Keith Olbermann Details Feud With Bill O’Reilly, Warns of ‘Billo’ Comeback

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SASHA MASLOV/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

Don’t assume this is Bill O’Reilly’s Last Loofah.

Obviously, nothing would please me more than to be wrong about that. But everything from industry gossip to his own angry farewell statement to the tectonic changes in video news consumption implies that I’m not.

If he wants one, he’ll get another show.

About 15 months ago there was a rumor going around the news business that the younger Murdochs had reached the tipping point with Billo and would let him go, and that just as quickly one of the other cable news operations would pick him up. After the most successful sponsor boycott since the stampede away from Don Imus in 2007, that scenario seems less likely but hardly impossible. Imus himself was back on the fringes of cable within eight months, and two years after that he was doing his same old show on Fox Business Channel. That lasted six more years.

Even if those incongruously released emails revealed that behind the scenes O’Reilly was belligerent and condescending and had to be dragged crying and screaming to the gallows, he was publicly polite to Fox in the kind of way I know from personal experience only a gigantic payout can ensure. His otherwise bitchy little statement put out after Fox pulled the plug (and presumably after the Pope failed to intervene on his behalf) included something O’Reilly has emphasized in every program and public appearance he’s ever made — a boast about the size of his ratings. It blamed “unfounded claims” and the “unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.” It thanked “all my dedicated viewers.” None of this was in the past tense.

Even if he’s too radioactive to leap on to MSNBC just at the moment (don’t laugh; they just hired Greta Van Susteren. They once hired Rita Cosby), he doesn’t need to. He can just make up his own network. I did.

Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump watch the Yankees play the Twins in 2009. O’Reilly was a frequent visitor to Yankee Stadium. JUSTIN LANE/EPA/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

I thought I had an idea of the changing landscape when I decided to return to politics and news a year ago. As somebody who only half-kiddingly used to join my producers in referring to the daily 4 p.m. release of the prior night’s Nielsen Ratings as “crack,” I thought it was odd that the cable news audience numbers of 2016 were struggling to stay competitive with what the same outlets had produced in 2012, and exhibited existential-threat levels compared to 2008, even with the addition of the out-of-control firehouse that was the Trump campaign. Where were those viewers? Where are they now as the cable execs trumpet huge growth without emphasizing that it’s growth from 2015, a year so bad that most of the moguls (even at Fox) probably thought about switching over to cartoons and zombie shows?

They’re watching all the stuff we’re all doing online. “The Resistance” commentaries I’m doing for GQ? The numbers fluctuate but they’re averaging well north of 3.5 million views each. On his final Monday night O’Reilly had 3.15 million viewers and the average audience of CNN and MSNBC combined was just over 2.7 million. Are these things Apples and Oranges? In many pertinent ways: Yes. And all of a sudden the polarities have reversed and you can sell a lot more News Apples than you can sell News Oranges, and O’Reilly was damned good at selling News Oranges.

Is he going to make somebody a profit of $100 million a year, as he was supposedly personally doing for Murdoch? No. Is anybody going to pay him $18 million a year again? No. On the other hand, if you have been making $18 million a year for more than a few hours, and you haven’t banked enough of it and you don’t like the work enough to do it for its own sake in an entirely different economic reality — to hell with you.

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And this calculus doesn’t even include that reported $25 million payout. That would have been more if Fox hadn’t inserted into his contract tougher language about sexual harassment claims — past, present, or future — as reported by The New York Times. Otherwise, as in the Brian Williams fiasco at NBC, Fox likely would have had to pay O’Reilly every dime of his deal because you can’t fire somebody for cause if you’ve known about the cause forever and didn’t do anything about it. The contract-to-end-all-contracts that the public generally knows under the benign euphemism “mutual agreement” might include a non-compete clause, but no non-compete clause is forever.

If O’Reilly wants it, he can keep his platform. Keep it? What am I saying? If my experience is any guide he can grow it. How many people would watch an O’Reilly commentary — which is what those saccharin “Talking Points Memos” are — every night, on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and some dedicated home-base site? The revenue streams are still fluid (sooner or later, they’ll work themselves out) but I can guarantee you his online audience would be a multiple of the one he had at Fox.

I still get asked if the nearly 10 years (over two terms) I spent gleefully clubbing O’Reilly over the head every night on MSNBC was some kind of publicity stunt or upwards punch or forged rivalry or all three. While on any given night during the cable wars of the ’00s those descriptions might have fit, it was and is my sincere belief that Bill O’Reilly was and is a danger to the democracy. The same chest-thumping, thinly veiled attitude of white superiority, and the subtle undercurrent that if O’Reilly said it should be 1962 again then God Damn It, it was 1962 again, presaged his only public friend Trump’s election. Beyond that, the more we see a president try to operate while his frontal lobe is melting and he’s struggling to remember exactly what he just saw on Fox, the more I’m convinced Trump’s worldview (or more accurately, his worldblink) is based on half-baked ideas O’Reilly threw out over free milkshakes they got in their free seats at Yankee Stadium.

