Bill O'Reilly returns to Fox News — and he's mad as hell

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity

On the same day that Fox News announced three new shows each anchored by a woman, Sean Hannity welcomed Bill O’Reilly back to the network that dumped him for allegations of sexual harassment. That’s some classic one-step-forward, two-steps-back stuff, Fox. From the moment he was introduced, O’Reilly could not help himself — he took over: “I’m alive and the spin stops here!” he crowed, repeating his signature opening greeting on the canceled O’Reilly Factor. Later in the interview, he looked into the camera and implored “you, the American people,” to fight the good fight, and you felt how much O’Reilly missed having that camera in his face every weeknight. He was in full Howard Beale I’m-mad-as-hell mode.

Over three segments, O’Reilly plugged his new book, Killing England. He and Hannity kicked football around — players going down on one knee, they agreed, “disrespect the military.” Bill said, “I’d like to go to every NFL locker room and give these guys my book” because then they’d understand the history of the country. Nothing condescending about that, is there? But wait, there was more: “These players are being used,” said O’Reilly, stretching out the word to uuuuused, in order emphasize how much he thinks pro players are puppets of the “far left,” which has an “endgame,” which is to “rewrite the Constitution.” You mean the way Republicans actually talk about doing, guys?

Sometimes Hannity and O’Reilly fell over each other in their alacrity to agree on how awful the country has become, primarily due to political correctness. “They want to take freedom of speech away from their opponents, the far left does,” said O’Reilly. Hannity said, “If they’re successful in taking out this president, then… ” At that point, O’Reilly both echoed Hannity and cut him off: “Then this is it: this network. If this network goes, they win.” Wow: Over a matter of a few minutes, we went from football-game protests to a paranoid fantasy about the destruction of Fox News.

Hannity was feeling his oats this night. His Monday premiere in this time slot beat Rachel Maddow at MSNBC in both total viewers and in the 25-54 age demo. So he was very magnanimous toward O’Reilly, with whom he has not always been simpatico in the past. O’Reilly returned the favor, complimenting Hannity on the way he “fought back” against viewers who’d like to see Sean removed from the airwaves. “You fought back,” said O’Reilly. “I didn’t, and I should have.” O’Reilly has said this before — that he should have resisted when Fox News booted him. “We’re gonna fight back,” he promised, without ever specifying what it is he’s been accused of.

One had to wonder: Was this appearance on Hannity a testing of the waters, to see what the response is, for a possible O’Reilly return to the network? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely. After all, the new moves that Fox News is making run counter to the old Roger Ailes playbook. More women are getting airtime on the channel — they’re doing something close to straight news in the afternoon and, when Laura Ingraham begins her show next month, as opinion-shapers in prime time. As O’Reilly and Hannity yelled over each other to see who could scorn the take-a-knee protests more (“It has nothing to do with race!” “The flag is about saluting the military!”), it seemed as if we were witnessing the tussles of two men who, no matter how much they have achieved, still feel terribly hurt, pained, aggrieved. So much of the whining and complaining and blame-gaming they accuse others of doing we saw them do themselves on this night.

Hannity airs weeknights at 9 p.m. on Fox News.

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