Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment scandal explained

Months after his ouster from Fox News over a sexual harassment scandal, Bill O’Reilly was back in the headlines this week after being dropped by his literary agency, WME.

In a statement to Variety, WME said, “We no longer represent Bill O’Reilly for future deals. It is our fiduciary responsibility to service the existing deals we have under contract, but we will not be working with him moving forward.”

The move comes on the heels of O’Reilly’s split from his talent agency, UTA, earlier this week. Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for O’Reilly, said they already lined up “alternative representation.”

The former Fox News anchor has recently come under renewed criticism after it was revealed that 21st Century Fox had renewed his contract right after paying a $32 million sexual harassment settlement.

O’Reilly, 68, was fired from the company in April following a New York Times report that outlined settlements of harassment and sexual harassment claims with five women totaling $13 million, dating to 2002. 

On Saturday, the Times reported that O’Reilly personally reached a settlement in January with former Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl for $32 million, a fee far larger than previously disclosed settlements. In February, Fox News set a long-term contract with O’Reilly that included a $5 million salary boost to $25 million a year.

A day after The Times released its new information, former Fox News host Megyn Kelly took O’Reilly to task on her new NBC morning show. Kelly, who left for NBC in May, said she had complained about O’Reilly to Fox News’ co-presidents in November 2016. She also speculated over why Wiehl’s settlement was so high and alleged that the company was “not exactly a friendly environment for harassment victims who wanted to report.” 

Keep scrolling for a breakdown of the sexual harassment allegations, how O’Reilly and Fox News responded, and even what President Donald Trump had to say about the scandal.

The allegations

It may have been April Fools’ Day, but The New York Times article published April 1 was no joke. An investigation by the newspaper revealed that five women had been given sums totaling $13 million by either Fox News or O’Reilly in exchange for not pursuing litigation over allegations of harassment as well as for not going public on the matter.

The accusers were all women who either worked directly for O’Reilly or who appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor,” according to The Times. Complaints included verbal abuse, unwanted advances and lewd comments, the paper said, citing documents and interviews.

Of the five settlements, four involved sexual harassment claims and the fifth involved verbal abuse allegations, The Times reported. Two of the settlements were previously known before The Times report, but three others were unearthed by the paper.

Wendy Walsh, who used to be a regular guest on the show, also called a hotline set up by Fox News after The Times report and submitted a formal complaint against O’Reilly. Walsh and attorney Lisa Bloom posted a YouTube video of them making the complaint.

Walsh was featured in The Times story, but was not one of the five who received settlements.

On April 18, more than two weeks after The Times report, Bloom announced that another woman had come forward. 

“I represent a new woman who just phoned in a complaint of sexual and racial harassment against Bill O’Reilly to the Fox News hotline,” Bloom tweeted, adding that the unnamed accuser does not seek a financial settlement, “just accountability.”

Bloom said in follow-up tweets that her phone has been “ringing off the hook,” and warned the Murdochs, including Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch, that she would represent all of O’Reilly’s accusers for free.

Requests for comment on the new accuser from Fox News and Bloom were not returned.

O’Reilly’s response and Fox News’ stance

A day after reports began to surface that the Murdoch family was considering leaving O’Reilly behind, 21st Century Fox announced it was doing just that.

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox said in an emailed statement.

In an internal memo to Fox News employees, Murdoch called O’Reilly “one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news.” He also noted that the “decision follows an extensive review done in collaboration with outside counsel.”

The company had initially stood by O’Reilly when The Times story was published, but as the scandal took hold and advertisers jumped ship it was apparent that the popular show host and the network were at a crossroads.

With O’Reilly away on vacation, Murdoch had been arguing with his sons, James and Lachlan, about the host’s fate, New York Magazine reported, citing three sources familiar with the situation. James and Lachlan were in favor of leaving O’Reilly behind and were at odds with their father on the matter, the publication reported.

O’Reilly released his own statement on April 19, saying that, “It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”

O’Reilly has been dogged by claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior for years, but he has maintained his innocence, saying he made the payments to protect his children and that his fame makes him a target.

