As Fox News last year was plowing through the sexual harassment scandal involving now-former network chief Roger Ailes, King of Cable News Bill O’Reilly couldn’t have been more dismissive of the victims. “In this country, every famous, powerful or wealthy person is a target. You’re a target,” O’Reilly said in a July appearance on “Late Night” with Seth Meyers. “I’m a target. Anytime somebody could come out and sue us, attack us, go to the press or anything like that. … I stand behind Roger 100 percent.”
Roger was the wrong man to stand behind.
Subsequent events would say why: An internal investigation of Fox News turned up a series of complaints regarding Ailes’s conduct toward women. Former host Gretchen Carlson, who kicked off all the action with a lawsuit against Ailes in early July, received a settlement worth $20 million plus a no-nonsense apology from Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox. Ailes was ousted, though he denied the claims against him.
Months after lamenting his status as a “target,” we are learning that O’Reilly was speaking from deep experience. The New York Times reported on Saturday that about $13 million has been dished out over the years — by O’Reilly and his employer — to resolve complaints from women regarding O’Reilly’s antics. The claims shed light on just why O’Reilly and his former boss Ailes fashioned a mutual protection racket on the premises of Fox News: They both needed someone who’d have their back.
Reporting by the New York Times builds on an existing docket of allegations against O’Reilly. We already knew, for instance, that former producer Andrea Mackris had filed a sexual harassment suit against O’Reilly in 2004, alleging all manner of lurid conduct against the top host. She came away with a $9 million settlement, according to the Times. And news broke earlier this year that former employee Juliet Huddy had secured a settlement over O’Reilly’s alleged sexual advances toward her “in 2011, at a time he exerted significant influence over her airtime,” reports the New York Times.
That there’s more to this pattern should surprise no one who has observed O’Reilly’s incorrigibility over 20-plus years on Fox News’s airwaves. As the New York Times reports, O’Reilly in 2002 “stormed into the newsroom and screamed at a young producer, according to current and former employees, some of whom witnessed the incident.” That woman, Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, subsequently received a settlement.
Two others — Rebecca Gomez Diamond and Laurie Dhue — also received settlements in 2011 and 2016, respectively. In the case of Diamond, her settlement was paid by O’Reilly himself, as was Mackris’s. Dhue worked as an anchor at Fox News from 2000 to 2008 and cited sexual harassment allegations against both O’Reilly and Ailes.
Nor is that all. In her 2016 lawsuit against Fox News, former host Andrea Tantaros cited alleged sexual advances by O’Reilly, though she did not name him as a defendant in her civil action. Here’s the key paragraph about O’Reilly’s efforts:
[C]ommencing in February 2016, Bill O’Reilly (“O’Reilly”), whom Tantaros had considered to be a good friend and a person from whom she sought career guidance, started sexually harassing her by, inter alia, (a) asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be “very private,” and (b) telling her on more than one occasion that he could “see [her] as a wild girl,” and that he believed that she had a “wild side.”
More alleged sleaziness rounds out the O’Reilly file. As reported by the New York Times, former “O’Reilly Factor” guest Wendy Walsh claims that O’Reilly made the moves on her in 2013. Per the story: “Ms. Walsh said that she met Mr. O’Reilly for a dinner, arranged by his secretary, at the restaurant in the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. During the dinner, she said, he told her he was friends with Mr. Ailes, and promised to make her a network contributor — a job that can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year.”
After the meal, O’Reilly invited her to his hotel suite; Walsh refused to go, and insisted on hanging at the hotel bar. There, O’Reilly behaved like O’Reilly: “He became hostile, telling her that she could forget any career advice he had given her and that she was on her own. He also told her that her black leather purse was ugly.”
Not long thereafter, as the New York Times reports, Wendy Walsh disappeared from “The O’Reilly Factor.” She became a former guest, just the way Diamond became a former Fox Business host, just the way Mackris became a former producer for “The O’Reilly Factor,” just the way Dhue became a former anchor, just the way Huddy became a former on-air talent, just the way Bernstein became a former junior producer.
Through it all, O’Reilly remains the current King of Cable News. Nightly he spins whatever arguments are close at hand to make excuses for the actions and behavior of a friend and inveterate misogynist — the president of the United States. He promotes his serially mediocre books, including the recently released “Old School: Life in the Sane Lane,” which goes after “snowflakes,” a.k.a. people who come forth with grievances. And he rules the ratings.
