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Fox News Fires Bill O’Reilly Amid Sexual Harassment Storm

In a shocking reversal of fortune for one of the most prominent voices in TV news, Bill O’Reilly has been ousted from Fox News Channel amid the firestorm over sexual harassment allegations leveled against the host in recent years.

“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,” Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox said in a statement Wednesday.

In a memo to staffers signed by Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News; James Murdoch, 21st Century Fox CEO; and Lachlan Murdoch, exec chairman of 21st Century Fox, the Murdochs said the decision to part ways with O’Reilly was made after working with outside attorneys. Fox News had been investigating the most recent harassment allegations that surfaced in the past two weeks. The Murdochs said they sought to “underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”

In a separate memo sent by Rupert Murdoch to Fox News staffers, the chairman acknowledged “how difficult this has been for many of you. 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.”

The decision to turn O’Reilly loose appears to have been made between Tuesday and Wednesday by the Murdochs. The sons who took control of their father’s empire in June 2015 are said to have persuaded their father that continuing to back O’Reilly was a no-win situation for the larger corporate enterprise.

O’Reilly has been off the air since last Wednesday, part of what was billed a planned vacation around the Easter holiday. He had initially planned to return to his 8 p.m. show “The O’Reilly Factor” on April 24. But as outrage mounted and new allegations of inappropriate behavior surfaced, it became clear to the Murdochs and other leaders of 21st Century Fox that the company could no longer afford to back the star who helped bring Fox News to prominence nearly 20 years ago.

O’Reilly has been enmeshed in controversy since the start of this month after The New York Times reported that five women have received payments coming to about $13 million in exchange for agreeing not to pursue litigation or speak about accusations related to sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. O’Reilly has denied the allegations and said he entered into settlements to spare his family. O’Reilly’s attorney said Tuesday that the host was the target of a “smear campaign” funded by far-left advocacy groups.

As the controversy snowballed, dozens of advertisers yanked their commercials from his program and insisted they run elsewhere in Fox News’ programming schedule. Producers had to prepare for eight to ten minutes of additional content each night on the network’s “Factor” to make up for the migrating ad time.

The O’Reilly controversy surfaced as Fox News Channel and its parent continue to grapple with legal matters related to last year’s departure of Roger Ailes, the network’s founder and former CEO. He was ousted in 2016 in the wake of an internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations levied at him by Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor. The probe by the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison turned up other accusations, all of which Ailes denied. Fox had to bring in the law firm again after a former female Fox contributor made a new allegation via a corporate hotline put in place to give employees a way to make intolerable workplace conditions known.

The anchor’s departure will help quiet the fires around Fox News of late. But it could come at a big cost for the channel and 21st Century Fox, which relies on the news powerhouse for as much as 20% of its operating income.

“The O’Reilly Factor” has been the linchpin of the Fox News primetime lineup, and in recent months has typically lured between 3 million and 4 million viewers each weeknight. Moments after confirming the ouster of O’Reilly, Fox News unveiled a revised schedule to begin on Monday, anchored at 8 p.m. by Tucker Carlson’s “On the Record,” which bowed in January at 9 p.m. on the heels of another high-profile anchor departure, Megyn Kelly. The roundtable show “The Five” will make a big leap from 5 p.m. to the 9 p.m. slot. Sean Hannity remains in place at 10 p.m.

Carlson’s show has been a pleasant surprise for Fox News in that he has improved on the time period ratings delivered by Kelly’s “The Kelly File.” But the real test for Carlson begins Monday when he opens the night without the benefit of the “O’Reilly Factor” lead-in. Backlash among O’Reilly loyalists could cost Fox News viewership, especially at a time when numerous digital startups are vying for the conservative viewers who have long buoyed Fox News primetime lineup.

Rupert Murdoch in his memo sought to rally the troops, who have weathered the internal storms that began last summer with Ailes’ hasty exit.

Fox News has demonstrated again and again the strength of its talent bench,” Murdoch wrote. “We have full confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news.”

Here is the full memo sent by Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch:

Colleagues,

We’d like to address questions about Bill O’Reilly’s future at Fox News. After a thorough and careful review of allegations against him, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Mr. O’Reilly will not return to the Fox News Channel.

This 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. 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. 

Rupert Murdoch also sent a separate memo to Fox News staffers:

Dear Colleagues:

I would like to address questions about Bill O’Reilly’s future at Fox News.  After a thorough and careful review of allegations against him, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Mr. O’Reilly will not return to the Fox News Channel.

This 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.  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. Please see attached for our new programming line-up.

Most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.

I understand how difficult this has been for many of you.  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.

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