Will Fox News Turn Its Back on Bill O’Reilly in Face of Sexual Harassment Scandal?

Donald Trump Bill OReilly Sexual Harrassment

Just as Fox News was moving forcefully into the post-Roger Ailes era with none other than Rupert Murdoch at the helm, a fresh crisis has erupted to underscore how hard it will be for the news organization to clean up unsavory aspects of its workplace culture, past and present.

Bill O’Reilly is accustomed to slinging condemnation on his nightly “The O’Reilly Factor,” but now the top-rated cable-TV news personality has become the focus of outrage and advertiser defections following the April 1 New York Times exposé about sexual-harassment allegations against him.

The same day the scandal surfaced, news broke that O’Reilly’s multi-million-dollar contract had been quietly extended. His previous deal had been set to expire at the end of 2017. After losing star anchor Megyn Kelly to NBC News in January, Fox News moved quickly to re-up with O’Reilly, although they kept it quiet, even internally, in anticipation of the Times story. It’s understood that the new deal includes tougher language that gives the network leeway to end the relationship if there are fresh allegations leveled at O’Reilly for unacceptable workplace behavior.

The accusations that O’Reilly used his clout to seek sexual favors and punish those who didn’t acquiesce — resulting in at least $13 million in settlements — was an uncomfortable echo of the allegations unleashed last summer against Ailes. Ailes, the seemingly indomitable Fox News founder and CEO, was forced out last July, albeit with a $40 million settlement. Ailes and O’Reilly have denied wrongdoing. (O’Reilly has said he entered into settlement agreements to protect his children.)

Severing ties with Ailes was a shock to the system for Fox News, which he led for 20 years to great heights of viewership and profitability. The mounting pressure to make a decision on O’Reilly’s fate could deliver an even bigger shock to the bottom line of parent company 21st Century Fox.

Photo by Ben Baker

21st Century Fox initially issued a qualified statement of support for O’Reilly, acknowledging the sexual harassment-related settlements but in the same breath asserting that no employee has ever filed an HR complaint against him.

“Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News,” 21st Century Fox said.


Bill OReilly Roger Ailes Sexual Harrassment Fox News

Fox News Sends Troubling Message in Standing by Bill O’Reilly: Ratings Trump Employee Rights

But as the advertiser pullouts snowballed throughout last week, the unease caused by the situation was palpable, insiders said. There’s a sense that the question of O’Reilly’s fate with Fox News is far from settled — and executives were on eggshells about the prospect of more revelations to come. For the first time, sources said, there has been real thought given to who might succeed the network’s longtime star in the crucial 8 p.m. time slot.

The situation amounts to an enormous dilemma for Murdoch — who stepped in as interim Fox News chairman after Ailes’ hasty ouster — and his sons, 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch and executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch, who have taken the corporate reins of their father’s empire.

Fox News alone generates as much as 20% of 21st Century Fox’s annual operating profit. “The O’Reilly Factor” has been the cornerstone of the channel since its inception, drawing nearly 4 million viewers a night. More than 60 advertisers were quick to drop out of O’Reilly’s program, but those dollars were largely shifted to the other programs on the Fox schedule. By the end of last week, “The O’Reilly Factor” was airing with as much as 10 minutes of extra editorial content to make up for the glaring lack of advertising.

From the outside, it appears that the Murdochs face the choice of standing by the personality who put Fox News over the top in its early battle with CNN, or risk losing his ratings and value to the network. Fox News is vulnerable to lost revenue if advertisers continue to stay away from “The O’Reilly Factor.” But the host has even greater value to Fox News as a must-have personality for a big slice of the cable news audience — a following that helps Fox News command nearly $2 per subscriber per month from MVPDs, the highest sub fee of any cable-news operation.

And then there’s the question of the message sent to employees and the news biz at large. If the allegations are credible — the claims of former “O’Reilly Factor” contributor Wendy Walsh are now being investigated by Fox News — leaving him on the air calls into question the parent company’s assertion that it takes questions of workplace behavior “very seriously.”

Another hard fact that will surely influence the Murdochs’ decision-making around O’Reilly is whether his core audience will be as alienated by the sexual harassment allegations as major advertisers. They did not abandon him last week: “The O’Reilly Factor” averaged 3.7 million total viewers and 652,000 in the target adults 25-54 demo last week, up by double digits in both measures from the year-ago frame. He ranked as the No. 2 show of the week in all of cable, behind only USA’s “WWE Raw.”

