Bill O’Reilly Is Officially Out at Fox News – Vanity Fair
Nine months after Fox News chief Roger Ailes resigned amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations, another sexual harassment scandal has brought down the network’s top-rated star, Bill O’Reilly. 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,” 21st Century Fox, the news network’s parent company, said in a statement Wednesday.
An internal memo reportedly sent out to Fox News staff explained that the decision follows “an extensive review done in collaboration with outside counsel.” The brief letter, signed by acting Fox News C.E.O. Rupert Murdoch, praised O’Reilly’s accomplishments and the “indisputable” nature of his success. “Lastly, and most importantly,” the memo reads, “we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
The decision follows a New York Times report earlier this month that found a total of five women had received payouts from O’Reilly himself or the company to settle sexual harassment claims or charges of other inappropriate behavior. Since then, dozens of advertisers had pulled spots from the show and crowds of protesters had congregated in front of the network’s New York headquarters to protest the man who was once the king of conservative media. (O’Reilly has denied any wrongdoing, saying that he is “vulnerable to lawsuits” as a public person and that he agreed to settle them in order to avoid “negative publicity.”)
O’Reilly, who has spent nearly two decades building up what was the highest-rated show in cable news and bringing in billions of dollars in ad money, went on vacation last week amid the controversy. In the meantime, executives at 21st Century Fox tasked Paul, Weiss attorneys with conducting an internal investigation of O’Reilly’s behavior. In a statement, O’Reilly’s attorney told the Wall Street Journal that the host has “been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America,” adding that it has “evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly and Fox News for political and financial reasons.” President Donald Trump also came to the embattled anchor’s defense, telling The New York Times in an interview earlier this month that O’Reilly is “a good person” and “shouldn’t have settled.”
Fox News confirmed that beginning Monday, Tucker Carlson will take O’Reilly’s prime spot in the 8 p.m. hour. Carlson took over at 9 p.m. when Megyn Kelly departed for NBC News, and his ratings have soared since the beginning of the year. The network is moving its 5 p.m. panel show, The Five, to nine. Sean Hannity will stay at 10 o’clock.
O’Reilly’s departure marks the second high profile sexual harassment scandal to shake up Fox News in the last year. In July, longtime anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against former C.E.O. Roger Ailes, alleging a history of inappropriate comments and advances at the hands of the cable kingpin. Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, who are executives in charge of the parent company, had hired Paul, Weiss to investigate the allegations then, too. More than two dozen women, including Kelly, came forward. Ailes, who denied the allegations, resigned from the network in short order, and 21st Century Fox settled with Carlson for $20 million in September. Late last year, Kelly left the network for NBC News. Ailes reportedly received in excess of $40 million he was owed as part of his contract.
The Murdochs reportedly struggled with whether or not to oust O’Reilly, whose ratings were little touched and viewership little bothered by the scandal. But the clock was ticking on their decision. In a few weeks, the Murdochs are set to go before the British media regulator, who will decide whether they are “fit and proper” to go forth with their $14 billion takeover of European pay-TV provider Sky. This is the family’s second bid for the company. It dropped its first takeover attempt in the wake of the London phone-hacking scandal in 2011.
The statement puts an end to weeks of speculation about the anchor’s fate, with a slow drip of news coming to a head over the last 24 hours. On Tuesday evening, the Journal reported that a decision regarding O’Reilly’s future at the network would likely come by the end of the week. (The Journal and Fox News are both part of Murdoch’s massive media empire.) A few hours earlier, CNN Money reported that representatives for Fox and O’Reilly had begun talking about his exit. (The network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, were to hold a board meeting on Thursday.) These reports followed a piece by New York’s Gabriel Sherman noting that O’Reilly appeared to be losing the support of Lachlan and James Murdoch.
By Wednesday morning, speculation had shifted from whether the prime-time host would survive Fox News’s latest sexual harassment scandal to how the network would navigate his departure. In a follow-up story, Sherman reported that executives were preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from vacation on April 24, and they were holding emergency meetings to discuss how to cut ties without creating chaos. They were also debating whether O’Reilly will be allowed an on-air goodbye to his viewers, which the network is reportedly hesitant to let him do, and what kind of severance package the anchor might receive. O’Reilly recently signed a multiyear contract reportedly worth $20 million annually.
This story has been updated with additional details.