“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,” O’Reilly had said in a statement on April 1, before Walsh made her complaint to the hotline. “I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children.”‘

In his first interview after Fox News fired him, O’Reilly told Glenn Beck on the pundit’s radio program that the entire ordeal was “a hit job.”

“Look, the entire ordeal was a hit job, and in the weeks to come, we will be able to explain some of it,” O’Reilly said at the time. “It really has to do with destroying voices that the far-left doesn’t like. That’s the general tone.”

Before Fox News decided to sever ties with O’Reilly, 21st Century Fox had asked the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate Walsh’s complaint to the hotline.

“21st Century Fox investigates all complaints and we have asked the law firm Paul, Weiss to continue assisting the company in these serious matters,” the company said in a statement.

“Tucker Carlson Tonight” replaced “The O’Reilly Factor” in the 8 p.m. slot. “The Five” then moved to the 9 p.m. hour.

O’Reilly has not completely receded from public life, returning to his podcast “No Spin News” on April 24, less than a week after his ousting. The podcast, which O’Reilly has been hosting for years, is available to premium subscribers of his website.

A request for comment from O’Reilly on the separation was not returned.

Companies pulling advertising

More than 50 companies removed advertising from “The O’Reilly Factor” following the allegations.

Companies that pulled advertising included Mercedes-Benz, BMW of North America, Allstate Corp., Angie’s List, French pharmaceuticals maker Sanofi SA, direct marketer Constant Contact, men’s clothing company Untuckit and mutual fund operator T. Rowe Price.

Untuckit was one of the show’s top advertisers, having spent $1.36 million in 2016, according to the ad-tracking firm iSpot.tv.

“In light of the disturbing allegations, we instructed our media buyer this morning to reallocate our ad dollars to other shows, effective immediately,” Untuckit chief executive Aaron Sanandres had said.

Paul Rittenberg, Fox News’ executive vice president of advertising sales, said the ads that were pulled from the show were transferred to other programs on the network.

Ad time on the show saw a significant drop — 50 percent — in the first week after the allegations were revealed. The show on April 7 bottomed out with only seven ads, according to ad-tracking firm Kantar Media. The show used to average about 33 advertisements, Kantar said.


“The O’Reilly Factor” had been Fox News’ most watched program and had just come off the highest-rated first quarter in its history, averaging nearly 4 million viewers per episode, when the scandal broke, according to Nielsen.

The show had actually maintained strong viewership despite the scandal, according to Nielsen.

O’Reilly’s ratings were strong with an average of 3.7 million viewers per show in the week following The Times report — up from the previous week, per Nielsen. “The O’Reilly Factor” also was the most-watched cable news program among total viewers, the media tracking firm said.

The show’s pace continued in its second week after the report, averaging 3.7 million on the Monday and Tuesday before O’Reilly went on vacation and was ultimately fired.

NYC investigations

In a letter to the New York City Commission on Human Rights on April 10, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James called for an investigation into alleged racial discrimination and sexual harassment at Fox News. 

James cited The Times report as well as a lawsuit by three black female employees of Fox News who allege Judith Slater, the network’s former senior vice president, subjected them to “discriminatory statements and conduct” for years.

Separately, the public advocate also urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate why Fox News has not disclosed risks related to the lawsuits and any settlements to its shareholders.

Following news of O’Reilly’s departure Wednesday, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the mayor believes Fox News is getting its comeuppance.

“Asked rn about O’Reilly, @NYCMayor says ‘Fox is paying the price for their culture,’ ” spokesman Eric Phillips tweeted.

21st Century Fox did not  respond to a request for comment on the investigations.

Trump’s support

No stranger to claims of sexual harassment himself, Trump weighed in on the controversy on April 5, saying O’Reilly is “a good person.”

“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” the president said during an interview with The Times.

Trump went as far as to say he believes O’Reilly shouldn’t have gone along with the settlements.

“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” he told The Times. “Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

Trump did not publicly comment about 21st Century Fox’s decision to split with O’Reilly.

With Nicole Brown and Reuters