Coverage: Fox News parts ways with Bill O’Reilly
Anchor Bill O’Reilly will not return to Fox News after the company investigated sexual harassment claims against him, causing another black eye for parent company 21st Century Fox.
Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times had the news:
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. The Times found that the company and Mr. O’Reilly had reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.
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 and questioned whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on “trust and respect,” as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal led to the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.
That put pressure on 21st Century Fox and the Murdoch family, which controls the company. After the dismissal of Mr. Ailes, the company struck two settlements involving sexual harassment complaints against Mr. O’Reilly and extended his contract.
Last week, the Murdochs enlisted the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior after one woman who had related complaints against Mr. O’Reilly to The Times called the Fox hotline to report her allegations. Since then, other complaints have been lodged, including one on Wednesday by a current Fox News contributor who said Mr. O’Reilly made inappropriate comments to her and encouraged her to show more cleavage at work.
Paul Farhi of the Washington Post reported that O’Reilly didn’t negotiate his departure:
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 end for O’Reilly was set in motion by a scathing New York Times investigation in early April that revealed that he and Fox had settled five allegations of harrassment brought by Fox employees over a 15-year period. The company and O’Reilly paid out $15 million in exchange for his accusers’ silence.
The Murdochs were well aware of the allegations against O’Reilly when they re-signed their star commentator to a new three-year contract that pays him around $18 million a year. In preparing their story, reporters for the New York Times had sent Fox’s executives a long list of questions, placing senior executives on alert months in advance of its publication.
Alex Koppelman, Dylan Byers and Brian Stelter of CNNMoney reported that the Murdochs want to address morale issues at Fox News:
In a letter to employees obtained by CNN, 21st Century Fox patriarch Rupert Murdoch said the decision “follows an extensive review done in collaboration with outside counsel.”
“By ratings standards, Bill O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news,” the three wrote. “In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable. Fox News has demonstrated again and again the strength of its talent bench. We have full confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news.
“Lastly, and most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
The letter concluded with an apparent nod to morale problems within Fox News recently.
“I understand how difficult this has been for many of you,” it said. “Thank you for your hard work, patience, and for the great job you all do delivering news and opinion to millions of Americans whose trust you earn every day. I look forward to even more success in the coming years.”