reilly’s website — it was my first visit — is a Walmart superstore where you can buy a copy of the Bill of Rights or a "Patriots Welcome" doormat, and educate yourself with the Factor Words of the Day. ("Sciolistic: possessing knowledge that is only very superficial.") It wouldn’t be an O’Reilly production — or a pod — without plugging the merch. After a tour of the news, O’Reilly read some fan questions that had the same commercially suspicious timing as the questions that appear in Parade magazine. One asked about the future of premium memberships on the site. "Premium membership is skyrocketing," O’Reilly said with Trumpian gusto. He plugged upcoming live events in Anaheim, California, and Las Vegas. "VIP seats sold out in Caesars Palace already, wow." His book Old School: Life in the Sane Lane is "number one all over the place."

On Monday, the pod clocked in at just over 19 minutes. It was essentially a supersized version of the "Talking Points Memo" segment of his old show. But O’Reilly promised the pod would grow with time. He’d soon have "guests and things like that, and this will become longer and longer and longer."

O’Reilly is one of the giants of TV whose power vanished the second he left the soundstage. The crotchety small ball he plays no longer fronts a show with $100 million in annual revenue. It’s just small ball. Did you hear what Ann Coulter went through with the snowflakes at Berkeley? Can the biased MSM ever be stopped? At one point, O’Reilly admitted he didn’t know exactly what would be in the tax plan Trump was unveiling this week. But: "We are working it." O’Reilly sounded like the administrator of a conservative message board.

Earlier this month, The New York Times had a story about how O’Reilly responded last fall when Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor, talked about the network’s culture of harassment. "If you don’t like what’s happening in the workplace, go to human resources or leave," O’Reilly said on The Factor — a subtweet aimed squarely at Kelly. She did exactly that, leaving the network of her own accord in January, unlike O’Reilly, whose exit was hardly voluntary.

Bill O’Reilly is a podcaster now. To a man used to the pleasures of TV, No Spin News is a comfortable, terrible exile.