Bill O’Reilly has been forced out of his position as a prime-time host on Fox News, the company said on Wednesday, after the disclosure of settlements involving sexual harassment allegations against him. His abrupt and embarrassing ouster ends his two-decade reign as one of the most popular and influential commentators in television.

That's the title of The New York Times article. I can't say that I am heartbroken or shocked; it was in the air.

Under force out, Vocabulary.com says simply

2. v terminate the employment of; discharge from an office or position

and supplies the following synonyms: can, dismiss, displace, fire, give notice, give the axe, give the sack, sack, send away, terminate.

But, as an anglo-Italian woman who likes to keep abreast of the latest trends in the English language, I am curious as to the difference in meaning between fired (AmEng) and forced out. The former I am familiar with; much less so with the latter. Was Bill O'Reilly sacked (BrEng) or not? What is the difference in meaning?


5 Answers 5


Both being fired and being forced out imply that the person had no choice but to leave. However, there are some legal and technical aspects that are specific to being fired that may not apply to being "forced out."

Being fired means that employment was terminated by the employer in a manner consistent with law and the employee's contract, or terms of employment. Often, someone who is fired will receive a severance package of some kind, and may be legally eligible for unemployment benefits.

Being forced out, in the context of employment, could mean that someone was given the choice to either resign or be fired. For instance, in political or high profile situations, an employee may opt to resign rather than be fired in order to protect their reputation.

In some cases, "forced out" could be used if the writer is unsure of whether the person in question was technically fired or resigned. For example, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced out of his position after allegations that he colluded with the Russian government, and at the time, different sources offered different accounts as to whether he was "fired" or "resigned."

The article you cited quotes a representative from Fox saying:

the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel

Since the announcement was phrased as an agreement, "forced out" in this context likely means that O'Reilly chose to resign rather than being fired in order to avoid the negative connotations of being "fired," and to make the incident appear less contentious.

As other answers have pointed out, in this particular case there is reason to believe that because the network itself was under pressure from advertisers and the public, the phrase "forced out" could refer to pressure on the network exerted from external sources. In that sense, this is a unique case of the term. Ultimately, the explicit implications are the same: that O'Reilly had no choice but to leave, regardless of whether he was fired or resigned.

UPDATE: In this particular case, it's been widely reported that O'Reilly is getting a big monetary payout ($25 million). This is likely a result of negotiation between O'Reilly and the network to reach an agreement consistent with the company's contractual obligations. By having both sides accept the terms of his dismissal, the network can be assured that O'Reilly won't sue them for wrongful termination, and O'Reilly can go on a long, expensive vacation. According to The New York Times:

The exact financial terms of Mr. O’Reilly’s exit package are not known, but it is expected that the company will disclose them in future regulatory filings.

  • "Forced out" is somewhat ambiguous with reasons. A proper "firing" is followed with reasons.
    – user39425
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 20:26
  • "the phrase "forced out" could refer to pressure on the network exerted from external sources" -- could, but doesn't. Fox forced O'Reilly to leave because of their business decision based on various factors, such as advertisers dropping the show because of the settlement.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 10:19

TL;DR: In most cases, being forced out implies that the employee has been coerced to quit; in this case, it probably also refers to arm-twisting of the employer by advertisers and public opinion.

Ordinarily, when someone is forced out of their job it means that they are forced in some way to resign, by an employer who wants to fire them but without the sticky consequences of an actual dismissal. For example:

Being Forced Out of Your Executive Job? 8 Things to Do Right Now
You may sense that you are being forced to quit—see the signs below that it is happening to you. Or your superiors might already have told you they want your resignation. (Lisa Rangel, Chameleon Resumes blog, September 2015)

How To Address Being “Forced Out” During a Job Interview – Ask #HR Bartender
"I recently was forced out of a position and am now job hunting. I was not fired; I left of my own volition, but it was clear my boss wanted me to go." (Sharlyn Lauby, HRBartender.com, August 2014)

US border chief 'tells agents he was forced out of job' day after Trump signs Mexico wall executive order
Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan told senior agents about his removal during a video conference on Thursday morning. He reportedly said he was asked to leave and that he decided to resign rather than fight the request. (Tom Batchelor, Independent, January 2017)

There are reasons for both employers and employees to prefer a forced resignation to a straightforward dismissal, some more licit than others; you can read more about the less-legitimate side of things under the legal term constructive discharge or constructive dismissal, as in this Wikipedia article.