Ailes’ tenure at Fox News was finished when he lost the support of Rupert Murdoch after an internal investigation brought forth numerous reports of alleged harassment of female employees over the years. O’Reilly’s supporters at the network maintain that some of the incidents with five women detailed in the Times report began as consensual affairs. None of the material in the report came as a surprise to O’Reilly’s higher-ups. But the swift success of the campaign to pressure O’Reilly advertisers to drop the show has been a surprise. O’Reilly has steadfastly kept mum on-air about the harassment allegations and the advertiser defections on his show.

Taking O’Reilly off the air for at least some period of time could serve as a useful strategy, said Scott Tattar, a longtime public-relations executive who teaches communications at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “The basic rule of thumb in the PR business is to react swiftly and communicate from the top. That means the CEO of Fox needs to act with alacrity in order to sweep the O’Reilly situation away with minimal damage,” said Tattar. “Unfortunately for Mr. O’Reilly, that likely means some time on the beach.”

“Bill O’Reilly is going to be driven out.”
Lisa Bloom, attorney for Wendy Walsh

There are loud voices out there pushing for much more than a long vacation for the commentator.

“We will keep the pressure on,” says Lisa Bloom, attorney for Walsh. “The public is keeping the pressure on. The advertisers are keeping the pressure on. Just like everyone said Roger Ailes is so powerful, Bill O’Reilly is going to be driven out. He’s become a real detriment.”

Trying to fill hours without O’Reilly on the air would pose a challenge for Fox News. Simply put, it is difficult to envision the network without him. 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. A boost from O’Reilly’s lead-in has built other careers on the network. Megyn Kelly was a force in her own right, 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.

Who might Fox News use to stand in for him? Eric Bolling, a former commodities trader who is a co-host of the Fox News late afternoon program “The Five,” has worked as a “Factor” substitute, as has Watters and Fox News personalities Greg Gutfeld and Juan Williams. Bolling has been a semi-regular fill-in for O’Reilly on Friday editions of “Factor.”

The red-hot controversy swirling around O’Reilly has pushed Fox News to the brink of crisis when it should be doing a victory lap. But rather than riding high on its momentum, Fox News Channel can’t seem to shake the continuing fallout from the past.

Among the recent revelations:
» Julie Roginsky, a Fox News Channel contributor best known for her appearances on “The Five” and “Outnumbered,” raised new allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News in a lawsuit detailing her account of being harassed by former Fox News chief Roger Ailes and then discriminated against in retaliation for reporting the harassment. Ailes has denied the allegations.

» The former chief financial officer of Fox News Channel, Mark Kranz, is said to have been offered immunity from prosecution by U.S. government attorneys looking into payments by the network and 21st Century Fox to women who claimed to be harassed by Ailes. In February, 21st Century Fox acknowledged that it had “been in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s office for months,” but said that it had not received a subpoena. Fox also said it “will continue to cooperate on all inquiries with any interested authorities.”

» Three African-American employees of Fox News filed a racial discrimination lawsuit charging that they had been subjected to racist comments and discriminatory actions from the company’s longtime comptroller, Judy Slater, who was fired before the suit was filed in March. The complaints filed by the employees were full of details and comments attributed to Slater that reinforced the notion of Fox News being a rough working environment for women and minorities.

But nothing is a more immediate crisis to solve than the fate of O’Reilly. Behind the scenes, some Fox News executives have voiced quiet support for the host. But even those who believe the latest scandal is rooted in old news — the largest of the settlements in the Times report was widely publicized in 2004 — there is a grudging understanding that O’Reilly has become a litmus test for Fox News’ future.

Ramin Setoodeh contributed to this report.

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  1. Keith says:

    So long Fox news!!! You refuse to fight an obviously made up and orchestrated attack on the one effective counter to the progressive agenda – you are now irrelevant. You cowardly fools!!

  2. dale says:

    this sounds like a witch hunt if bill is gone so am I

  3. Paulette Smith says:

    We love Bill O’Reilly and would be very distressed to see him go. He is the quickest and smartest commentator I have ever seen. Fox has some other good people, but none would be as good as him. If Fox fires him or doesn’t renew his contract, Fox will lose lots of it’s viewership.

