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Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly Faces New Off-Screen Controversy

Fox News Channel may have to put together its own Talking Points Memo on Bill O’Reilly.

For some viewers, the veteran anchor is Fox News. He has been part of its primetime lineup since the network launched in 1996 and the millions of fans he gathers each evening at 8 p.m. often stick around for the rest of the cable-news outlet’s evening offerings.

Yet viewers tuning in to his next “The O’Reilly Factor” broadcast may listen to hear whether he addresses a new controversy that erupted Tuesday. Fox News last year settled claims that O’Reilly sexually harassed Juliet Huddy, a Fox News on-air correspondent, and the company did so shortly after the network’s chairman, Roger Ailes, was removed from his post as he faced similar allegations, according to reports by LawNews and the New York Times. ““Juliet Huddy’s letter of intent to sue contained substantial falsehoods which were vehemently denied by Bill O’Reilly,” Fox News said in a statement.

The gossipy episode is the latest dispute to involve O’Reilly, who is never shy about speaking his mind and has over the years never hesitated to defend himself against an array of opponents. The latest conflagration comes to light while O’Reilly is in the last year of his current contract and hinted in an interview last summer that he could consider stepping down from his show. “I don’t want to work this hard much longer,” O’Reilly told Adweek in July.

Fredric S. Newman, an attorney who represents O’Reilly, could not be reached for immediate comment. A spokesman for 21st Century Fox referred an inquiry to Fox News.

The cable-news network has been trying to move forward under new management after Ailes was ousted last summer in the wake of sexual-harassment allegations levied at him by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Ailes has denied the charges. Fox News has continued to win more viewers than its main competitors, CNN and MSNBC, and has proven better at retaining eyeballs as the frenzy around the recent presidential election begins to settle.

At the time of Ailes’ ouster, Lachlan and James Murdoch, the executive chairman and CEO, respectively, of 21st Century Fox, said the company intended to “continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.” The executives also said: “We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.” A few other settlements were made after Ailes’ departure related to sexual-harassment claims, according to people familiar with the matter.

It is hard to envision a Fox News without O’Reilly’s program. Once known as “The O’Reilly Report,” his program attracted an average of nearly 3.3 million viewers in 2016, according to data from Nielsen — making it the most-watched program on cable news. It’s a distinction the program has held for some time, and a boost from O’Reilly has built other careers on the network. Megyn Kelly was a force in her own right, to be sure, and her willingness to push back on conservative politicians helped her stand apart from the pack. But she also benefited from O’Reilly’s weeknight lead-ins. Jesse Watters, a “Factor” regular who draws attention with man-on-the-street interviews, was recently granted a new hour-long berth on Fox News’ Saturday-night lineup.

At the same time, O’Reilly has been involved with a handful of off-air controversies in recent months.

During a November appearance on “CBS This Morning,” he suggested Kelly’s new memoir, “Settle for More,” made Fox News look bad because it tackled the subject of the sexual-harassment claims against Ailes. In 2015, O’Reilly became embroiled in accusations by Mother Jones magazine that he had made false claims about time he spent covering the Falklands War in 1982. O’Reilly denied the accusations, going so far as to tell a New York Times reporter, Emily Steel, that he would go after her “with everything I have” if he felt her coverage was inappropriate. “You can take it as a threat,” he added.

He has been enmeshed in sexual-harassment accusations in the past. In 2004, O’Reilly settled a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by a former producer on his show, Andrea Mackris, alleging he had made explicit phone calls to her. O’Reilly filed a lawsuit against the employee alleging she was trying to extort millions of dollars in so-called “hush money” to stop the case. The two parties eventually reached a settlement believed to be worth millions of dollars. “This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again,” O’Reilly told his viewers.

Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of Fox News and also of its parent company, has indicated he wants O’Reilly to remain where he is. “We’re going to want Bill to stay with us,” he told the Wall Street Journal in October.

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