Bill O’Reilly was present at Fox News Channel’s creation, with his show originally airing as
The O’Reilly Report. A veteran local-station and network newsman and anchor, O’Reilly
turned around the floundering syndicated newsmagazine Inside Edition before attending
Harvard University and then joining FNC, where his smarts, toughness and strong opinions
have turned the show, since renamed The O’Reilly Factor, into cable news’ top-rated
show since March 2001. O’Reilly, in a recent interview with Multichannel News online editor
Mike Reynolds, looked back at what has made the Factor into a TV icon, FNC’s perch
atop the cable news sector, what lies ahead in the November election and his future.
MCN: To what depth has the network
succeeded on the principles laid out by
Roger Ailes’ initial mission statement of
attracting more viewers by presenting facts,
by being fair and balanced?
Bill O’Reilly: I see a huge difference between
Fox News’ presentation and the presentation
on our competition, CNN and
MSNBC and Headline News. And the difference
is basically more authenticity. You
know on one network you’re getting a very
strong, left-wing, partisan approach, which
is fine, they can do what they want. And
then the other, you’re getting the traditional,
trying to be middle of the road, but a culture
that is much more liberal than traditional.
And I think that as far as the facts are concerned,
there’s not much difference between
CNN and Fox. And MSNBC doesn’t really deal
in facts, so we don’t take them …
O’Reilly: I’m not saying that disparagingly;
they just don’t do it. They don’t have a Sheppard
Smith broadcast, they don’t have a
Bret Baier broadcast, they don’t have news
blocks throughout the day. And they don’t
have correspondents of their own; they borrow
There’s no real difference in the factual presentation
between Fox and CNN. It’s what stories
you cover, what you feel is interesting to
your audience. And there is where Roger
Ailes’ philosophy comes into play. It’s story
MCN: Do you think many see you as the
face, voice of the Fox News Channel?
O’Reilly: I know I’m famous and all of that
and, usually, the big mouths get the attention
and certainly I’m a big mouth. But I
don’t really look at it like I’m the face of the
network or anything like that. What I try to
do is deliver a good program so that people
will watch it, so we’ll get high ratings and the network will prosper. I mean it’s just a
simple business proposition.
MCN: The O’Reilly Factor has been the
top cable news show for 134 consecutive
months. How do you explain your success?
O’Reilly: I’m a very competitive guy, so I
want to win and by a huge margin. I remember
early on, I was competing against Chris
Matthews’ Hardball on MSNBC at 8 p.m.,
and I said, “We’re going to beat this guy.
We’re going right after him.”
And they looked at me askance because
we only had, at that point, maybe 50 million
subscribers. We just didn’t have a lot of eyeballs
available to us. I said, “Well, we’re going
to beat them.” I targeted them and I targeted
Larry King in the sense that I saw his rating
[and said], “We can do higher than that.” I am
a competitive guy.
It’s not enough just to win the night. We have
to win the night decisively. And we’ve been
lucky enough to do it primarily because we are
focused on and know what the audience likes.
But we don’t pander to the audience.
And if you lose a few, you lose a few. But that
has added to our success. And we’ve broadened
it out so that I think anybody can enjoy the program.
You don’t have to be a conservative or a
liberal or an independent. It’s just entertaining
and informative on its own merits.
MCN: Are you surprised that Fox News
Channel beat CNN after its first five years?
O’Reilly: I mean, it was all a matter of getting
the channel into the homes and having people
sample. You know, I’m a fairly confident,
MCN: I know.
O’Reilly: I took over a show called Inside Edition
that was going down the drain. They fired
David Frost three weeks after he took over and
they looked at me and they said, “We’re going
to lose $50 million dollars; can you turn
it around?” And I said, “Maybe. You know, it
depends on how much money you’re going to
sink into it and how much latitude you’re going
give me.” And I said, “I’ll take it over, but
I have to write everything, including the promos,
and get out of my way.” And we turned
that around; and that show is still on the air.
So I’ve always been confident that I can deliver
a product that Americans can respond to.
And I don’t change the product. If we have a bad
night on Thursday, I’m not changing it on Friday.
We get a game plan, we get good people — I only
have 15, but they’re like Navy SEALs — we execute
it in a very, disciplined manner.
So I’m not surprised that the Fox News
Channel has succeeded; I think it’s been a
very disciplined operation. I think they know
that the traditional audience, which is enormous,
was underserved so Roger and the guys
came up with a formula, “We’re going to be respectful
toward traditional and conservative
Americans, not sneering and not demeaning.
And just that tone will bring them in, and then
we’ll give them a product that they feel is worthy.”
And that’s what happened.
MCN: Do you think there will be a second
O’Reilly: Impossible to say, because the economics
will dictate how uneasy the voters feel.
If the voter in November feels insecure, then
Obama will lose. It really doesn’t matter who
runs against him. But if things get better and
there’s optimism in the air, then the president
could very well win because he’s a very, very
good campaigner. And Americans still like
MCN: Your contract is up at the end of this
year. How much longer do you see yourself
O’Reilly: We’ll see what happens.