James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, said he was unaware that ex-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s settlement with a former employee included a staggering $32 million payment — and he defended the company’s handling of the situation.
Last Saturday, the New York Times reported that O’Reilly personally reached a $32 million settlement in January with former Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl. The following month, Fox News entered into a multiyear contract renewal with O’Reilly, bumping up his salary to $25 million a year from around $20 million under his previous deal.
“It was news to me when we saw that number the other day,” he said, speaking at the Paley Center for Media International Council Summit in New York on Wednesday, referring to the $32 million figure. That settlement was not entered into by 21st Century Fox, he noted.
“It’s easy from the outside to look at it and say, ‘Well, didn’t you know that?'” he said. “I think the issue becomes, how do you react to those things” once they are brought to light.
Murdoch said that the media conglomerate fired O’Reilly after investigating the complaints, as well as Fox News founder Roger Ailes following other sexual-harassment allegations. “You investigate things thoroughly, you make what you think is the best decision,” he said, when asked about O’Reilly by CNBC’s Julia Boorstin, who interviewed the exec at the Paley Center event.
Murdoch said his hope with 21st Century Fox’s firing of O’Reilly and Ailes is that it “sends a really strong signal to all of my colleagues, to everyone in the industry… that actually there are behaviors that are not tolerable.”
21st Century Fox has acknowledged that it knew about Wiehl’s threat to sue O’Reilly for sexual harassment when it renewed the Fox News star’s deal in February “but was informed by Mr. O’Reilly that he had settled the matter personally, on financial terms that he and Ms. Wiehl had agreed were confidential and not disclosed to the company.”
In a statement Saturday, 21st Century Fox defended the O’Reilly contract renewal, saying the new agreement included provisions that he could be terminated if the company discovered or was made aware of additional harassment allegations against O’Reilly.
Fox News fired O’Reilly in April, after the New York Times reported he had privately settled harassment and sexual harassment claims with five women.
In July 2016, 21st Century Fox ousted Ailes after sexual harassment allegations against him that led Fox News to reach a $20 million settlement with former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Ailes died of a head injury after a fall in his home this May.