Report: Fox News insiders say Bill O'Reilly vs. George Will feud is part of Roger Ailes' "Game of Thrones"-style plot

It's much larger than "Killing Reagan"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published November 10, 2015 8:22PM (EST)

Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly         (Reuters/Fred Prouser/AP/Kathy Willens/Photo montage by Salon)
Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly (Reuters/Fred Prouser/AP/Kathy Willens/Photo montage by Salon)

According to longtime Fox News observer and New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman, the latest blow-up between two Fox News heavyweights, Bill O'Reilly and George Will, goes much deeper than the latter's diss of O'Reilly's latest bestseller "Killing Reagan."

For days, the two men have carried on a very public battle with Will slamming O'Reilly's new book as a "nonsensical history" and the "Factor" host shouting down the Washington Post columnist as a "Reagan loyalist" and "hack."

Sherman reports that "inside Fox, the O’Reilly-Will feud is being closely studied by executives" because the on-air battle mirrors an off-air battle of succession inside the Fox News headquarters:

What makes the exchange so fascinating is that O’Reilly pulled the curtain back and discussed Fox’s internal workings on air, something that never happens at Roger Ailes’s secretive network. “Fox News hard news chief Mike Clemente, who you know, told us that you told him that you would call me before the column was published," O'Reilly said on-camera. Will disputed that Clemente issued a directive. “It would not be the first time you got something wrong," Will told O’Reilly.

As Sherman explains, Clemente, head of hard news at the network (think Will's favored stomping grounds, "Special Report"), is in competition with prime-time boss Bill Shine to replace Roger Ailes -- a rivalry currently so bitter the two men reportedly don't speak to one another. Despite overseeing Fox News' news gathering operation, Clemente was locked out of tonight's Fox Business Channel GOP presidential debate after Ailes appointed Shine head of FBN in August.

"This is some Game of Thrones shit,” a network insider told Sherman of the company's internal power struggle. Loyalists on both men's sides seem to have dug in their heels and are duking out this latest round over the O'Reilly-Will skirmish:

Shine’s loyalists tell me that Clemente did not confer with Shine about Will’s anti-O’Reilly column before it was published. Furthermore, they’re furious at Clemente for not stopping Will from embarrassing Fox’s highest-rated host in the pages of the Post. They reminded me that it was Clemente who recruited Will to Fox from ABC in 2013. One source also explained that Will received a special contributor contract with Fox that grants him editorial independence for his column (other contributors are barred from writing about Fox without permission). “He doesn’t have to check with Fox,” the source said.

Clemente did not comment, but his camp is firing back off the record.“Almost everyone is on team George,” one said. “Everyone is snickering and thinks it's a riot.” Another told me that O’Reilly’s Killing series is considered something of a joke inside the network. “He certainly doesn’t research his books,” one executive said.

No word from Sherman on whom Ailes prefers in either the on-air or off-air battles, but as the longtime Fox News observer did report, Will released a second column today slamming what he called a sloppy historical account with aiding liberals longtime efforts to discredit conservatism by undermining Reagan's competency:

O’Reilly impales himself on a contradiction: He says his book is “laudatory” about Reagan — and that it is being attacked by Reagan “guardians” and “loyalists.” How odd. Liberals, who have long recognized that to discredit conservatism they must devalue Reagan’s presidency, surely are delighted with O’Reilly’s assistance. The diaspora of Reagan administration alumni, and the conservative movement, now recognize O’Reilly as an opportunistic interloper.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Bill O'reilly Fox News Channel Gabriel Sherman George Will Killing Reagan O'reilly Factor Roger Ailes