Anchor Spun From Job for O'Reilly Protest

Network cans newsman who protested Bill O'Reilly as choice for journalism prize.

May 23, 2008 — -- Barry Nolan's opinion of Bill O'Reilly spun him right out of his job.

The fed-up TV newsman lost his anchor seat after protesting a decision by a New England media association to bestow its top journalism award on the Fox News anchor.

CN8, the television network owned and operated by Comcast, confirmed Thursday that Nolan -- a former "Hard Copy" host whose career in television spans decades -- will no longer co-anchor the network's program "Backstage."

"It could have been career suicide," Nolan said, convinced he'll land on his feet one way or another. "But I'm 61. A strong breeze could have ended that."

Beth Bacha, a CN8 spokeswoman, declined to comment on the circumstances of Nolan's firing. "As a matter of policy, CN8 cannot share detailed information on employment matters," she said.

But Nolan said he had an inkling the end may be near when he attended the May 10 New England Emmy Awards banquet, where he was nominated in the commentary category, armed with six-page handouts.

The handouts were a compilation of controversial quotations from the brash anchor along with salacious pages from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him.

Nolan said his protest began when he heard that the New England chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences was going to present its Governor's Award to O'Reilly, a graduate of Boston University who spent part of his early career in Boston. He has since gone on to national prominence with his show "The O'Reilly Factor," which draws millions of viewers nightly as the highest rated cable news shows -- on top of O'Reilly's radio and book success.

"I just thought it was appalling," Nolan told ABC News. "It had nothing to do with his political beliefs. He's entitled to his opinions. But to give the highest honor that this organization that I belong to can bestow strikes me as something that shocks the conscience."

Nolan said he objects to the commentator's bullying style, claiming that O'Reilly frequently bends the facts in order to get across what he described as venomous opinions. It's not the type of journalism that should be recognized in the profession for excellence, he said.

A Fox News spokesman said that O'Reilly is on vacation and was unavailable for comment.

Nolan started lobbying the board of governors in the New England chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and it let him know that it was not going to change course on the decision to honor O'Reilly.

"They had already invited O'Reilly, and they didn't want the embarrassment of uninviting him because they're scared of him," Nolan said. "He's a thug."

A spokesman for the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said the association does not comment on station operations.

Nolan says he was warned by CN8 executives to "tone it down," but he quietly distributed the six-page anti-O'Reilly handout to attendees of the event. He did not confront O'Reilly or "make a spectacle," he said.

On May 12, he was hit with a two-week suspension and on Tuesday of this week, CN8 fired him, citing him for insubordination.

"To me, this is a matter of conscience, a matter of morality," Nolan said. "I think when someone looks to honor someone in journalism, they shouldn't just use the criteria of, 'Did they make a lot of money?' Larry Flynt made a ton of money."

O'Reilly's show and his "No Spin Zone" approach to delivering news commentary and opinion have generated a devoted following and established him as a powerhouse media brand.

But his style and presentation also have created an army of critics, many of them on the left. He has a reputation as a hothead and has feuded with comedian-turned-Democratic Senate hopeful Al Franken and more recently with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann in what is perceived as a left-right fight.

Nolan, who competed against O'Reilly as an anchor of the tabloid show "Hard Copy" from 1990 to 1998 and later worked for "Extra!," said that he's not interested in being a champion of the left -- though he has appreciated what he called a flood of support for his O'Reilly protest.

"I'm interested in telling everyone in the country to stand up and say something is wrong when something is wrong," he said. "We've been through an awful dark time in our history where there are a lot of people telling you to sit down and shut up. From Dick Cheney to Bill O'Reilly, I'm done with bullies."

He's also looking for work.