News Release

How Fox Used “Raw Corporate Power” to Crush a Critic

BARRY NOLAN
The media watch group FAIR reports: “Boston TV newscaster Barry Nolan was outraged to learn back in 2008 that Fox host Bill O’Reilly was getting an award from the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. So Nolan made flyers documenting various O’Reilly outrages and distributed them at the local Emmys ceremony — and did not do so in a disruptive manner. He was soon fired by his employer (Comcast), and told his story at Think Progress.”

A new article at the Columbia Journalism Review website “The O’Reilly Factor: How the Fox host used raw corporate power to crush a critic” by Terry Ann Knopf reveals that pressure on Comcast came directly from News Corp/O’Reilly:

“On May 12, 2008 — two days after the Emmys — O’Reilly went on the offensive against what he called Nolan’s ‘outrageous behavior’ with a carefully worded, lawyerly letter to Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast, which distributes Fox News and entertainment programming, to its subscribers. The letter was written on Fox News stationery and was copied to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

“Pointedly, O’Reilly began by noting their mutual business interests. ‘We at The O’Reilly Factor have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC.’ Telling the Comcast CEO that Nolan had attended the Emmy Awards ‘in conjunction with Comcast,’ O’Reilly apologized for bothering him but let him know he considered this ‘a disturbing situation.'”

Knopf also reports that while Comcast has claimed that Nolan wasn’t fired for speaking his mind (“Professional journalists need to have the right to express their opinions without fear of correction or retribution from a corporate parent,” a company executive said), newly-released court documents “reveal that Comcast and Fox were involved in ‘ongoing’ contract talks at the time, with Comcast fearing Nolan’s protest ‘jeopardized and harmed’ its business dealings with Fox. In response to a question posed by Nolan’s attorneys in his lawsuit, Comcast’s written response, dated Aug. 5, 2009, states:

“‘… Mr. Nolan’s protest at the NATAS Award Ceremony and of William O’Reilly as the recipient of the Governor’s Award jeopardized and harmed the business and economic interests of Comcast in connection with its contract with Fox News Channel, and its contract negotiations with Fox News that were ongoing at the time.'”

In addition, the Columbia Journalism Review piece appears to have originally been slated to run in Boston Globe Magazine (owned by the New York Times Company), but was killed. Writes Dan Kennedy in the Boston Phoenix: “Oddly enough, Knopf’s story was originally slated to run in the Boston Globe Magazine. When Knopf interviewed me, she was on assignment for the magazine. In late July, I received a call from a Globe Magazine fact-checker. Both Knopf and Globe Magazine editor Susanne Althoff declined to comment this week when I asked them why the piece was killed.

“The story of Barry Nolan and Bill O’Reilly is the story of what happens when someone goes up against two of the most powerful media corporations on the planet. In the Age of the Internet, the moguls may not be what they used to be. But they’re still moguls. And they’ve still got a lot of power.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167