“It was and is my sincere belief that Bill O’Reilly was and is a danger to the democracy.”
Keith Olbermann

I hate to say I told you so on O’Reilly, but I sure as hell did tell you, and on two fronts. And I began bringing up his semi-fascist tone in 1998 during my first tenure at MSNBC (“The Big Show,” “The White House in Crisis”) which led once to O’Reilly going on his show and hilariously and deliberately mispronouncing my name to indicate how little I meant to him. To my knowledge he never said it again on radio or television — incorrectly or otherwise — but memorably in 2006 he threatened a caller to a radio program who had mentioned me by telling him “we have your phone number, and we’re going to turn it over to Fox security, and you’ll be getting a little visit.”

The O’Reilly stuff, and the Ted Baxter voice I used when reading it, only became a regular feature after I returned to MSNBC in 2003. On literally my first full-time day back as the 8 p.m. host, I got a call from one of the young Washington reporters I had helped to break through five years earlier, Norah O’Donnell (the others were Campbell Brown and David Gregory). Norah certainly wasn’t coming from a place of competition or punching up when she said that I should do a regular fact-checking piece on O’Reilly’s sometimes utter detachment from editorial reality. “You could call it ‘Factor Fiction’ or something.”

It also became personal for a friend of mine who I had helped to get a job with Fox News. She put in a few months in the bunker-like subterranean Fox newsroom in Manhattan and seemed to be doing well when she suddenly called to explain she had quit. This was a woman with a legal background that included work in sexual harassment cases, and even with those weapons atypical to the victims of the Bill O’Reillys of this world, three months with him and all the other lechers there had caused her to just walk away. She chose never to work in news again.

To me, that made it personal.

The other points I should get on the record in case I’m wrong and Billo actually does go gentle into that good night, include the following: I will now confirm the story that he was so pissed off by something that happened at Yankee Stadium in June 2007 that he tried to get my baseball media credentials revoked. I was still co-hosting an hour of Dan Patrick’s radio show then, and obviously had legitimate reasons to be in the press boxes of the local sports teams. During a Mets-Yankees Subway Series, O’Reilly got a field pass based on heavy donations to one of the charities of then-Yankee manager Joe Torre. He wandered off the field, through the dugout and the Pyramid-quality tiny hallway behind it, and entered the Met clubhouse. Security pointed out that the Friend-of-Joe-Pass was limited to standing around on the field, and asked him to leave.

O’Reilly’s dust-up with the security personnel from his favorite childhood team (“You don’t have to escort us out. We’re going.”) made it into at least one New York area newspaper, along with the nugget that I had been there the day before and had been in the same Mets’ clubhouse and in long conversation with the team’s then-General Manager Omar Minaya. Not long after that report hit the streets I got a call from a baseball source who told me that O’Reilly was making a stink.

Sure enough, a few days later I got a call from Yankees Media Relations Director Jason Zillo, who said that joining him on the phone was a representative from the Rubinstein PR Agency (which did and does work for both Fox and the Yankees). Only Zillo spoke. For at least 15 minutes. It was a recitation of how he had been asked to explain to me that the Yankees did not give media credentials to “celebrities” and how they’d never give them to, say, Larry King just because he had a television show, and that’s not how they worked at Yankee Stadium and on and on and on and on. I had to stifle laughter several times that day, and again a week later when I called Zillo for a credential and he said sure and I got to the ballpark and asked him what in the hell that call had been about and he said, “Didn’t you hear me? I said ‘I’d been asked to explain to you.’ I never said I was going to take away your credentials.”

So that’s one anecdote, and the other one also involves the Yankees. O’Reilly and I have never actually spoken, but we’ve been in the same place at the same time at least twice, and each time he did the weirdest damn thing I’ve ever seen another adult do. The first was at one of the charity dinners of the aforementioned Torre, who was my first TV interviewee, with whom I worked at a station in Los Angeles, and who remains a friend. Charity dinners deserve that nomenclature for more than just fund-raising. There is also a sense of charity among the participants. You’re all there for a good cause. You leave the pettiness at the door. And that’s especially true at the Torre shindigs in which the term “celebrity” is stretched pretty thin because Joe can sell 100 dinner tables and he needs some kind of name at every one of them. Dozens of us were packed into a small anteroom at The Pierre one night, waiting to be released like spawning salmon to our respective tables, and sure enough — there was O’Reilly.