However, in this case I don't believe the implication is just that Fox News asked for or forced Bill O'Reilly's resignation. Rather, the implication here is that both O'Reilly and Fox News were forced by outside actors to end their association.

The headline reads

Bill O’Reilly Is Forced Out at Fox News

This is a somewhat odd construction: if this were a traditional case of forced resignation, we would ordinarily see the word by instead of at, as Fox News would be the agent doing the forcing.

The content of the article makes this a bit clearer. From the article linked in the question (emphasis mine):

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, said in a statement.

Mr. O’Reilly is departing two and a half weeks after an investigation by The New York Times revealed how Fox News and 21st Century Fox had repeatedly stood by him even as sexual harassment allegations against him mounted. . . .

Since then, more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups had called for his ouster. Inside the company, women expressed outrage . . . .

That put pressure on 21st Century Fox and the Murdoch family, which controls the company. . . .

In a letter to the staff Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, the top executives at 21st Century Fox, avoided any mention of Mr. O’Reilly’s transgressions and praised him as “one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news.”

Given this context, and the sidebar on O'Reilly's financial importance to the network1, there seems at least a strong implication that both O'Reilly and Fox/the Murdochs were "forced" against their will to end O'Reilly's contract—forced, in no small part, by the investigative reporting of the New York Times itself.

1 "Bill O’Reilly was an essential asset to Fox News. His No. 1 cable news show made about $178 million in advertising revenue in 2015, and gained viewers in the prelude to the election and since."

  • "This is a somewhat odd construction..." To be forced out by Fox News implies that the company (Fox) forced him out. It would seem the real reason was probably "public opinion" after the disclosure of his behaviour in the past. To be "forced out from Fox News" may be a more natural construction than "at Fox News", but newspaper headlines are often constructed to fit into the available space rather than for grammatical correctness, and that could explain why a 2-letter word was used instead of a 4-letter one.
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 11:08
  • "I don't believe the implication is just that Fox News asked for or forced Bill O'Reilly's resignation" -- you're wrong. the company said that he is being forced out. Fox is certainly not asserting that it's beyond their control. They made a business decision based in part on outside factors, but the NYT text refers to a corporate action they took.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 10:22
  • @alephzero " It would seem the real reason was probably "public opinion" " -- no, the real reason is 50 companies dropping advertisement as a consequence of the legal settlement. Of course public opinion played a role in those companies dropping their advertising, but dropping the advertising is the proximate reason.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 10:25

Forced out is vague. It means only that some (unstated) measures were taken that (somehow) compelled him to leave.

This could mean anything from providing a strong incentive for him to quit/resign to firing him. There is no particular official status or procedure associated with the expression being forced out.

When someone is to be forced out, s?he is made to leave by whatever means necessary. It might not be necessary to fire someone to achieve that goal.

Force out is thus not necessarily "stronger than fire or sack" (whatever that might mean).

