The O’Reilly Factor Is Also Making Waves Across the Atlantic

Bill O'Reilly Scandal
REUTERS/Newscom

The eyes trained on the scandal over Bill O’Reilly aren’t just American ones. As Rupert Murdoch weighs the Fox News host’s fate, with an ouster seeming imminent, observers on the other side of the Atlantic are watching closely as well.

What they see unfold over the next 24 to 48 hours could affect Murdoch’s quest to expand his presence on the European broadcasting scene. In Britain, where James Murdoch has already been faulted by the government for past “failures of corporate governance,” regulators are now wrestling with whether 21st Century Fox would be a “fit and proper” owner of Sky, the pan-European broadcaster that Fox is trying to take over and the Murdochs have long coveted.

That has upped the pressure on – and scrutiny of – the Murdochs’ handling of the O’Reilly crisis. It has also revived uncomfortable memories of how a previous news scandal, Britain’s phone-hacking affair, torpedoed their earlier bid to acquire Sky.

Critics have already lined up to urge British regulator Ofcom to say no to the new takeover bid. One person who recently sent a letter to the agency from all the way across the Atlantic: Lisa Bloom, the attorney representing women who accuse O’Reilly of sexually harassing them.

“The similarities between the current harassment scandal and the phone-hacking scandal reveal the company’s approach to business and management – a lack of oversight, intervention, and decency,” Bloom wrote to Ofcom, in a little-publicized letter dated April 11. She lambasted Fox News for its “utter disregard for the rights of women.”

Ofcom is expected to deliver its verdict on the takeover bid by May 16. Whether the O’Reilly factor will figure into its deliberations is unclear, however.

According to some analysts, the agency is limited in what it looks at, and while it does take into account any criminal investigations, the mere fact of sexual harassment lawsuits and settlements at a company is no way disqualifying. Otherwise, “not one broadcaster would pass the ‘fit and proper’ test,” noted Claire Enders of London-based Enders Analysis.

Still, the controversy has raised echoes of the 2011 phone-hacking scandal, in which reporters at Murdoch’s British newspapers illegally tapped into the voicemails of celebrities, politicians, and even a murdered teenager. With the O’Reilly affair, again “you have a corporation which allows its talent to get away with breaking ethical guidelines,” British media commentator Roy Greenslade said. “It has a track record which suggests it breaks the rules, and that is something that should be taken into account by any regulator, especially one that is about to give a company huge leeway in media dominance.”

Reports say Rupert Murdoch is more protective of O’Reilly than are his sons James and Lachlan, who see the embattled host as a liability. Murdoch prizes loyalty, a trait that was also on display in the phone-hacking scandal. But the evidence also suggests that personal loyalty gets sacrificed, in the end, to his wider business interests.

In 2011, he staunchly defended Rebekah Brooks, the protegee who oversaw his British newspapers, including the News of the World tabloid, which sat at the center of the hacking scandal. After flying in to London to deal with the fast-escalating crisis, Murdoch was asked by reporters what his top priority was. He gestured towards Brooks and said: “This one.”

Yet within days, the News of the World was summarily shut down, the politically toxic Murdochs were forced to ditch their bid to acquire Sky (then known as BSkyB), and Brooks resigned from her high-profile post, eventually facing criminal charges, of which she was acquitted.

O’Reilly is likely to be in for similar treatment from his big boss.

“He has seemed in the past to give the top priority to loyalty and ties of employment over corporate governance,” Enders said of the elder Murdoch. But “when things get serious enough, they’ll be weighing how it looks for their business as a whole.”

During the hacking scandal, the Murdochs were quickly abandoned by the politicians in Britain who had earlier curried their favor with alacrity. Since then, the family has tried hard to rehabilitate their image and their newspapers in the U.K., citing “lessons learned” from the crisis. Rupert Murdoch, who for a time was shunned by Downing Street, met with Prime Minister Theresa May last year.

