Hannity to O'Reilly: When are you going to come back to Fox and reclaim the number one slot?

Via the Examiner. Come on, people. He’s kidding! He’s a kidder.

I mean, I think he’s kidding.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time he’s floated the idea of O’Reilly returning to the network, like Napoleon escaping from exile to rule the empire once again. From July:

And it also wouldn’t be the first time one of them has tried to recruit the other, assuming this 2017 report from Gabriel Sherman is true:

Hannity was at least half-joking with his comments in July. Was he also half-joking this week when he said this, or are we now down to quarter-joking?

O’Reilly, 70, appeared on Hannity’s radio show, which is not a Fox property, on Tuesday, and teased his interview with President Trump, which aired on his show later in the day. The former Fox host was discussing the amount of hate he thinks the president receives and then commented, “You and I, we can identify because we’ve been attacked for more than 20 years, each of us has.”

“Twenty four to be exact,” Hannity corrected. “By the way, I keep offering you, go back on Fox, and … ”

“Yeah, and why do I want to do that?” O’Reilly interjected. “So I can have security guards go with me everywhere like I used to?”

“No, so that you take the number one slot,” Hannity replied. “I can tell you it’s easier being number two because we’ll end the — we’ll end the year again number one in all of cable, and with that comes all the crap associated with it.”

He’s just being chummy with O’Reilly, I think. If anything, this was probably just a backhanded way for Hannity to remind everyone that he’s number one now. I’m tired of being the biggest name in cable news, the most-watched host on the most-watched network. Take this terrible burden from me, Bill.

The problem with joking about bringing O’Reilly back, though, is that it overlooks the fact that he left the network for a very particular reason. Just as it also overlooks the fact that others who have left Fox under … difficult circumstances haven’t enjoyed the same second chance Hannity imagines for O’R, whether jokingly or not. Three women who split with Fox after being sexually harassed chimed in yesterday to remind the world that an accused harasser seems to be more welcome at the network than victims of harassment are:

I’m a little surprised not to see Lis Wiehl’s name on that statement too, but she does have 32 million reasons to stay out of it.

Another reason to doubt Hannity’s seriousness: There are no vacancies in Fox’s primetime line-up right now so where would “The O’Reilly Factor 2.0” air? A daring play would be to give him Shep Smith’s old slot at 3 p.m., which is vacant at the moment, and trust that Fox viewers will carve out time for him mid-day. O’R won’t do the same ratings that he did at 8 p.m. but he’ll do well; the median age of Fox’s audience is 65, so there are plenty of viewers who are home and retired with time to watch in the afternoon. Seeing a pro-Trump stalwart like O’Reilly replace an anti-Trumper like Shep would be gratifying to many Fox watchers too, including the one in the White House.

If Fox wanted him on in the evenings, though, I suppose they could slot him in at 11 p.m. and offer O’Reilly as a nostalgic alternative to the unwatchable liberal dreck currently airing as late-night “comedy” on the broadcast networks. Or they could put him at 7 p.m. and present “The Factor” as a lead-in to the other pro-Trump heavy hitters in the line-up after 8. But there’s a wrinkle: Scheduling O’Reilly at 7 or 11 would mean replacing one of the network’s most well-known women news anchors, either Martha MacCallum or Shannon Bream, respectively. Fox would take a savage PR beating for bringing O’Reilly back under any circumstances, but in light of what he’s accused of, bringing him back at the expense of a woman newscaster who worked hard for years to land her own show would make it twice as savage.

They’re not bringing him back.