That rather critical distinction explains why the parent company of Fox News would release a statement defending O’Reilly’s conduct.
21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously. 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.
Now for O’Reilly’s statement:
Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity. 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.
The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel. Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children. My primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.
Bolding added to both statements to highlight a commonality: What the heck is up with this “hotline” stuff? Must these women suffer twice? Once at the allegedly manipulative and power-tripping O’Reilly, and again at the hands of people faulting them for their failure to call a damn hotline? Shall we henceforth judge all those who claim sexual harassment by their due diligence in ringing up some phone number? And consider the context here: We have a company and a top host faulting women for failing to use a hotline, when it has been well known for some time that Ailes had financed a unit at Fox News entrusted with surveilling those he felt might be out to undermine his network. So perhaps those who felt harassed at Fox News didn’t feel so hot about the hotline.
The “hotline” angle, however, only grazes at the depravity in these statements. As for O’Reilly’s Teddy Roosevelt defense that he’s like the man in the arena, think about that: Anderson Cooper is “in the arena”; Jake Tapper is “in the arena”; Brian Williams is “in the arena”; Scott Pelley is “in the arena”; Sean Hannity is “in the arena”; Bret Baier is “in the arena”; Brian Stelter is “in the arena.” How many of these fellows have stacked up a basketball team’s worth of women willing to put their names to allegations of sexual harassment or mistreatment?
The notion, furthermore, that O’Reilly would just roll over and gift-wrap big-money settlements to undeserving complainants just to save his family a bit of trouble — well, that notion contradicts everything we know about O’Reilly. That is, the stubborn and penny-pinching “old school” guy who’d never surrender a dollar he didn’t have to. As for his family-protection rationale, who aside from the die-hard viewers of “The O’Reilly Factor” would consider believing him? Perhaps an appropriate way to protect his family from all these harassment complaints would be to start treating colleagues with more respect.
Fredric S. Newman, a lawyer for O’Reilly, told the New York Times: “We are now seriously considering legal action to defend Mr. O’Reilly’s reputation.” Okay, but in light of O’Reilly’s proven credibility problems exposed by various “far left” media outlets in 2015, his frequently offensive and irresponsible comments, and his core nastiness, it’s not clear just how much reputation there is to protect anymore. With his far-flung misadventures, O’Reilly appears to have libel-proofed himself.
The Erik Wemple Blog sent Newman a question: What sort of legal action? Newman passed along the request to crisis communications ace Mark Fabiani, who indicated that Team O’Reilly wasn’t commenting beyond the statement cited above, from O’Reilly. In any case, Newman’s words read like an assertion of legal thuggery designed to keep this story confined to early April 2017. As the New York Times documented, Newman has some experience on this front, as he sent some scary correspondence to Huddy warning of dire consequences should she press a claim against O’Reilly.
An aggressive lawyer, great ratings and a supportive parent company addicted to the advertising revenue churned out by “The O’Reilly Factor”: The King of Cable News has all the support he needs to continue his particular brand of on-air showmanship. Indeed, it has been reported that O’Reilly’s contract at the network has been renewed.
So O’Reilly will continue in his dual role as the network’s greatest asset and liability, all wrapped up in one self-important package. If nothing else, these latest revelations flesh out the deep affinities that he shares with his vanilla-milkshake-drinking buddy President Trump, who has his own patented ways of approaching women. When the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced last October, O’Reilly declined to air the most damaging part of the dialogue between then-businessman Trump and Billy Bush — that quip about grabbing women “by the pussy.” Why leave that out?
“I’m not going to play too much of it, because it’s crude guy talk,” O’Reilly told his viewers.
Here’s an anchor who shouldn’t be trusted to share space with his colleagues, nor to report on women and men. He is an awful, awful man.
Fox braces for fallout from Bill O'Reilly scandal
If Bill O'Reilly weren't the biggest star at Fox News, would he still have a job at Fox News?
Many media industry observers, reading about the harassment allegations that have cost O'Reilly and Fox millions of dollars, are saying he would not.
What does that answer say about the Murdoch media empire?
Murdoch and his sons are standing near O'Reilly, although not right next to him, by renewing his contract, but not issuing a full-throated defense.
And Fox's executives are waiting and watching, anticipating that more women will come forward with allegations against O'Reilly.
