Bill O’Reilly is gone for now.
But Austin-based online show host Alex Jones might have damaged his own career forever.
Some of O’Reilly’s less-disgusted fans may forgive him over five sexual harassment settlements, capping a career of loutish, self-indulgent behavior that inspired Stephen Colbert’s satirical “Colbert Report.”
But at $55 a year, Jones’ pay-video viewers are less likely to forgive being fooled after his lawyer told a custody hearing Jones is a “performance artist” and “playing a character.”
“The number one benefit for a host is being somebody real to viewers, somebody who’s like ‘what you see is what you get,’ ” said Aaron Chimbel, an associate professor in the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University.
“If you say, ‘I’m the person who’s telling you the truth,’ and then say, ‘Oh, that’s not really me’ — you lose credibility.”
Jones, 43, is an Austin character who started with a blustery community cable TV show about a global New World Order conspiracy. He has taken to Facebook and video this week to claim that he really believes what he says, just delivers it with drama, humor and satire.
The damage was done. His own attorney, Randall Wilhite, said judging Jones by his show is like judging Jack Nicholson for playing the Joker in “Batman.”
He’s playing a character. He is a performance artist.
Lawyer Randall Wilhite on his own client, Alex Jones, at a pre-trial hearing for a custody trial
I’ve considered Jones only an entertainer for a long time. But in a new book about the 2016 election, President Donald Trump’s conspiracy-loving pal Roger Stone called Jones the campaign’s “secret weapon.”
If anyone took Jones seriously, they probably won’t after a week of headlines such as “Jones says persona not a trick” (Reuters) or “Is Alex Jones an extreme conspiracy theorist or a giant troll?” (Los Angeles Times).
On the stand this week, Jones has talked himself deeper into pop-culture oblivion, saying he couldn’t remember details about his children because “I had a big bowl of chili for lunch” and that he smokes marijuana to “monitor its strength.”
O’Reilly, to his good fortune, is on a now-extended vacation.
O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News shows that “even if you appeal to a demographic that is anti-PC, or frustrated with it, you can only go so far,” Chimbel said.
6.6 millionviewers monthly watch Alex Jones’ videos or read his website.
It’s one thing to breach ethics, like former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, and another to cost your company $13 million in sexual harassment lawsuits.
“A corporation has to take that seriously,” Chimbel said: “In his mind, he may be just from a different time. But an employer has to look at risk.”
And don’t read anything political into their demise. Another Jones will emerge for conspiracy hobbyists, and Fox has plenty of new O’Reillys.
On with the show.