Keith Olbermann can’t mask his contempt for Bill O’Reilly at a 2006 TCA event in Pasadena. O’Reilly was a frequent target on Olbermann’s MSNBC show “Countdown.” REED SAXON/AP;

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t clamoring to meet him. But I was still kind of surprised when the ballplayers and actors I was chatting with kept saying, “Why is Bill O’Reilly staring at us?” and then I would turn to see, only to catch the tail end of his not-so-subtle twisting away to look in the opposite direction. I also noticed that Billo was keeping at least 20 yards between us at all times, and being diligent enough that, if I inadvertently moved five feet closer to him in order to shake somebody else’s hand, he would move back five feet further to keep that 20-yard cordon sanitaire. And sure enough, the second time I ever saw him, back at Yankee Stadium, he did the same crazy thing, on the field!

I should also remind you that I believe O’Reilly’s desire for revenge against me precipitated Fox’s stalking of GE chairman Jeff Immelt, O’Reilly’s bold-faced lie that GE was manufacturing parts used in anti-American IEDs in Iraq, and the cable news industry’s 2009 equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis during which MSNBC was nearly taken off the air — but all that has been widely covered elsewhere.

Anyway, now O’Reilly belongs to the ages. But just like the animatronic Abraham Lincoln, he can always come back if he wants to. And, who knows? To succeed him Fox has chosen America’s only soon-to-be-48-year-old snotty teenager Tucker Carlson, who was once caught impersonating me to a reporter and whose newscaster father’s only mark on history was the involuntary outing of Dr. Renee Richards. Despite strong starts at each, Tuck was loudly blown out first at CNN and then MSNBC. After a few months of him in the decisive 8 p.m. slot, Fox might even invite Billo to stage a Jay Leno — or at least to come back to Fox Business.

In his 38th year in the business, Keith Olbermann now presents the GQ online commentary series “The Resistance.” His fifth book, “Trump Is F*cking Crazy,” will be published in October by Blue Rider.

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  1. whostolemycog says:

    KO…That boy lies like a rug….lie, lie, lie….and still crazy after all these years.

  2. Fontaine Montblanc says:

    So, why should we listen to the opinion of the man who destroyed ESPN?

  3. Johnnycredability says:

    Wow, Keith…RELEVANCY, that elusive drug all of you media simple-minds will do anything to have. You lost yours a long time ago…and in your stylistic dialogue “no one gives a f*uck!”

  4. Anna C says:

    bannon, trump, sessions ENEMIES OF THE STATE

  5. kbrown2225 says:

    I do love Keith Olbermann and really miss his MSNBC show!

  6. Brian B. says:

    Keith is an F*inf idiot. Why…. He fails to realize his 15 minutes are all used up long time ago.

  7. Jim Rumbaugh says:

    Blah blah blah blah blah, blah..ad infinitum…..I thought this fool was dead. “Saccharine” vs “Dreck.” How many times has he been fired? Even on sports TV he is thought to be unhinged by folks on both sides of the camera.
    Started his own network? As some late night comic commented, “I don’ t get channel ‘One Million.'”

  8. janice says:

    Jealous much?

  9. Mike says:

    Can’t wait for the next installment of “Keith Olbermann Details Feud With ______”.

  10. tvOs23 says:

    Keith O was a gem of the cable TV and too bad MSNBC fired him. I loved his show. He was talking from his heart and his words were piercing to the hearts of his viewers. There is no comparison between him and Billo -The habitual liar. I hated his toxic and insulting rhetoric. Good riddance. Less pig less s-hit

  11. Look up smuck in the dictionary and there you find a picture of Keith Olbermann

  12. Jim Hilton says:

    Kieth stuck his head out of his mother’s basement long enough to write this self serving article.

  13. Funky chicken says:

    FYI, Mr. Liberalman, The US is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. It was/is understood that democracies had historically collapsed eventually under mob-rule practices, and is exactly why the founders tried to spare us from the same fate. I’m not fan of Bill O’s, but I’m not fearful of him returning to the airwaves. You on the other hand… didn’t Ben Affleck put the final nail in your coffin with Miss Precious Perfect?

  14. Al says:

    Keith, face it; you are terrible at what you do. Bill crushed you in the ratings and you hated him for it. At some point you have to realize what an incredible sour-graped, inept news host you are. I used to watch your show from time to time. What I always remembered most was how ininformative it was. You were just full of anger and resentment toward Bill, then as you are now

  15. Mitch Rosen says:

    For some reason, I don’t think that Keith is the most objective person to have write anything about “Billo”. And he’s using the same old Marxist newspeak that someone is bad for democracy. Well, guess what? We live in a Constitutional Republic. Not a democracy. So we’re all safe then.

