Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly issued a statement today on his website about a New York Times report that either he or his employer supposedly paid out approximately $13 million to settle sexual harassment complaints from multiple women.
O’Reilly denies that the claims were meritorious, the Fox News parent company indicated, however.
The powerhouse O’Reilly Factor which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, is the longtime top-rated show on the very successful cable network, generating about $450 million in advertising revenue in the past three years.
In a lengthy expose, the Times outlined the allegations against O’Reilly, which it claims it obtained from 60-plus interviews with persons in the Fox News orbit, most of whom spoke anonymously.
“The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including 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.
“The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.”
The Times story listed the names of the five women who received settlements for either alleged verbal abuse, or alleged sexual harassment, that totaled $13 million. The Times identified the women as Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, Andrea Mackris, Rebecca Gomez Diamond, Laurie Dhue, and Juliet Huddy.
The media has previously reported on two of the five settlements.
In his statement, the divorced Fox News anchor, who earns about $18 million a year from Fox News (and this doesn’t include royalties from his best-selling books and other income streams), suggested that he is targeted because of what lawyers often refer to as deep pockets.
O’Reilly’s full statement below neither confirms nor denies the payouts, but gives a practical rationale for potential settlements.
“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.”
O’Reilly would hardly be the first high-visibility celebrity to write a check to settle a potential legal issue for what they often consider nuisance value, rather than run up big legal fees in a public trial.
In a statement last night, O’Reilly’s attorney said that a lawsuit is under consideration to defend his client’s reputation, but there was no indication as to whom would be named as defendants.
Fox News CEO and founder Roger Ailes famously exited the company in July, 2016, after former anchor Gretchen Carlson accused him of sexual harassment. Carlson reportedly received a $20 million out-of-court settlement check, while Ailes left with a $40 million golden parachute after an internal investigation. In a lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court, Carlson claimed that she was wrongfully terminated on June 23, 2016, as a result of allegedly refusing Ailes’ sexual advances. Ailes denied the allegations and insisted at the time that her contract went unrenewed because of low ratings.
Fox News is engaged in an ongoing, bitter legal struggle with fan favorite Andrea Tantaros, the popular former Outnumbered and The Five co-host over alleged sexual harassment. In August, 2015, Tantaros sued Fox News, former CEO Roger Ailes, and four other FNC defendants, claiming that the TV channel retaliated against her in the workplace for complaining to high-level executives there about alleged sexual harassment by Ailes. Ailes and Fox have denied the allegations, and the channel insists that the suspension came because Tantaros failed to get pre-approval for her book manuscript and that Tantaros never lodged internal complaints about sexual harassment.
“Mr. O’Reilly is not a defendant, but in the suit Ms. Tantaros said that in early 2016 Mr. O’Reilly had asked ‘her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be ‘very private,’ and told her ‘on more than one occasion that he could ‘see [her] as a wild girl,’ according to court documents,” the Times claimed.
It’s fair to say that the New York Times is no Fox News or Bill O’Reilly fan for ideological/political reasons, so draw your own conclusions as to whether this could have an impact on the reporting. The ever-vigilant social justice cohort is also pouncing on the story.
Bill O’Reilly, 67, was one of Ailes’ strongest defenders after the scandal involving the CEO broke. During an appearance on CBS This Morning in November, 2016, he even chided ex-colleague Megyn Kelly for disloyalty over dissing Ailes in her book.
The Fox News parent company, 21st Century Fox, provided a supportive statement to the Times that was included in the breaking story.
“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.”
Bill O’Reilly got into hot water last week when he mocked President Trump foe Maxine Waters, the California congresswoman, for her “James Brown wig.” He subsequently apologized.
Watch this space for updates on the Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment settlement allegations.
[Featured Image by Richard Drew/AP Images]