Other people in and around the cable news channel are also wondering about that -- and asking if any advertisers will avoid "The O'Reilly Factor" as a result of the scandal. A related question: will O'Reilly's viewers care about the controversy?
Murdoch associates winced on Saturday when The New York Times reported that five women received settlement payouts after accusing O'Reilly of harassment or verbal abuse. The Times said its reporting "suggests a pattern:" O'Reilly would wield his influence to "pursue sexual relationships" with women at Fox.
The story stung, but it was not surprising. For one thing, Fox executives and O'Reilly's representatives had known the Times investigation was in the works for months.
But they didn't need an investigation to know about O'Reilly's reputation. Inside Fox, there is a recognition that O'Reilly is a cable news legend, a loudmouth beloved by Fox's base -- but that he's also a liability because of his personal behavior.
O'Reilly settled a sexual harassment suit from ex-producer Andrea Mackris in 2004. (That payout accounts for $9 million of the $13 million in settlements The Times described, according to the paper.) And his ugly divorce proceedings, and the fallout from them, were documented by Gawker and its sister sites for years.
The Times (where I worked until 2013) began looking into the settlement payouts late last summer, after founding CEO Roger Ailes resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal.
The forthcoming story was the subject of C-suite office chatter throughout the winter. Murdoch associates wondered how damaging the story could be and discussed ways to blunt the impact.
The story went through an extensive legal review process. On Friday, as the Times was preparing to splash the story across the front page of Sunday's paper, a lawyer for O'Reilly threatened consequences, saying in a statement, "We are now seriously considering legal action to defend Mr. O'Reilly's reputation."
O'Reilly, 21st Century Fox said in a statement, "denies the merits of these claims."
In a statement on his web site, O'Reilly said he struck settlement deals to spare his children from hurtful headlines about lawsuits.
By the time the story came out, the Murdochs had already decided to extend O'Reilly's contract. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal was the first to report the new deal, and a source confirmed it to CNNMoney.
O'Reilly's contract, said to be worth about $18 million a year, was due to expire at the end of 2017; now it is unclear when it expires.
All of the parties involved declined to comment. But the news of the new deal is a contractual show of support from 21st Century Fox.
The support has limits, however. Two executives, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested Fox is taking a wait-and-see approach to the controversy that's been triggered by the Times investigation.
The case has parallels to professional sports, in which the business interests of teams and leagues sometimes override concerns about players' off-the-field behavior as millions of people look past the unsettling news coverage and tune in for the show.
But other people -- probably a smaller number of them -- are also looking at how the Murdochs are conducting themselves. Rupert Murdoch's sons James and Lachlan have signaled interest in reforming the company.
"Rupert's sons, you know, don't like this one bit, I can tell you. And there are people within the network itself who don't like this one bit," the FT's media correspondent Matthew Garrahan, who recently profiled the Murdochs, said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" Sunday.
Garrahan noted that it's Rupert, not the sons, who has been "running Fox News since Roger Ailes was pushed out. These are his decisions."
A generational divide looms over the current controversy. The elder Murdoch and O'Reilly have been in business together, through Fox News, for two decades.
O'Reilly is the cornerstone of the Fox News house. His show has been number one for over a decade. While Fox maintains a sizable audience all day long, more than one million additional viewers turn to Fox right at 8 p.m. for the "Factor," boosting the channel's prime time performance.
Fox has no obvious successor for O'Reilly's time slot, though several other personalities take turns filling in when he is away.
The title of O'Reilly's next book -- "Old School" -- describes him well. That's part of his appeal to his viewers. But if his fans are inclined to dismiss the Times story as a liberal hit job, the channel's staffers and investors are not.
People close to the Murdochs have said that the family members are "making things right," creating a safer climate for women -- an implicit break from the boorish Ailes era.
21st Century Fox has struck settlement deals with some of the women who said they were victimized by Ailes.
The company's statement over the weekend said "21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously and said O'Reilly is "fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News."
Those efforts include sensitivity training, sexual harassment training, and the hiring of new human resources executives at Fox News.
Two sources said reporters at the Times were aware of other allegations against O'Reilly, beyond the ones that were described in the story.
Times reporter Emily Steel said on "Reliable Sources" that "the facts in the story, that we put in the story, are the facts that we thought were ready to go."
One of the accusers named in the Times story, Wendy Walsh, is scheduled to speak at a press conference on Monday.
Walsh's attorney, Lisa Bloom, is calling for an independent investigation into harassment at Fox.