For the past five weeks, popular conservative Fox News Channel host Eric Bolling had been left to twist in the wind. On August 4, a 900-word anonymously sourced HuffPost article by a former Democrat party fundraiser-turned-journalist alleged that Bolling had sexually harassed three female co-workers by sending them a lewd text message several years earlier. The next day, Bolling was suspended by the channel pending an internal investigation. On Friday, September 8, it became known that he and Fox News had “agreed to part ways amicably,” according to a statement attributed to Fox News and widely reported in the media. (Bolling and his attorneys, who have consistently professed his innocence and filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against the HuffPost writer, had no immediate comment.)
Fox News also announced on September 8 that the program Bolling formerly co-hosted at 5 P.M. E.T., The Fox News Specialists, has been canceled effective immediately. Its final episode aired (as if it would be back as usual the next day) on Thursday September 7. The hour long show’s replacement starting on Monday September 11 will be an hour devoted to news with rotating hosts.
A visit to The Fox News Specialists program’s website (the URL has since been deleted) at Fox News dot com on Friday afternoon September 8 displayed a simple white page titled “Gone.” The two lines of text read “The requested resource. . . is no longer available on this server and there is no forwarding address. Please remove all references to this resource.” By Saturday September 9, the URL redirected to a page of Fox News Shows which did not yet include anything in the 5 o’clock hour that had been vacated by The Specialists.
Meanwhile, in the midst of this miasma, there was a tweet on Friday from conservative financial analyst Charles V. Payne with some good news for his fans.
“I’m back hosting Making Money w/ Charles Payne tonight on @FoxBusiness helping Americans take control of their financial destiny.”
— Charles V Payne (@cvpayne) September 8, 2017
Payne was a frequent guest and substitute host on the Fox News Channel who had his own popular show since 2014 on the Fox Business Network. Payne had also been suspended by Fox and off the air since July 6 when the National Enquirer published a story alleging that he had sexually harassed a female on-air contributor for three years.
Payne has maintained his innocence from the outset and Fox’s internal “investigation” apparently cleared him of any wrongdoing since, as he tweeted, he was resuming hosting his FBN show starting on Friday evening.
These and other developments involving Bolling, the cancellation of The Specialists, and Payne raise more questions than they answer.
What’s going on here?
In the process of unpacking this story, the context to keep in mind is the chaos that has consumed Fox News during the past year, kicked off by allegations of sexual harassment by former program host Gretchen Carlson. Carlson’s lawsuit in July 2016, which was later settled for $20 million, opened the floodgates for a raft of similar complaints and lawsuits by a number of female and African-American Fox staffers, who worked both on- and off-camera. A domino effect resulted in the ouster of Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes (who has since passed away), FNC’s #1 host Bill O’Reilly, several other FNC executives, and now Eric Bolling. Charles Payne is the only individual accused of sexual harassment or impropriety who has been allowed to return to his job.
It’s interesting, of course, that this news about a significant shake-up at Fox News was dropped quietly on a Friday as most of the nation’s and the media’s attention was being focused on the predicted looming weather apocalypse courtesy of Hurricane Irma that was about to hit Florida. Fox News offered no information beyond the brief formal notice that Bolling and The Specialists were gone. Payne’s tweet was apparently the only source about his return to Fox.
It’s also curious that Fox News apparently tried to make the lead of the story that it quietly dropped on Friday the fact that The Specialists – described in most media accounts courtesy of Fox News as “Bolling’s show” – was being canceled. First off, the program, which premiered on May 1, was never Bolling’s show. He was one of three co-hosts, including rising star Eboni Williams, who played a prominent role when Bolling was on the program and who clearly took the lead after his suspension. (Fox let it be known that Williams, and the show’s third co-host, comedian Kat Timpf, would continue at Fox News as contributors and, presumably in Williams’s case, as a potential future marquee talent with the possibility of hosting her own show at some point in the future.)
Although it was widely considered to be a weak and ill-considered program, The Specialists was surprisingly holding its own in the ratings, both with and without Bolling. It usually won its time slot at 5 P.M. in both total viewers and the all-important younger viewer “demographic” against the weak competition on MSNBC and CNN. So why would it be canceled now?
The Most Likely Answer: As it was widely reported on August 15, the Fox News Channel prime time line up is about to undergo a major shake-up, with the under-performing show The Five (unwisely moved to 9 P.M. E.T. on May 1) set to return before long to its original 5 P.M. time slot, lately occupied by The Specialists. The cancellation of the latter show on Friday September 8, and associating its demise with Bolling’s, conveniently sets the stage for that to happen. In other words, the firing of Bolling appears to provide cover for getting rid of The Specialists by associating it with Bolling’s ouster – even though Bolling had already been expunged from The Specialists. Not coincidentally, liberating Eboni Williams from The Specialists which was going nowhere fast (in terms of its potential for growth and approval by television critics) frees her up for a more prominent star role in the future, possibly hosting her own show in prime time, especially as Fox News continues its slow but unmistakable drift to the left.
Back on August 16, I reported here that a high level source at Fox News assured me that the new fall prime time schedule at Fox News sometime after Labor Day would see Tucker Carlson remain at 8 P.M., Sean Hannity move to 9 (challenging Rachel Maddow in her #1 show on MSNBC), and (most likely) talk show host Laura Ingraham in a new show at 10. On September 8, this same source, in the wake of Bolling’s departure and the cancellation of The Specialists, assured me that although “Nothing is 100%. It will be what I told you,” meaning the schedule previously described and reported by me on August 16 will eventually happen.
Peter Chowka is a widely published author and journalist. He writes most frequently these days for American Thinker and The Hagmann Report. His Web site is AltMedNews.net. Follow Peter on Twitter. Peter’s latest wide-ranging one hour conversation with Doug and Joe on The Hagmann Report on August 28 can be watched here.