  4. Angelo Butcher says:

    The reason no employee has filed a complaint against him to Human Resources, is because if they do, that person who filed would be terminated.

  5. Verna Pidgeon says:

    I believe this whole thing here is political. Because Bill leans Republican, he is being scandalized.
    Just considering the last comment brought up, if in fact he did say it, ie “hot chocolate”…..well, think about it–what woman in her right mind wouldn’t want to be considered “hot”–it’s the word people commonly use to mean a woman is good-looking, sharp, sexy and eye-catching. That’s a compliment, Honey!
    As for the chocolate part, it merely refers to colour of skin–so what’s wrong with that? They have lots of names to denote white people. We don’t all take offence over every little thing!
    I’m Canadian and in my 70’s and I can clearly see the left is using this to get rid of Bill because of his political leanings.
    Grow up people–Trump won–Trump’s in & whether you get rid of Bill or not, there’ll be someone there to take his place to stick up for the truth.

  6. Pietro Fratelli says:

    Billy Sort of reminds me of the alcoholic Village priest. When questioned about his deplorable habit,he would answer. My son please do as I preach, not as i do !

  7. Maria Laqui says:

    the liberal media is out to get O’reilly off the air. come on, they don’t have as wide audience as he has. without Fox we will be hearing fakenew fakenewsfakenewsfakenews

  8. Paul Bieber says:

    Fake news is trying to get rid of Fox News , just like they are trying to take down President Trump , people shouldn’t believe all this , Fox news is the only place to get the real news !.

  9. TRAY says:

    People that say or stand up for Bill because of who he is are absolutely dumb. Did you not hear an old Trump say the same things on tape? It’s IS possible you idiots. It gives a better perspective why Megan left. Why way more whites work there and who is watching FOX OBVIOUSLY. Sexual harassment, advancement and further has NO age limit no community status no monetary status and no male/female status (although more males do sexually harass than woman by in large) People need EDUCATION BEFORE POSTING HERE. I DO NOT THINK YOU WOULD BE MOUTHING OFF HOW “INNOCENT” HE IS IF IT WAS YOUR DAUGHTER, MOTHER…..SISTER ETC. JUST BECAUSE YOU DO NOT KNOW THE VICTIM(S) DOESN’T IMMEDIATELY MAKE HIM INNOCENT. BTW…..HE IS COMING OUT WITH THE TRUTH AND FOR ALL YOU UNEDUCATED POS POSTING THAT THERE WAS NO WAY HE COULD HAVE…HE DID. SUCK THAT.

  10. Braandon says:

    One thing I would like to point out is O’Reilly is not a journalist. He is a talking head, an opinionist. He sits at his desk and spews his opinion for an hour. He is not trained ASM a journalists, he does not know what that is. You like him because he says out loud what you believe. Secondly, Fox News would not have paid $13 million if there was no there there. And Ms. Walsh had not come forwarded before because she didn’t believe anybody would believe her. She is not seeing for money so she isn’t out to get him. But she does want to tell her story. The world would be better off without O’Reilly’s hateful racist, mysoginistic venom. Just because you believe it to be true does not make it so.

  11. C. J. Hudson says:

    Anyone in the public eye is a target for slander. If the response is to fire the public figure, even more people will try to bring the public figures down and get their five minutes of fame. Anyone wanting to harm a broadcasting station or person they disagree with, can make slanderous statements, true or not, and do harm. Leave Bill O’Riley alone and let him keep his show. I have been on this earth 74 years and have yet to meet a person who is without flaws, made no mistakes or anywhere near perfect. I have watched “The Factor,” for years and would continue to do so if Bill O’Riley is the host. If he isn’t, it would be a shame. and FOX’s loss.

  12. J Schrader says:

    Jesse Watters better watch out. They will be coming for him next! Total BS.

  13. Diana Dee says:

    Unbelievable that anyone would believe the Failing New York Times!
    Mr.O’Reilly just doesn’t seem the type to Sexually a female employee. I think he’s more Professional than that. Just like The New York Times doesn’t mind down right Lying about #President TRUMP

  14. Me says:

    Interesting…i didnt know 13 million can buy you off a sex offender list
    Let everyone off for a price
    Any sponsors of him boycott!!!
    Look at united…there paying!

  15. J Schrader says:

    Fight back this time Bill.

