It took less than three weeks for top-rated anchor Bill O’Reilly to tumble from the highest echelons of Fox News to the unemployment line.
From the initial report on April 1 that O’Reilly had contributed to settlements to five women totalling $13 million over sexual harassment claims, to the Murdoch family’s announcement Wednesday that he was out at the network, the controversy that felled him unfolded in a whirlwind.
A New York Times report states that Bill O’Reilly, Fox News and parent company 21st Century Fox issued five payouts to women totaling about $13 million in exchange for them to not pursue legal action against the conservative commentator. The women, who either worked for O’Reilly or appeared on his show, accused him of “a wide range of behavior,” according to the report, including “verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating.” One of the cases involved a former Fox News staffer allegedly berated in front of colleagues by O’Reilly. O’Reilly called himself a “target for those who would harm me and my employer” in a statement issued on his website.
Among the women featured in the Times report was Wendy Walsh, a former guest commentator on “The O’Reilly Factor” who stated she met O’Reilly at his invitation for dinner at the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, and talked of her prospects for getting hired as a paid contributor. She said she later refused his invite to his suite. After that, she said, O’Reilly was “hostile” to her and, in May, her weekly segments were put on hold.
Advertisers begin to pull their support from “The O’Reilly Factor.” BMW, Mitsubishi, Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, Sanofi US, and Allstate were among the more than a dozen blue-chip advertisers who pulled their support from the show.
“As a company we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity,” Hyundai said in their statement. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions.”
The same day, O’Reilly returned to the airwaves for the first time since the Times report broke, but he did not make any mention of the allegations against him or the loss of major sponsors. The bulk of the show was devoted to examining the question of whether former Obama administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice ordered the “unmasking” of the names of Americans found in contact with foreign intelligence targets in surveillance collected by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency.
President Donald Trump offers support for O’Reilly during an interview with the Times. “I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump said. “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
Also on April 5, weight-loss and diet company Jenny Craig announced they, too, would pull their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor.” “As an organization, Jenny Craig condemns any and all forms of sexual harassment,” the company said in a statement. The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline also pulled their ads, saying, “We have temporarily put a hold on spots running on The O’Reilly Factor while we assess this situation.” At this point, at least 20 sponsors have backed away from O’Reilly.
Despite the controversy, ratings for “The O’Reilly Factor” skyrocket. Nielsen data revealed that the show drew 3.8 million people, an increase of 20% from the same day’s telecast the previous week.
Alec Baldwin does double duty as both President Trump and O’Reilly in an “SNL” sketch. “Tonight’s ‘Talking Points Memo’ is the scandal that everyone’s been talking about all week, a scandal no one thought I’d have the guts to address head on … about the shocking allegations of the abuse of power that have been leveled against the Obama administration,” Baldwin said as O’Reilly.
O’Reilly announces that he will take some time off as part of a pre-planned “vacation.” He explained that he often takes vacation around the start of spring. “We all need R&R. Put it to good use,” he told viewers.
“The arrangements, including airline and hotel reservations, for this vacation were made last October. The vacation involves a group of people, and the timing coincides with the period Mr. O’Reilly often takes off in and around his children’s spring break,” said Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for O’Reilly, in an emailed statement. “Other than the vacation guest hosts, The Factor broadcast will remain unchanged until Mr. O’Reilly’s return post-vacation.”
He was expected to return on April 24, but the April 11 broadcast would ultimately serve as his last.
Women’s group UltraViolet staged a protest outside Fox News headquarters in New York demanding that the network fire O’Reilly. The group also planned to deliver a petition signed by more than 140,000 people calling for O’Reilly’s ouster. They carried signs that bore slogans like “Fox Drop Sexual Predator O’Reilly.”
The same day, attorney Lisa Bloom said that she is representing a new woman making a complaint of sexual and racial harassment against O’Reilly, claiming that he made offensive gestures toward her and called her “hot chocolate.” O’Reilly’s lawyer called the claim “outrageous” and blasted the fact that it was made by an anonymous woman.
Reports then begin to surface that Fox News will part ways with O’Reilly in light of the controversy.
Fox News officially fires O’Reilly. In a memo to staffers signed by Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News; James Murdoch, 21st Century Fox CEO; and Lachlan Murdoch, exec chairman of 21st Century Fox, the Murdochs said the decision to part ways with O’Reilly was made after working with outside attorneys. The Murdochs said they sought to “underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
In a separate memo sent by Rupert Murdoch to Fox News staffers, the chairman acknowledged “how difficult this has been for many of you. Thank you for your hard work, patience, and for the great job you all do delivering news and opinion to millions of Americans whose trust you earn every day.”
Shortly thereafter, the network announced that Tucker Carlson will move to O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. slot starting Monday, April 24. Fox News will fill Carlson’s former berth with its panel show, “The Five,” which will be co-anchored by Kimberly Guilfoyle, Dana Perino, Bob Beckel, Greg Gutfeld, Jesse Watters and Juan Williams will Sean Hannity will remain at 10 p.m.