When Bill O’Reilly appeared last month with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, it had been five months since he’d been fired from Fox News following a New York Times exposé on his various legal settlements with colleagues for sexual harassment and mistreatment. Yet the dethroned King of Cable News was still as proficient as ever in misleading a television audience.
After Lauer pointed out O’Reilly’s industry-leading ratings gave Fox News every motive to keep him on board, the fallen host dissented. “There are billions of dollars of stake in business deals and they made a business decision that they could possibly prosper more without me. It was as simple as that. It was a business decision,” O’Reilly told Lauer.
Nah. A brand-new article from the New York Times sheds light on just how much awfulness O’Reilly’s bosses at Fox News and 21st Century Fox were willing to ignore. In January 2016, report Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt, O’Reilly reached a settlement with Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl over sexual harassment allegations. The sum of the settlement? Thirty-two million dollars.
In February, O’Reilly secured a new contract with the network, and a raise from around $18 million to $25 million. Way to go — that was the message from corporate, in other words.
As the New York Times reports, Wiehl’s complaints against O’Reilly included “allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter.” Asked by the newspaper about sending the explicit material, O’Reilly said that he would routinely forward threats — some of them obscene — to his lawyers; Wiehl was among them, he said.
The January settlement was all too typical in the way it protected and enabled a serially alleged harasser. “Dated Jan. 7, it called for Ms. Wiehl to be paid over a period of time to ensure her silence. In return, she agreed not to sue Mr. O’Reilly, Fox News or 21st Century Fox. And all photos, text messages and other communications between the two would be destroyed,” reports the New York Times. An affidavit signed by Wiehl cited “no claims against Bill O’Reilly concerning any of those emails or any of the allegations in the draft complaint” and affirmed that Wiehl was working for O’Reilly as a lawyer when he passed along those explicit emails.
The particulars of Wiehl’s case were not included in an April New York Times investigation that found five settlements involving O’Reilly’s treatment of women. A backlash against O’Reilly and Fox News led to his dismissal. The events followed a plume of complaints in summer 2016 against the late Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Gretchen Carlson, a former host who filed suit against Ailes in July 2016, received a $20 million settlement and an apology from 21st Century Fox.
So: A star TV host racks up at least six settlements relating to his treatment of women; then his employer renews his contract and hikes his pay. Given those circumstances, the employer has to have a precious statement to explain it all. 21st Century Fox comes through:
When the company renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract in February, it knew that a sexual harassment lawsuit had been threatened against him by Lis Wiehl, but was informed by Mr. O’Reilly that he had settled the matter personally, on financial terms that he and Ms. Wiehl had agreed were confidential and not disclosed to the company. His new contract, which was made at a time typical for renewals of multi-year talent contracts, added protections for the company specifically aimed at harassment, including that Mr. O’Reilly could be dismissed if the company was made aware of other allegations or if additional relevant information was obtained in a company investigation. The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract.
That’s a lot of corporate-speak. What it means is that six settlements over horrible treatment of women weren’t enough to end O’Reilly’s run at Fox News. 21st Century Fox would need more evidence — or, at least, the public pressure that followed what the New York Times dug up.
And talk about a star system: So dependent on O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. program was the 21st Century Fox leadership, that they couldn’t even secure basic information about his settlement with another Fox Newser. According to the New York Times report, O’Reilly believed that the company “leaked sensitive information” — even though, in fact, Fox News under the iron and paranoid rule of Ailes was essentially a leakproof container. The legal particulars of the case make clear that “The O’Reilly Factor” was a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of Fox News under the management of its host. Of the roughly $45 million in O’Reilly-related settlements, about $42 million came straight from the host’s pockets.
The O’Reilly camp has unleashed a furious response to the New York Times. “Once again, The New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O’Reilly, this time even failing to print a sworn affidavit from his former lawyer, Lis Wiehl, repudiating all allegations against Bill O’Reilly. The Times ignored that evidence, sworn under oath, and chose to rely on unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and incomplete leaked or stolen documents,” reads just part of a statement from Mark Fabiani. As to the bigger picture, O’Reilly’s defense melds with the company’s defense: Fabiani alleges that the company paid out close to $100 million in settlements to women over harassment allegations. “Six months after Mr. Ailes left the company, Fox News Corporation signed Bill O’Reilly to a record breaking new contract after the company had analyzed and considered all allegations against him.”
True! Scandalous, too!
The New York Times responded with a statement of its own: “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.”
Yeah, this face-off is a laugher. The New York Times has documents and facts and admissions, including a giant one from 21st Century Fox. Team O’Reilly, meanwhile, is left to hammer away at the newspaper’s motivations: “In its latest diatribe against Bill O’Reilly, the Times printed leaked information provided by anonymous sources that is out of context, false, defamatory, and obviously designed to embarrass Bill O’Reilly and to keep him from competing in the marketplace,” reads another part of the Fabiani statement (pasted in full below). Bolding inserted to highlight a flailing man: For years on his program, O’Reilly leveled similar charges at the New York Times, questioning its motivations for this or that story; slighting its integrity; griping about how it treats his amazing books.
Now O’Reilly, for the second time this year, stands face to face with the very real reporting standards of the New York Times. And all he can do is whine.
Perhaps O’Reilly should consider a new strategy of simply shutting up. There is a reason, after all, why this latest revelation is coming out in October 2017, months after his firing. What could have prompted sources to assist the New York Times? This blog has one guess, and it circles back to O’Reilly’s September appearance on the “Today” show. In addition to articulating a specious argument about his network’s “business” priorities, O’Reilly painted himself as a good man under siege.
“Nobody’s a perfect person, but I can go to sleep at night very well, knowing that I never mistreated anyone on my watch in 42 years,” said O’Reilly, who continued denying wrongdoing, HR complaints, lewd messages and the whole thing. “In 42 years, I’ve been in this business. I’ve worked for 12 companies. Not one time did I have any interaction with HR or any complaints filed against me.” He also said, “My conscience is clear.”
Maybe some people didn’t appreciate O’Reilly’s self-exculpatory act.
Full text of Fabiani statement on behalf of O’Reilly:
October 21, 2017
Once again, The New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O’Reilly, this time even failing to print a sworn affidavit from his former lawyer, Lis Wiehl, repudiating all allegations against Bill O’Reilly. The Times ignored that evidence, sworn under oath, and chose to rely on unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and incomplete leaked or stolen documents.
Here are the facts: after the Chairman of Fox News Roger Ailes was fired in July 2016, dozens of women accused scores of male employees of Fox News of harassment – including the current co-president of Fox News Jack Abernathy.
21st Century Fox settled almost all these cases, paying out close to $100 million dollars. Six months after Mr. Ailes left the company, Fox News Corporation signed Bill O’Reilly to a record breaking new contract after the company had analyzed and considered all allegations against him.
In its first article about Mr. O’Reilly on April 1st, The New York Times printed inaccurate settlement figures while fully understanding that O’Reilly and his counsel are legally bound by confidentiality and cannot set the record straight.
In its latest diatribe against Bill O’Reilly, the Times printed leaked information provided by anonymous sources that is out of context, false, defamatory, and obviously designed to embarrass Bill O’Reilly and to keep him from competing in the marketplace.
Finally, in the more than 20 years Bill O’Reilly worked at Fox News, not one complaint was filed against him with the Human Resources Department or Legal Department by a coworker, even on the anonymous hotline. The New York Times has copies of two letters written by 21st Century Fox lawyers attesting to that fact.
The Times failed to print them, too.