In April 2008, Boston news reporter Barry Nolan publicly announced that he planned to protest the Boston/New England National Academy of Television Art and Science chapter’s decision to award Fox News host Bill O’Reilly an Emmy Award. Nolan, who worked for Comcast Cable’s CN8 channel, said he was “appalled” and encouraged industry colleagues to “express their displeasure to the board of governors.”
At the awards ceremony, Nolan “quietly put fliers on tables that ‘simply had’ quotes from O’O’Reilly as well as three pages from the sexual harassment lawsuit O’Reilly settled that was brought by his former producer.” Although security did tell Nolan he couldn’t distribute materials, Nolan maintains that he never booed or made a ruckus during the event. Nevertheless, two days later, Nolan’s boss told him to go home. About a week later, he was fired.
Six months after the incident, Nolan filed “a $1.2 million lawsuit against Comcast for wrongful termination, charging that his First Amendment rights ‘to speak freely’ had been violated.” The Columbia Journalism Review now has new details about Nolan’s firing, showing that it appears Comcast threw the local newsman under the bus to appease Fox News and Bill O’Reilly’s ego:
On May 12, 2008 — two days after the Emmys — O’Reilly went on the offensive against what he called Nolan’s “outrageous behavior” with a carefully worded, lawyerly letter to Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast, which distributes Fox News and entertainment programming, to its subscribers. The letter was written on Fox News stationery and was copied to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.
Pointedly, O’Reilly began by noting their mutual business interests. “We at The O’Reilly Factor have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC.” [...]
Other documents, however, filed in connection with Nolan’s lawsuit strongly suggest that O’Reilly’s letter to Roberts was a key factor in his firing. Once Comcast was in receipt of the O’Reilly letter, e-mails, talking points, and memos went flying from one jittery Comcast executive to another. Should they call O’Reilly? Who should call? Should they send a letter? Who should draft it? Who should sign it? And don’t forget to CC Roger Ailes. Roberts himself was very much in the loop, but waited until May 22 — two days after Nolan’s firing — to send O’Reilly an apology letter of his own.
Significantly, court documents show that Comcast and Fox were “involved in ‘ongoing’ contract talks at the time, with Comcast fearing Nolan’s protest ‘jeopardized and harmed’ its business dealings with Fox.”
In 2008, Nolan wrote a post for ThinkProgress urging people to keep speaking out: “And in our role as citizens, we have been told by O’Reilly to shut up, or Fox Security may pay you a visit. We are called traitors if we simply speak the truth about the absence of WMD’s — the way the war is going — the disgraces of Abu Ghraib, of Gitmo, of waterboarding. Shut up. So, when exactly do they think we have the right to speak up? To speak the quiet simple truth, to people who have more power than us? Well, I think now would be a good time. The fog of fear is lifting. The balance of power is shifting. People are beginning to talk to each other again instead of shouting. I think it’s time to reclaim the right to free speech — even if it comes at a price.”