Fox News has paid millions to settle allegations of sexual harassment against ratings king Bill O’Reilly, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
The Times uncovered settlements totaling $US13 million that were paid out to five women, in exchange for the women agreeing not to file lawsuits against O’Reilly or speak about their accusations.
The women’s allegations, which date back to 2002, included complaints of verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances, and phone calls “in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.”
Of the five settlements, two had already been reported on in the media: one involved $US9 million paid in 2004 to a producer, and the other was agreed on last year with a former on-air personality, which The Times reported on.
The other three settlements include sexual harassment claims and allegations of verbal abuse which involve O’Reilly allegedly criticising a producer in front of colleagues.
In addition to the women who received settlements, two others have also accused O’Reilly of inappropriate behaviour. Wendy Walsh, a regular guest on The O’Reilly Factor, was offered a paid contributor position at the network. After she refused an invitation to go to O’Reilly’s hotel suite in 2013, he did not follow through on securing her a job at Fox News, according to The Times.
“I feel bad that some of these old guys are using mating strategies that were acceptable in the 1950s and are not acceptable now,” Walsh said. “I hope young men can learn from this.”
She added that relationships at work “should never happen when there is an imbalance of power and colleagues shouldn’t unwittingly be manipulated into obtaining sex for somebody.”
O’Reilly was also accused of sexual harassment by former Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros. Tantaros made the claims in a lawsuit she filed last summer against the network and former chairman Roger Ailes.
Ailes was ousted last summer after a number of sexual harassment allegations. After Ailes’ exit — which included a $US40 million package — Fox News said there was no room at the company for behaviour that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
Two of the company’s executives, James and Lachlan Murdoch, said after Ailes’ departure from the network that the company was committed to “maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.” Since that statement, the network has reached two settlements with women accusing O’Reilly of sexual misconduct, and become aware of another secret settlement O’Reilly reached in 2011.
When reached for comment by The Times about the newly-uncovered allegations against its primetime host, Fox News released a statement saying, “21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behaviour very seriously.”
It continued: “Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility. Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.”
O’Reilly has denied that there is any merit to the allegations against him. O’Reilly hired crisis communications expert Mark Fabiani last week, who released a statement to The Times on behalf of O’Reilly.
“Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity,” the statement said. “In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.
“But most importantly, I’m a father who cares deeply for my children and who would do anything to avoid hurting them in any way. And so I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children,” it continued.
The statement also suggested that O’Reilly is a target of harassment claims because of his prominence and the revenue he rakes in for the network — he spearheads the top-rated cable news show in the country.
O’Reilly’s lawyer, Frederic S. Newman, said in a statement Friday evening that they “are now seriously considering legal action to defend Mr. O’Reilly’s reputation.”
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