  16. K says:

    No Bill, No Fox….and I speak for many viewers.

  17. chachacharly says:

    Im sure all feminists are applauding this removal. However I am wondering when each male star no matter race including all producers, directors, studio heads, agents, and entertainment attorneys in New York and Hollywood (entire entertainment and music industry) are reviewed with as much scrutiny regardless of affiliation to political party! You can’t be serious merely singling out just Ailes and O’ Reilly- otherwise its just another democratic party political stunt!

  18. Jane says:

    These ugly old f*cks would HAVE TO use threats— no sane person would EVER want to touch them physically otherwise…ugh…….

  19. HML says:

    It sure took Miss Walsh a long time to get mad about it. (-;

  20. A. Peter Ardito says:

    Short and simple: No Bill O’Reilly, No Peter Ardito. I’ll be back when Bill comes back.

  21. Cow Girl Diva says:

    PLEASE report on REAL news…!! Not “he said, she said” stories…!!! BORING…UNPROFESSIONAL…….!! It appears that Variety will do anything to keep from doing the real job of reporting on important issues and instead promote a political agenda….!!! I, for one, am VERY TIRED of this shallow crap being passed off as journalist…!!

  22. Linda Zazworsky says:

    I don’t condone sexual harassment in any form. However, I also believe famous and influential people are targets. I watch Bill O’Reilly and believe him to be one of the most honest journalists on TV. I hope Fox News will keep O’Reilly’s show. I also would like to point out Bill Clinton’s sexual harassment accusations. Yet, people idolize him and set him up as someone to emulate. Really! Until we are consistent in our punishment of those who sexually harass others, I say keep O’Reilly.

  23. gloribea says:

    If it does turn its back on Bill then I will turn my back on Fox. O’reilly is the only decent journalist talk show left.

  24. Rob Gee says:

    I am not clear why O’Reilly should leave the air. His show is good. He is provocative, has interesting debate with people of opposing opinions and keeps his viewers informed of key political developments. If he has committed a crime then he should be punished. If he has harmed someone in a non-criminal way he should have to pay in Civil court. If people do not want to watch him anymore then Fox will pull him. I, for one, find his show very informative and want him on the air. I trust that I will be trolled by leftwingers as someone who is insensitive to women’s rights but I would argue that those accusing women should not accept a settlement but instead see to it that he is punished to the full extent of the law.

  25. Daboraje says:

    Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me!! He never pulled a Bill Cosby did he? All of a sudden the termites crawl out of the woodwork and leave their BS!

  26. R. Ball says:

    Not sure of the time slot But….Get ready for the Tomi Lahren Show… Just sayin.

  27. Carlos ferguson says:

    This is another liberal maneuver to get back at him for his antiobama sentiment !

  28. That is how you ‘get’ anyone who you disagree with. Someone may hurt your feelings, so you accuse them of sexual harrassment. Doesn’t have to be true, but everyone will assume it is, so you’ve nailed them. It’s a game.

  29. Dee Win says:

    Tucker would be a good replacement. I haven’t watched, Bill, the Bloviator, for years.

  30. TexBill says:

    Who should replace O’Reilly if he gets dumped? My vote would go to Tucker Carlson and then in his place they should put in Jeanine Pirro. Or have Loud Dobbs come over from FNC, but they’d they would need to fill his big shoes over there. If the Murdocks decide to move Shepard Smith up, it would be the biggest mistake they’ve ever made.

  31. Rex says:

    Can’t wait to see that smug bastard off the air!

  32. What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”we know people in power are prone to lawsuits!

  33. Sonja Yagel says:

    I thought it would be over with Megan Kelly’s come hither looks and batting eyelashes, but it seems the Fox New Network hired a bunch of women who are gold diggers and cry harrassment everytime a man looks at them or says something to them. Between the blacks crying racism and the women crying sexual harrassment white men are the most discriminated against species in the world.

  34. Rusty Harris says:

    As long as his ratings are up, and he makes money for FNC, they will keep him. Once his ratings, and money making start to slide, he will “retire” to spend more time with his family, traveling bla bla bla.
    Tucker Carlson will most likely take his spot at some point anyway.

  35. Ruf says:

    They’ll soon be moving his show to the History channel.

  36. mark says:

    Something about the fact that she is a California Democrat(Maxine Waters ,Nancy Pelosi) make me suspect to her reason and credibility.