    • squeesh says:

      Rosen:
      We live in a democracy,dear. I don’t know where you dredged up this “republic” nonsense from, but you need to go back and study your civics some more. That being said, I love Olbermann’s commentaries—they’re hilarious and thought-provoking. I liked him when he was on MSNBC back in the day, and he still cuts through the BS just as much now as he did back them. Nice to know some folks haven’t changed,lol. And these trumpfheads need to shut up and quit hating on him just because he refuses to drink that koolaid when it come to donnie boy.

  16. Jim Wilke says:

    Have you no decency? Sir?

  17. Geesh. One thing is for sure, You, O’Reilly and Trump are the Kings of Unwarranted Self-importance.

  18. Melissa Zweifel says:

    Dear Keith; the world does not revolve around you. It is only in your egotistical mind that Bill was moving away from you as you were going towards him. You are despicable.

  19. Emil.Blatz says:

    Evidently the metal plate in Keith’s head has shifted even more.

  20. Dave Cisler says:

    Olbermann is a f’n liar and the biggest media fraud to ever comment on any person or topic. He is an a’hole in the advanced stages of dementia.

  21. mtrav16 says:

    maybe it will die first, one can only hope.

  22. Captain Obvious says:

    Read him for the filth that he is, Keith.

  23. Sam says:

    Apple, gates, zuckerberg can afford to pay for twenty walls.

  24. millerfilm says:

    Listening to himself bloviate is the only reason why Olbermann says anything. He and O’Reilly are 99.9% alike.

  25. dmar239 says:

    I think most of Keith’s fans know why O’Reilly kept a 20′ distance during the two times he had the chance to meet Keith. It’s one thing to have a war of words and try to outwit the other when one has time to prepare for a television show, but to do it on the fly–old Billo wouldn’t have been able to keep up!

  26. David T says:

    This is the worst written article I’ve ever read. The syntax, the terrible punctuation giving it an unwanted staccato style, the jumps between vernacular and formal, and the ridiculous inclusion of the contents of an Oxford thesaurus every now and then. I was looking forward to a diss-piece on O’Reilly. Now I just have a headache.

    • dmar239 says:

      I love the way Keith Olbermann articulates. He always has a way of expressing himself that’s quite unique to others in the news media, probably why he’s got such a loyal following. There’s a certain zing to his speech pattern that shows a very deep intelligence level and understanding of his target, especially when bashing those who deserve it–as in O’Reilly.

  27. ts leng says:

    Sounds like Oberman is still licking his wounds from being fired fro MSNBC and Current TV, and generally losing face in his industry. Nobody cared when he left

    • dmar239 says:

      I know of several million people who will dispute your comment. Keith Olbermann’s rants are absolutely awe inspiring. I loved his “Worst Person in the World ” section on MSNBC, and now GQ Magazine’s “The Resistance”. He’s got a wit about him that’s unmatched by anyone. He can out wit the wittiest! He tells it like none other–best served fast. You don’t know the truth it hitting you until it hits you! First time I heard him on television was back in the late 90’s — I stopped what I was doing and ran to go see. There was this man, this Keith Olbermann, a man expressing my own thoughts and feelings in words I’d never been able to express myself, It was like listening to music. Yes, yes yes–I remember saying to everything he was saying. From that point, Keith Olbermann became my biggest hero.

  28. Anna Scott says:

    Keith Olbermann is one utterly bizarre dude.

  29. Sylvia S says:

    Keith O is truly a lunatic. His podcast are truly scary. The man has lost all sense of reality and is howling at the moon like a rabid dog. Why on Earth is Variety giving him a platform to spew this vile hatred? I question who is running Variety and what are their motives to allow this nutcase the publicity. Shame on you for subjecting your readers to this freak’s sick obsession.

    • Steve says:

      If you dislike him so much, why did you listen to his podcast?

    • Anna Scott says:

      Well said. Unfortunately I can believe Variety are giving someone as insane as Olbermann a platform. They are so partisan that anyone, no matter how unstable, who can push their anti-Trump, anti-anything that even resembles conservatism or non-Democrat will be given a column. It is no longer the Variety I used to read. It’s always been biased but it is now out of control. Do they not realize there are people from all walks of life & beliefs that like reading about the entertainment industry?

  30. MSJ says:

    Wow….such hate! That’s really what this article is all about. BTW, Keith, a white man is not qualified to call anyone a racist, even another white man.

