Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News in April, after a New York Times report blew the lid off of years of sexual harassment allegations that both he and the network had gone to great lengths to bury. But according to a report in Bloomberg, a clause in O’Reilly’s employment agreement specifically stipulated that he couldn’t be dismissed over a harassment allegation against him, unless it was proven in court.
This little tidbit came to light in the course of Fox News’s $15.3 billion bid for the British network Sky News, an acquisition currently being investigated by the UK’s Competition Markets Authority. In particular, the agency is examining Rupert Murdoch’s commitment to broadcasting standards, which must be mighty low indeed if it allowed an overcooked hobgoblin to negotiate protections for harassment allegations into his contract. From Bloomberg:
“It’s another nail in the standards coffin as far as Fox is concerned,” said Steven Barnett, a professor of communications at the University of Westminister. “It speaks volumes about the nature of a company if you can pile up multiple accusations and be protected by such a clause.”
Even Roger Ailes was ousted as Fox News head in short order after a flood of women came forward to accuse him of sexual assault. But Jacques Nasser, an independent director of Fox News, said during an October hearing with regulators that when the board was made aware of O’Reilly’s misconduct, “it was advised that the situation was different due to the terms of the employment agreement and because the evidence was uncertain:”
Board members debated the timing of O’Reilly’s dismissal, Nasser said. Some wanted to dismiss him immediately, while others wanted to wait for his contract renewal, he said. The board didn’t know the value of settlements O’Reilly had made with various accusers, Nasser said, in line with public comments from Fox Chief Executive Officer James Murdoch.
Despite paying out $32 million to cover up O’Reilly’s misdeeds, Fox News nevertheless went ahead and renewed his contract in February, settling on a salary of $25 million per year. This new contract permitted O’Reilly to be fired if the company became aware of other allegations, or if more information was uncovered in a company investigation, Fox News told Bloomberg.
But seeing as the network was not only well aware of the allegations, but actually went above and beyond to help quash them, it seems very apparent that Fox News had absolutely no intention of doing any such thing. O’Reilly’s ouster came only after the show began hemorrhaging advertisers, costing Fox News not only millions of dollars, but stirring up a public spectacle that even Fox News became unable to ignore. As Gloria Allred said at the time: “I’ve always asked, ‘How many women have to come forward for one woman to be believed,’ but I guess there’s no substitute for a loss in advertising dollars.”