  37. Dan Higgins says:

    I see no reason whatsoever to have Bill O’Riley take even a vacation. He did noting wrong, until proven he’s innocent.

    • Braandon says:

      If he did nothing wrong Fox News would not have paid out $13 million on his behalf and when they redid his contract they would not have added language that gave them the ability to let him go if he continued the behavior. Now if none of that were true, he wouldn’t have signed the contract extension. He would have insisted it be taken out.

  38. I find it fascinating that every time you see a story like this, there’s no mention of the possibility the allegations are false. Rolling Stone just settled its FAKE NEWS lawsuit with a University of Va head (a woman) over their concocted-from-whole-cloth allegations of an entire fraternity ritually raping girls on campus.

    Ya know, because women would *never* lie about something as serious as that.

  39. Omega Man says:

    The fact that no HR complaint has ever been filed against him indicates that the story against Bill O’Reilly is pure slander. Accusations of this type are the favoured means by which the left attempts to take down public figures who do not kowtow to their narrative.

  40. If Bill doesn’t return, move Tucker Carlson to 8 pm slot. Laura Ingraham would be a great addition in the 9 pm slot.

    • I too always question the publicized allegations when no one ever went to HR for fear they would back the corporation. Even Meghan Kelly who claimed harassment never if I recall correctly filed a formal complaint with the Fox HR department and Kelly is a licensed attorney. I guess in her case the money she was making took precedent over her claim of sexual harassment. I worked for two major national corporations during my work career and in each if any woman filed a complaint through HR, the defendant was the one on the hot seat each and every time.

    • Sure until she accuses Tucker of sexual harassment and then he’s gone too!! No!!

  41. Realityman says:

    I’m sorry.. but Lisa Bloom is the attorney? Is this a joke? This is the same woman who tried to smear Trump with rape charges days before the November election. She never produced a victim, hard her stupid BS case tossed out of multiple courts, yet persisted to bring it up so her friends at the Huffington Post could write stories about. Lisa Bloom is a fraud. And now i suspect this entire scandal is yet another fraud.

  42. Sparky2 says:

    This is very simple….if Bill O’Reilly is guilt of sexual harassment, and I don’t mean some little comment that one can amplify to try and make money through an out of court settlement, then, if he actually did harass, then he should go away. If not, he should fight it tooth and nail, knowing that the liberal media will embellish it making him appear evil, then he will win the battle because the media already is now to be bias against conservatives and will support O’Reilly.

  43. Don Lawler says:

    It sounds as though Bill has all ready paid his dues for the action. I do not condone any type of sexual harassment at all, it just seems like nowadays there is really a fine line separating it from just teesing. When I was growing up things where taken with a little grain of salt, good grief women up/man up. I think if it is really severe than it is never to be tolerated but a tease come on. I know,,,,, who is to determined if it is severe PC Police. Of course I mean within reason.

    Oh good grief………………………………………………

  44. Marty says:

    Fox will be foolish if they get rid of Bill O’Reilly’s show. The liberal democrats are behind this of course. Sexual harassment or PC culture complaints to take down conservative support. Watch out Fox owners. We need another conservative news channel for competition.

  45. Chris says:

    Fox needs ann coulter tonreplace bill oriley

  46. How unrelated is that paragraph second from the bottom? Meanwhile, how many African American employees are suing CNN for racial discrimination? 150 is the number.

  47. Neither of Murdoch’s son is a smart businessman. If Bill leaves, I have no need to pay for cable anymore. I have been a loyal Bill’s viewer for the last 17 years. He is the only reason I subscribed for cable, to watch Fox News. I can watch a lot of political commentary for free on internet. Will save me a fortune every year.

  48. Frederik Labaar says:

    Variety get a life. Not enough substance let alone variety in Variety.

  49. Peter Semler says:

    Sexual harassment seems prevalent in companies that began or begin with start-up cultures. It is because Fox News has become establishment that Ailes and O’Reilly are no longer acceptable to the younger Murdochs. Ratings are useless metrics for cable.

  50. volare99 says:

    I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. I do know that I like O’Reilly’s program and mostly conservative commentary. I will be sorry if he has to go. There aren’t many conservative news shows out there. I wonder if this is just liberals trying to knock another conservative off the air.

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