Preening and arrogant, the puffy-faced populist loves nothing more than to tell his guests to “shut up.” He has compared the liberal doyenne Arianna Huffington to the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis. The Secret Service nearly arrested him this past January for his out-of-control attempt to gain access to Barack Obama. And, of course, he was the subject of a memorable sexual-harassment suit in 2004, a case that introduced the word “loofah” into the popular lexicon. The suit, brought by a former O’Reilly employee, was settled on confidential terms, reportedly in the range of several million dollars.
So when the New England chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced it would present O’Reilly with a coveted Governors Award at this spring’s Emmy Award dinner, long-time Boston television personality Barry Nolan went nuts. Nolan, the host — make that the former host — of Backstage, on Comcast’s CN8 channel, publicly denounced O’Reilly as “a mental case.” He joked that, since his wife would be out of town, he would bring O’Reilly tormenter Keith Olbermann, of MSNBC, as his date. And he distributed some of O’Reilly’s greatest hits, along with excerpts from the sexual-harassment suit, at the awards dinner.
Nolan’s reward: Comcast Corporation fired him, an action that has earned the Philadelphia-based media conglomerate a Muzzle Award. According to Nolan, his termination was a direct consequence of his anti-O’Reilly campaign.
No, Nolan was not censored by an oppressive government. But Nolan was terminated for speaking out by an employer whose core values include — or should include — a commitment to the free and open discussion of ideas.
There is something unseemly about a small player like Nolan being forced out by a monopolistic cable giant because he dared criticize someone who works for Rupert Murdoch’s even more gigantic media company. Just for appearance’s sake, you’d think Nolan would have been allowed to have his say and be done with it. Apparently not.
“In today’s America, speech is only ‘free’ when you are talking down to someone less powerful than you,” Nolan wrote afterward for the liberal blog ThinkProgress. “Speak ‘up’ — and look out.”
The Phoenix contacted a Fox News spokesman, who said he would pass along our request for comment directly to O’Reilly. Crickets are chirping. Comcast spokeswoman Beth Bacha provided a statement saying, “Effective May 20, Barry Nolan is no longer employed by CN8.” Backstage is now hosted by Sara Edwards.
Nolan, for his part, sounds disappointed but philosophical.
“There’s two million people who think Bill O’Reilly is a demigod, there’s 298 million people who think he’s a buffoon,” Nolan tells the Phoenix. “I got fired for saying demonstrably true things in a roomful of news people that people agreed with. Which tells you more, I think, about the times we live in than about the idiosyncrasies of somebody at Comcast.”
So what’s Nolan been doing since his firing? “One of the things I did do with my spare time was that I switched over my phone and cable service [from Comcast] to Verizon,” he says. “They’ve got a great deal going.”