But May this week called for a snap election to be held in Britain on June 8. That means that campaigning will have begun before Ofcom’s deadline for submitting its report on the Fox-Sky takeover. The agency’s recommendations will be delivered in an atmosphere in which many politicians will once again be eager to avoid any taint of close association with or accusation of going easy on the Murdochs at a time when their company is embroiled in another major scandal.

Avaaz, an activist group urging rejection of the takeover bid, said it would keep up the pressure.

“Murdoch’s Sky bid rests on his promise that he’s cleaned up his act since the phone-hacking scandal in Britain,” said Alaphia Zoyab, a senior campaigner with Avaaz. “But leopards don’t change their spots, and it’s no surprise that he’s being engulfed in fresh scandals with the same pattern of cover-ups and impunity in the U.S. Britain should reject the Sky bid to stop Sky being turned into Fox News.”

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  1. Sharon says:

    A total witch hunt by Lefty’s that just can not handle the amount of people Bill reached.
    Do they really think that they will be stopping Bill ?
    The Kool Aid drinkers have pissed of the fighting Irish!

  2. Ann says:

    The more I read about the O’Reilly debacle the more I believe he was set up for the fall. The Murdoch wives hate O’Reilly and Trump. My opinion, they saw their chance to get rid of the man and they jumped at it.

  3. Phyllis Gordon says:

    I watch the Factor and Bill O’Reilly daily. So much for loyalty by Mr Murdoch. I am an avid viewer so now what is there left for me to watch? I hope that Bill will come back to his loyal viewers soon!

  4. leeneybelle says:

    Disgusting the way the MURDOCH’S treated BILL O’REILLY. My family and friends who were avid fans
    of Bill’s will no longer watch the factor or for that matter ANY of your fox new shows. Bill is the best you had and there is no replacement for him. You caved in to these women who have a vendetta against him.his ratings have been the highest. I hope your future program sinks and you will realize what you lost.

    • Janet Davidson says:

      Many people r not on your page. Why would u defend someone who is so OBVIOUSLY GUILTY? Bill needs to go as he’s become a huge liability and Murdock wants SKY!!! Good bye Bill and good riddance I say!!

  5. Stephanie Miller says:

    Kristin Powers claimed sexual harassment against Bill and said it was because Oreilly called her a blonde. Really??? This is getting rediculous, a woman can just come out, make up whatever she wants and the man loses his Job, for the stupidest jokiest comment a man can find himself in a court room (if he has money of course) paying a heavy price. Point is you just can’t make jokes like you use too in the early days of America, it will get taken the wrong way from some emotional woman who is ragging and she will become rich off you. Fact!

  6. joe says:

    Women just say sexual harassment to very rich powerful men, who pay and pay and pay and lose jobs, and i’m supposed to feel bad for the ladies? I don’t think so.

  7. J. Warner is says:

    This sucks no Bill Im out of here. Losers! T
    UpFive isn’t I’ll

  8. Frank Hertel says:

    With so many FOX personalities being called to publically account, for what may or may not be true, only one thing seems inevitable: If FOX fails to stick with their past success/methods and their people, and handle all accusations as an “Internal Matter”, then FOX will destroy itself and it’s standing with the Conservative Audience, who made FOX a success story. There is little doubt that many individuals and companies, with political intent at the root of their expose’ efforts, will be the benefactors of a “Failing” FOX Network. Start the snowball rolling down hill and it can get big enough to destroy.

    • Joan Worley says:

      no one should have to stand for being in any sexual harassment work place,lots of these woman on Fox News need to put some clothes on top to bottom, show their tail and breast,even a Pastor would look. I don’t like the curse nor smart mouth of lots of these folks, so many of my crowd have called off Fox News.Greg Gutt is one that needs to go potty mouth right at dinner.I know you want print this ,but you know what my group think. Joan

      • Tammee says:

        Joan love, I am quite sure I think I agree with you. Sorry but grammar is all over the place. Makes it difficult to be sure.

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