- Former Fox News primetime host Bill O’Reilly settled a sexual harassment claim in January for a record $US32 million.
- One month later, Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, renewed O’Reilly’s contract, giving him a four-year deal with a $US25 million annual salary.
- 21st Century Fox executive Rupert Murdoch and his sons decided to stand by O’Reilly despite the mounting allegations against him.
Former Fox News headliner Bill O’Reilly settled a new sexual harassment claim for a record $US32 million in January, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Longtime network analyst Lis Wiehl accused the prime time host of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship, and sending gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, sources briefed on the matter told the Times.
One month after O’Reilly settled the claim — which was at least the sixth agreement that had been reached relating to O’Reilly’s sexual misconduct — Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, renewed the host’s contract with the network and agreed to a four-year deal with a $US25 million annual salary.
The company said in a statement that it was not aware of the amount of O’Reilly’s settlement with Wiehl and saw the dispute as a personal issue between the two.
According to the Times, 21st Century Fox executives Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, decided to back up O’Reilly in January despite the mounting allegations against him. That decision hinged on two factors: limiting the negative publicity that a second sexual harassment scandal — coming as the network grappled with fallout from the allegations against former chairman Roger
Ailes — would bring, and Megyn Kelly’s announcement that she would be leaving the network after signing a multi-year contract with NBC.
O’Reilly’s $US32 million agreement with Wiehl is the largest known amount paid out to settle a sexual misconduct claim at Fox News, according to the Times. The closest figure to that amount is the $US20 million former host Gretchen Carlson received when she accused Ailes of sexual harassment in 2016.
O’Reilly’s lawyer disputed Wiehl’s characterization of their relationship and said the host’s relationship with the network analyst was an 18-year friendship during which she sometimes gave him legal counsel.
Mark Fabiani, O’Reilly’s spokesman, said regarding Wiehl’s allegations of a nonconsensual sexual relationship that 21st Century Fox was “well aware” Wiehl had signed an affidavit “renouncing all allegations” against O’Reilly and that after the agreement was reached, Fox News offered O’Reilly “a record breaking contract,” per The Times.
O’Reilly told the Times on Wednesday that none of the allegations against him held any merit. “I never mistreated anyone,” O’Reilly said, and reiterated that he had reached settlements with his accusers because he wanted to shield his children from the repercussions and publicity surrounding the issue.
“It’s politically and financially motivated,” O’Reilly told the Times, referring to the backlash that followed after the initial allegations against him were made public in April. “We can prove it with shocking information, but I’m not going to sit here in a courtroom for a year and a half and let my kids get beaten up every single day of their lives by a tabloid press that would sit there, and you know it,” he said.
O’Reilly was ultimately ousted from the network in April, following an exodus of advertisers from his show’s time slot. Earlier that month, the Times published an investigation that found that O’Reilly and Fox News had paid out $US13 million to five women to settle sexual-harassment claims they had brought against him.
Multiple other women accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment after the report was published. Shortly before O’Reilly was booted, an unnamed black woman said through her attorney, Lisa Bloom, that O’Reilly leered at her and called her “hot chocolate” in 2008. Bloom is also representing Wendy Walsh, a former Fox News contributor who has said that O’Reilly reneged on an offer of employment after she rebuffed his advances and declined an invitation to his hotel suite in 2013.
“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,” 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, said in the statement in April.
In an internal memo obtained by Business Insider, Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, said that “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,” the memo said.
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