  • 2
    To clarify, fired and sacked are the same, while laid off and made redundant are the same and different from the first pair. All of these involve notionally involuntary severance of employment, but forced out may be none of the above and also something legally distinct should that distinction matter.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 0:34
  • @tchrist: To clarify, what you clarified was a comment, now deleted, from someone to the question. In my answer I quoted that comment, which said that force out is "stronger than fire or sack". I agree that fire and sack are synonymous. Lay off and make redundant are not necessarily synonymous, though. The latter is just another weasel-word euphemism, as there is not necessarily any redundancy involved, whether made, found, or invented.
    – Drew
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 1:22
  • 1
    Arguably, "made redundant" may be specifically applicable to layoffs resulting from mergers and acquisitions, where there is in fact duplication/overhead that can be eliminated. On the other hand, if a certain industry must scale back production due to decreasing demand, they may have "layoffs" to reduce the workforce, where these people aren't "redundant", they simply are no longer needed -- even if only temporarily. (But I agree, "made redundant" is sometimes used for no reason other than to avoid saying "layoff".)
    – mick
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:45
  • @michael_n In British usage, somebody being "made redundant" just means that they ceased to have a job not through any fault of their own but because there was no work for them to do any more. That could be a result of a merger (the combined company only needs one widget development manager) or a downturn in business (nobody's buying widgets any more so the company doesn't need as many widget engineers). Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 12:33
  • I did say "arguably" :-) It does seem like "made redundant" is now firmly ensconced in the British lexicon, whereas in American usage (that's me) it's still said with a little bit of self-aware cynicism -- that it really is just a euphemism, no better than the word(s) it is replacing.
    – mick
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 21:54

I don't think he chose to resign; there was a clause in his contract enabling him to be dismissed, according to this story from The Washington Post:

The host of “The O’Reilly Factor” got the news while awaiting a flight back to the U.S. from a vacation in Italy. His representatives said he was “resigned” to his demise, having monitored rapidly deteriorating negotiations over his exit over the past several days. O’Reilly wasn’t directly involved in the discussions with the family of Rupert Murdoch, which controls Fox and 21st Century Fox; his attorney, Fred Newman, conducted the talks.

In the end, Newman couldn’t save his client’s job. People close to O’Reilly said Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan, who head 21st Century, effectively decided O’Reilly’s fate with little outside discussion. O’Reilly’s contract--signed just last month--contains a clause that enables him to be dismissed under a fixed financial formula, averting protracted negotiations.

The New York Times had published stories earlier this month that O'Reilly had settled sexual harrassment suits with 5 women for a total of about $15 million; then a sixth woman free to speak out came forward; advertisers left the program; the Murdochs had had other contentious matters to contend with. It would be interesting to know the content of the contract clause under which he was dismissed.

  • My guess is that the legal terminology for what happened is that Fox News (or 21st Century) "exercised their right to terminate the contract" or something similar (with whatever conditions were met). The WP story suggests they talked to the Murdochs as well as Newman--or people very close to them.
    – Xanne
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 23:21
  • Depends on the jurisdiction. In most common law countries and jurisdictions, there would be an implied clause covering this kind of situation which lawyers would argue is a fundamental breach entitling his employers to terminate his contract of employment. In the alternative, there might well be an express clause covering this kind of behavior alleged or otherwise. Finally, most developed common law jurisdictions would have enacted (Acts/Statutes) laws covering this situation. Take your pick. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 6:24

Another way of putting "forced out" was that O'Reilly was "asked to leave."

That technically isn't the same as firing, and the idea was probably to avoid the legal issues (on both sides) connected with firing. Instead, O'Reilly was offered a sum of money, basically to agree to leave as a "carrot," but with the "stick" of firing, (and less or no money) if he didn't accept. In the words of the Godfather, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." Both sides "save face" when this happens.

During World War II, when Hitler suspected Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of treason, Rommel was offered the choice of a private death by poison, with full burial honors befitting his rank, or a public trial and execution that would have tarnished his reputation. In this way, Rommel was "forced to die" instead of being tried and killed.

  • 1
    Sorry, I had to roll back your edit. I am not asking "how" O'Reilly was forced out because that question would be impossible to answer, unless someone was actually in the room with Rupert Murdoch when it happened. I just want to know the difference in nuance between fire and forced out.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 0:40
  • Another thing about "being forced out": if you can be induced to resign, it's much harder for you to sue the employer than if they officially fired you. (Harder, but not impossible.)
    – WGroleau
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 1:48

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