During an interview with Glenn Beck, former Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly complained of a liberal "hit job" that did him in.
"In the weeks to come we're going to be able to explain all of it," O'Reilly said Friday in his first interview since being fired on April 19. "It has to do with destroying voices that the far left and the organized left-wing cabal doesn't like."
While Fox's critics don't see it that way, a powerful mix of lawyers and liberal groups have indeed sought to amplify allegations of sexual and racial harassment at the network in a series of scandals that have also cost the jobs of founding CEO Roger Ailes and co-president and veteran executive Bill Shine.
They're not backing off, as they seek more firings and try to influence a British regulator's ruling on Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox's bid to acquire the Sky satellite network.
The drama has upended the most powerful conservative brand in media, one that has long rallied its viewers with talk of liberal conspiracies. O'Reilly's voice, for two decades the one most followed in cable news, has been silenced — for now.
Shortly before O'Reilly was fired, his lawyer distributed a copy of an email as evidence of a "smear campaign." It was sent by Mary Pat Bonner, a consultant who helped raise money for former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, less than two weeks after The New York Times reported on settlements paid to quiet claims against "The O'Reilly Factor" host. It invited people to a phone update on a campaign to pressure advertisers.
Bonner's firm was hired by Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog founded in 2004 to criticize conservative media outlets, particularly Fox. The calls were an effort to keep various organizations that opposed O'Reilly informed, said Angelo Carusone, Media Matters president.
The groups include Color of Change, a racial justice organization; Sleeping Giants, social media activists who try to persuade companies not to advertise on conservative web sites; and UltraViolet, a women's rights group co-founded by a leader of Moveon.org that advertises on its web site the O'Reilly firing as one of its successes.
Carusone characterized the organizing as "not that much," basically sharing information and advertiser lists. But he said he gets the need for O'Reilly's supporters to concentrate on a foe.
Pressure put on O'Reilly advertisers to pull commercials from his show is a tactic familiar to Carusone, who led a similar campaign that choked lucrative ad dollars from Beck's former Fox show and drove him from the network.
O'Reilly's relatively swift firing — less than three weeks after the Times story appeared — may have worked in Fox's favor.
Carusone said Media Matters had been preparing a campaign for May, a key month in the television business when many companies allocate their advertising dollars, to encourage a general boycott of Fox News, not just O'Reilly's show. He still supports that goal, but concedes O'Reilly's firing has sapped it of any momentum. Many advertisers have returned to O'Reilly's old time slot, now occupied by Tucker Carlson.