  31. orionsaint says:

    JUDGE HALTS CONSERVATIVE WHITE LASHING OF AMERICA

    Putin now rigging the french election. Is the world now at Russia’s mercy? It’s the only way the right can win in this world. Cheating!

  32. guy mcdonald says:

    Why does anyone or any publication like Variety pay any attention to this wild-eyed radical socialist anarchist. He’s been terminated from every previous position because he leaves the rails and explodes.

  33. john laursen says:

    Big Bill help put The Donald in The White House.Keith never accomplished a thing.Just a miserable person

    • Vic Nardozza says:

      You call putting Trump into the White House an accomplishment? I call it a crime against humanity.

      • Funky chicken says:

        We were so much better off with Obama. No one else had the balls to step up and murder American citizens, denying them their 5th, 6th and 7th amendment rights. Trump will never top that achievement.

  34. Cecil B da Mill says:

    Keith has seen better days, it’s rumored he tried to get on the Rachael Maddow show, and she apparently told him there was only room for one dick on her set.

    • RealityCheck says:

      I’ve read that Keith O turned on Rachel when her show out rated his on his waning days at MSNBC. He got so obnoxious that MSNBC finally had to kick his fat ass to the curb. Keith O hasn’t been able to hold on to a job for over 18 months ever since. He’s burned about every bridge possible in the media biz. What an arrogant insane gasbag.

  35. Billo is poster child of the poison that Murdoch and the “alt-right” have sprayed on America. It doesn’t seem hardly enough that he’s off the air. If there’s such a thing as the Good Lord, there should have been a lightning bolt with Billo as the target. And please, take Hannity, too. And Michael Savage, Alex Jones, Steve Bannon and the rest.

    As for Keith, thank God. I’ve admired his work, wherever he’s been, and deeply lament corporate cultures that can’t find a way to accommodate his talent. I’ve been religiously watching The Resistance since a friend pointed it out to me a few months back. Stirring stuff, and unlike what passes for right-wing media rants, well-grounded in reality. We need champions, and Keith is doing his best.

  36. Larry says:

    Olbermann is such a bleeding heart liberal….he’ll never get it…he should stick to sports that he’s really good at….Politics…not so much…

  37. Wade K. says:

    Olbermann’s snide, condescending tone is the reason his career as an opinion tv host didn’t go anywhere. He’s angry that O’Reilly was so successful. Here’s an idea…even if your opinions are the polar opposite of Bill’s you’d do well to emulate his style. Coming across as an angry man who thinks any who doesn’t agree with him is a fool won’t keep an audience around.

  38. Vlirke says:

    Olbermann is a loser. Who cares about his opinions on anything.

  39. C’mon Keith, no need to sugar-coat things. Tell us what you really think!

  40. joel the ornery says:

    You ever hear of the saying “you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole; you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

  41. Nothing can boast of Jealousy more than this “article” .. If anyone ever had written a personal manifesto of hate, greed, jealousy, and well, a Melted Frontal Lobe I don’t think it was ever published….

    Holy Cow Variety, you really let Olbermann show what a true fool he actually is… The poor guy’s rant had me LMAO.

  42. renegade98 says:

    I’m sure O’Reilly will make a comeback. There are plenty of men out there that agree with women being sexually harassed like Bill O’Reilly is fond of doing.

  43. Joe Mosier says:

    Olbermann is emblematic of why much of America finds left-wing intelligentsia loathsome. He is in a word -smarmy. In the early days of the Tea Party, he crowed over the fact that he had gotten some Tea Party guy to agree he was a “teabagger”. Olbermann felt the spokesman’s political views could be discounted because he didn’t have the same knowledge of arcane sexual practices as Keith himself did. Tea Party members weren’t wrong politically, they weren’t “cool” enough to be in charge.

  44. Mitchem says:

    It’s America. If Olbermann can “comeback,” than anyone can, right Robert Downey, Jr.?

  45. Millicent says:

    I don’t want to either of them ever again. KO is to the left as BO’R is to the right.

  46. Karen Holmes says:

    All the right wing snowflakes get triggered by Keith. What would you expect from a bunch of p*ssy grabbers?

  47. Bryan Farley says:

    Keith is a Moron

  48. Jill Jurgensen says:

    And how many jobs have you been fired from Keith?

  49. Dirk Olsen says:

    From ESPN to Variety. And so it goes…Keith “Who?” #ResistanceLOL

  50. Steve says:

    Your disdain for Bill O’Reilly is merely a reflection of the qualities you dislike about yourself, Keith. At the end of the day, you’re both assholes.

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