There’s a great deal more to it. According to the letter, O’Reilly’s sexual advances toward Huddy started in 2011. He invited her to lunch near his place in Manhasset, N.Y., followed by a very thorough tour of his home, including the bedroom. “To shock and disgust, as Ms. Huddy was saying goodbye to Mr. O’Reilly, he quickly moved in and kissed her on the lips,” reads the letter obtained by the New York Times. “Ms. Huddy was so taken aback and repulsed that she instinctively recoiled and actually fell to the ground. Mr. O’Reilly, looking amused, did not even help Ms. Huddy up.”
In a development that wouldn’t surprise O’Reilly’s viewers, he continued the pursuit, in spite of Huddy’s lack of interest. “Mr. O’Reilly started calling Ms. Huddy at all hours, even while he was on vacation. At times, the calls were about work, but they were sometimes ‘highly inappropriate and sexual,’ the letter said. On some occasions, it sounded like Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, the letter said.”
Gross allegations there, though they resound a bit. Back in 2004, a former O’Reilly producer named Andrea Mackris sued him for sexual harassment, and the complaint featured a significant telephonic component. It was settled for a sum reported to be in the millions of dollars.
So what’s more stunning than O’Reilly’s awful alleged behavior? The arc of Huddy’s career after she rebuffed him. It tumbled. Though she worked on “O’Reilly Factor” segments, they dried up following the social fallout. The letter also contains allegations that veteran Fox News executive Jack Abernethy — who was elevated to co-president over the summer — retaliated against her after she rejected a “personal relationship,” as the New York Times puts it. Abernethy was among two Fox News veterans — Bill Shine was the other — who were promoted following the departure of Roger Ailes over a sexual harassment scandal. (Ailes denied the allegations). Those events got their start in early July 2016, when former host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment; 21st Century Fox later settled the case for $20 million, plus an apology, right around the time that the company reached its arrangement with Huddy. Weeks after the Carlson suit, Andrea Tantaros, a host from two popular afternoon programs on Fox News, filed a complaint based on similar allegations. In the complaint, Tantaros claimed that O’Reilly had hit on her, though he wasn’t listed as a defendant.
Whatever the particulars, Huddy left Fox News, though not for a gig at the “Today” show or CNN. She took a 4:30 a.m. slot on the Fox-owned local station Fox5 New York. She remained at the station until just after reaching the agreement with Fox News following her letter. “It is time for me now to move on,” she told viewers.
Meanwhile, O’Reilly retained his perch.
To sort its way through the Ailes mess, 21st Century Fox commissioned an investigation by the New York law firm Paul, Weiss. Far from a wide-ranging inquest on the management culture at the network, however, the probe sought to advise the company on its legal liabilities. As Vanity Fair has reported, some women complained that it didn’t capture their experiences with Ailes.
The limited scope of the investigation jibes with the company’s approach to the Huddy affair: Sweep it under the rug, and move on. It paid Huddy a sum in the “high six figures” in exchange for her silence on the matter and commitment not to sue, according to the New York Times. In a signal of just how highly the network values that silence, a $500,000 price tag attaches to any breach of confidentiality. A lawyer for O’Reilly and the network separately contested the matter. “There is absolutely no basis for any claim of sexual harassment against Bill O’Reilly by Juliet Huddy,” said the lawyer, Fredric S. Newman, to the New York Times. And Fox News told this blog, “The letter contains substantial falsehoods which both men vehemently denied.”
Any news organization with a feel for accountability would have brushed back O’Reilly in 2015, when he was revealed to have embellished or exaggerated or lied about a string of events from his reportorial past — stories about Argentina, Florida, Central America and elsewhere that just didn’t add up. So there’s a monstrous journalistic liability.
And there was yet another problem that arose: commencing in February 2016, Bill O’Reilly (“O’Reilly”), whom Tantaros had considered to be a good friend and a person from whom she sought career guidance, started sexually harassing her by, inter alia, (a) asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be “very private,” and (b) telling her on more than one occasion that he could “see [her] as a wild girl,” and that he believed that she had a “wild side.” Fox News did take one action: plainly because of O’Reilly’s rumored prior sexual harassment issues and in recognition of Tantaros’s complaints, Brandi informed [Tantaros’ lawyer] that Tantaros would no longer be appearing on O’Reilly’s Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor.
There’s no argument here that this latest incident somehow makes O’Reilly a less marketable host at the critical 8 p.m. slot at Fox News. It doesn’t: Following the 2015 revelations about his embellishments/exaggerations/lies, after all, his command of the audience only strengthened. If Fox News viewers cared about workplace sexual harassment at their favorite cable network, they would have fled over the summer, when a flurry of allegations about Ailes’s abusive approach to his female colleagues surfaced — most of them uncontested by the higher-ups who stayed on following Ailes’s departure. Amid all that negative reporting, Fox News finished the year with historic ratings victories.