Longtime Post columnist George Will has little insight into why he and Fox News are parting ways. “They just said that they weren’t going to renew,” says Will in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. “They didn’t say, and I didn’t ask,” he says of the motivation.
As far as Will’s TV relationships go, this was a short one. When he leaped to Fox News in 2013, he ended a three-decade-long affiliation with ABC News. At Fox News, Will was mainly deployed as a Washington commentator on Chris Wallace’s Sunday show as well as on Bret Baier’s “Special Report” on weekday nights. Though Will says he appreciated and valued that work, “some folks in New York thought otherwise and it’s their toy.” Will was a recruit of Michael Clemente, a hard-news executive at the network who left last year.
Last summer, Will bolted the Republican Party over his distaste for Donald Trump, with the precipitating circumstance being the candidate’s attack on a U.S.-born judge of Mexican descent who was overseeing a lawsuit against a Trump venture — along with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s subsequent endorsement of the presumptive Republican nominee. “I decided that, in fact, this was not my party anymore,” Will said at the time on “Fox News Sunday.” Trump had some thoughts about the matter:
As to whether he felt an ideological rift with Fox News, Will replied, “Only to the extent that I think there are a number of people enthusiastic about the 45th president, and I’m not.” The network’s prime-time block is essentially a Trump Trio: Bill O’Reilly has been doing very effective Trump PR for months and months, couching the vulnerabilities of the man as unworthy constructions of a dedicated opposition; Tucker Carlson, a newcomer to the upper reaches of Fox News programming, has done a fine job of demeaning those who oppose the president; and Sean Hannity is Sean Hannity.
That’s not to say that Fox News is monotone on the topic of Trump. Even with Will’s departure, the contributor ranks remain stocked with folks who have frequently hammered the president, notably Stephen Hayes, Rich Lowry, Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer. And leaving along with Will are pro-Trumpers Ed Rollins and Cal Thomas. Coming in the door is Nigel Farage, a former U.K. Independence Party leader and Trump backer.
From the outside, Will’s departure looks like another big institutional victory for O’Reilly, who likes to refer to himself as the network’s “table-setter.” Even though it was recently revealed that Fox News months ago had paid a pricey settlement to dispose of sexual harassment allegations against O’Reilly, he has had a fine fall: His protege, Jesse Watters, has scored a weekly show for his ambush interviews and other stuff; Megyn Kelly, the famous anchor with whom he was feuding and battling for preeminence internally, has left for NBC News. And now Will, a strong detractor of O’Reilly’s, is gone.
Those who know not of the O’Reilly-Will enmity haven’t kept up on their viral cable-news videos. After O’Reilly came out with his poorly researched 2015 book “Killing Reagan,” Will slammed it, as did the Erik Wemple Blog. In a combative segment on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Will questioned why O’Reilly didn’t check his interpretations with key figures from the Reagan era — and the host responded with an astounding renunciation of Journalism 101. “You’re something of an expert on actively misleading people,” Will said to O’Reilly at one point. O’Reilly called Will a “hack.” As it turned out, O’Reilly’s book was even shoddier than we all believed at the time.