Bill O’Reilly is still causing problems for Fox News, months after being shown the door. According to a report from the New York Times, the network was supposedly aware of a $32 million harassment settlement paid out by O’Reilly just before his contract was renewed.
Former Fox News analyst Lis Wiehl received the money in January 2017. It is the largest publicly known pay out O’Reilly has made by far, and the sixth known case of harassment that ended in a settlement paid by either him or 21st Century Fox on his behalf. A month later, O’Reilly was granted a four-year contract extension worth $25 million annually.
According to anonymous sources and documents procured by the NYT, Fox News made a calculated decision to continue with O’Reilly at the network, though they were aware of his most recent harassment settlement and were attempting to clean up their image following Roger Ailes’s ousting. But by April, too many of O’Reilly’s harassment claims had become public. The company decided to finally fire him after it became clear that their involvement would soon be revealed:
...Federal prosecutors who had been investigating the network’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr. Ailes had asked for material related to allegations involving Mr. O’Reilly, according to an internal Fox email obtained by The Times.
“Their legal theory has been that we hid the fact that we had a problem with Roger,” Gerson Zweifach, Fox’s general counsel, wrote in the email, referring to the prosecutors and Mr. Ailes, “and now it will be applied to O’Reilly, and they will insist on full knowledge of all complaints about O’Reilly’s behavior in the workplace, regardless of who settled them.”
Wiehl appeared on O’Reilly’s show frequently for about 15 years, and was a face on the network as a legal analyst; O’Reilly’s lawyer characterized her as friend who gave him occasional legal advice. Sources told the NYT that her allegations against O’Reilly include “repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her.” O’Reilly claims that he sent sexually explicit material to Wiehl because she was part of his legal team, that he was forwarding abusive messages he received in case they required legal action. (You can listen to portions of his interview with the Times here.)
Deadline reports that Bill O’Reilly spokesman Mark Fabiani responded to the New York Times article outlining O’Reilly’s deal with Weihl, condemning them for “failing to print a sworn affidavit from his former lawyer, Lis Wiehl, repudiating all allegations against Bill O’Reilly.” Fabiani also objected to the use of anonymous sources, and states that during O’Reilly’s tenure “not one complaint was filed against him with the Human Resources Department or Legal Department by a coworker, even on the anonymous hotline.”
Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt pointed out Fabiani’s major error on Twitter, highlighting the portions of the NYT report that directly refer to the affidavit signed by Wiehl:
And editor Dean Baquet also provided a statement:
“Mr. Fabiani addresses everything but what the story actually says. This article, like our previous reporting on the subject, is accurate and deeply reported and we welcome any challenge to the facts. The affidavit he claims our story ignored is quoted in our article twice.”
On her morning show Monday, Megyn Kelly also took the opportunity to contest Fabiani and O’Reilly’s claims that no one ever reported him saying, “O’Reilly’s suggestion that no one ever complained about his behavior is false. I know, because I complained”:
Kelly also interviewed Juliet Huddy, who was the most recent woman after Weihl known to have received a settlement regarding sexual harassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly, this time from Fox News. Huddy discussed her fear of what the network could do to people who spoke out against it. Kelly also read a statement from from 21st Century Fox:
21st Century Fox has taken concerted action to transform Fox News, including installing new leaders, overhauling management and on-air talent, expanding training and increasing the channels through which employees can report harassment or discrimination. These changes come from the top, with Lachlan and James Murdoch personally leading the effort to promote civility and respect on the job while maintaining the company’s long-held commitment to a diverse, inclusive and creative workplace.
These were many of the same actions they were taking when O’Reilly’s contract was renewed earlier this year.