Bill O’Reilly’s ouster from Fox News amid a firestorm of mounting sexual harassment allegations was the talking point of cable news on Wednesday night.
His stunning departure was addressed on “The Factor,” O’Reilly’s former show, by Dana Perino, who has been filling in for him while he had been on vacation.
“Bill has been the undisputed king of cable news, and for good reason,” Perino said as “The Factor” logo — scrubbed of O’Reilly’s name — was visible in the background.
“He is an incredibly talented broadcaster who raised the bar for interviewers everywhere,” Perino continued. “He has also held his staff to exacting standards in his quest to put the best possible program on the air.”
She added: “We wish him the very best.”
Fox issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying it was dropping O’Reilly from the network after two decades following the public revelations of sexual harassment allegations. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Fox News and O’Reilly had paid five women who had accused him of inappropriate behavior over $13 million in settlements, leading to an exodus of more than 50 advertisers from his top-rated primetime show.
O’Reilly called the claims that resulted in his departure from Fox News “unfounded.”
“It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims,” he said in a statement. “But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”
In a memo to 21st Century Fox staff explaining O’Reilly’s exit, owners Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch said they wanted “to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
The drumbeat of accusations that led to O’Reilly’s ouster began to gather steam last summer, when former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit against former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Carlson alleged she had been fired by Ailes after refusing to have sex with him.
Ailes later resigned after an internal investigation turned up harassment claims from more women, including former Fox News star Megyn Kelly.
Carlson marked O’Reilly’s departure Wednesday in a tweet calling on Congress to pass legislation helping victims of workplace harassment.
“The only way to end harassment is to shine a light on it,” she wrote. “Ask Congress to pass the Fairness in Arbitration Act. No more silencing women!”
On CNN, former Fox News regulars spoke about their own experiences with O’Reilly, Ailes and the allegedly toxic culture that permeated their work environment.
Kirsten Powers, a USA Today columnist and CNN contributor, recalled an incident in which O’Reilly thanked her and Margaret Hoover, who is also now with CNN, for their “blondness” on air.
“So I went to his executive producer and I said, ‘He needs to apologize, and he needs to never do that again or I’m not doing his show anymore,’” Powers said. “And I was told basically, ‘Well, you know Bill, there’s nothing we can do about it. He’s a throwback. He’s kind of an Archie Bunker.’”
“And I said, ‘Well, if you mean he’s a Neanderthal, then we’re on the same page. He can never do that again. I’m a political analyst here,’” she continued. “[The executive producer] went to Bill, came back and said, ‘No, he’s not going to apologize.’”
Powers said she complained to Ailes, who she said told her, “There’s nothing we can do. It’s Bill. He’s a jerk. Nobody likes him.”
“You know Bill. He likes to put up dirty pictures and ask girls to talk about them,” Ailes said, according to Powers.
“This was the culture,” Powers said. “Bill was, you know, just too big, and so there was nothing you could do about it.”
Hoover, a Republican strategist, said such an experience was “frankly pretty common at Fox News.”
“It makes you feel like you’re there as a blond backdrop for O’Reilly’s opinions and not as a political analyst or a commentator,” Hoover said on CNN’s “New Day” on Thursday. “There were moments that were very uncomfortable with him, and I had to navigate a minefield … to make sure I was never in a situation where I was made vulnerable.”
“New Day” co-host Alisyn Camerota, who also used to work at Fox News, described feeling helpless there.
“There was a feeling, when I was there, that Roger was the boss,” she said. “It was Roger Ailes’ fiefdom. He was the king. There was no higher authority that you could ever go to, and there was harassment. And I tried, in my own way, to raise the flag and to talk to people about it. I went to my superiors to talk to them about it. And there was certainly a feeling of, ‘This is Roger. What are you going to do? Who are you going to go to?’”
She dismissed O’Reilly’s previous defense that there was a hotline women who felt harassed could call — yet no one called to complain about him.
“There was no hotline,” she said.
Camerota predicted there will be more workplace harassment allegations to come.
“Look, I was there for a long time, as you all know, and I know a lot about the culture,” Camerota said, “And [talking to] my friends there, there’s a feeling that there’s more to come. That this isn’t the end.”
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