Bill O'Reilly, who has separated from Fox News in the wake of big-money sexual-harassment settlements, loved his late-1970s time at Denver's KMGH-TV. As we reported yesterday, he once wrote that "working this gig was the most fun I've ever had in my life." But according to a former co-worker in Denver, O'Reilly was widely disliked at the station because of behavior that could be rude, egomaniacal and underhanded, and on multiple occasions, he was pranked by colleagues who left aromatic food to rot in his desk.
Our source is Pete Webb, a veteran Denver TV personality who is currently the namesake of Webb Strategic Communications. Corresponding via e-mail, Webb notes that "I replaced O’Reilly in 1978 as the investigative reporter [at KMGH], although he stayed around to do weekends because McGraw-Hill, then the station owner, would not let him out of his contract. (He left 7 to go to CBS in Los Angeles as a field correspondent.)"
In a statement released after his ousting at Fox News, O'Reilly claimed that "it is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims" — and Webb doesn't suggest that the younger O'Reilly sexually harassed anyone at KMGH. But he mentions plenty of other issues.
"He was a hugely disruptive influence in the newsroom, and few people liked or tolerated him," Webb maintains. "He was argumentative, difficult to manage and would literally steal other people’s stories. In fact, he’d answer a call for a reporter and say, 'He’s out right now, what can you tell me?,' and end up with a story intended for someone else."
According to Webb, O'Reilly constantly fought with KMGH management, including a news director that he referred to in his 2002 book The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life, as both "Lucifer the Prince of Darkness" and "The King of Hell." Webb regards these references as slander against David Henderson, "who went on to become a highly respected Washington-based public relations consultant and media observer of some note. Henderson had O’Reilly’s act figured out and was always on him to counter his sarcastic and ill-tempered remarks."
Because "O’Reilly suffered no fools lightly," Webb goes on, he "was even physically isolated from the newsroom in a small office he shared with two other reporters overlooking Lincoln Street, on the corridor to the newsroom."
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In addition, Webb continues, "folks constantly played pranks on him, once secreting dead shrimp in the back of a desk drawer until they stank up the place." A similar stunt involved "onions salvaged from a truck wreck on the Morrison curve," he reveals.
By the end of his term at KMGH, "O’Reilly kept his own hours and was not active much on the air, because they didn’t want to feed his ego," Webb adds.
Marvin Kitman's 2008 book The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O'Reilly maintains that O'Reilly wasn't hated by everyone at the station; some of the younger reporters were said to have liked his pushiness. But if they still feel that way, Webb hasn't run into them lately.
"Reunions of Channel 7 alum (of which there are many) abound with tales of how everyone else remembers O’Reilly," he writes. "And not at all fondly."