On her NBC News program this morning, host Megyn Kelly had some things to say about the latest news regarding Bill O’Reilly, the fallen King of Cable News. The New York Times over the weekend reported yet another settlement that O’Reilly had negotiated with a woman who’d accused him of sexual harassment. Lis Wiehl, who worked as a legal analyst for the network, had alleged a “nonconsensual sexual relationship” with O’Reilly as well as lewd messages from the Fox News ratings star.
A $32 million settlement ensued. O’Reilly, sticking with the playbook from his anchoring days, attacked the New York Times. “Once again, The New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O’Reilly,” read part of a statement from an O’Reilly spokesman.
Megyn Kelly couldn’t let O’Reilly’s bluster stand unchallenged. The current host of the 9 a.m. hour at the “Today” franchise, Kelly is a former colleague of O’Reilly’s. Years ago, she turned in appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor” as she made her way up the cable-news hierarchy. Yet Kelly split with O’Reilly over the case of Roger Ailes, the late Fox News boss who went down in the summer of 2016 thanks to his very own sexual harassment scandal. In her memoir, “Settle for More,” Kelly described her own experience with Ailes’s harassment — an episode that she’d told to lawyers investigating the cable-news mogul.
What appears to have bothered Kelly in this latest round of news is O’Reilly’s claims about his behavior. “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,” reads the O’Reilly spokesman’s statement. That served as a springboard for Kelly. “O’Reilly’s suggestion that no one ever complained about his behavior is false,” said Kelly on Monday morning’s program. “I know because I complained.”
Then came the backdrop. Just after the presidential election of last November, Kelly released “Settle for More,” which made a lot of news. As it happened, O’Reilly was also promoting a book — he always is! — and he was asked about Kelly’s discussion of her harassment at the hands of Ailes. On the set of “CBS This Morning,” O’Reilly got emotional in blasting his colleague. “I’m not interested in basically litigating something that is finished and makes my network look bad,” said O’Reilly. “I’m not interested in making my network look bad, at all. That doesn’t interest me one bit.”
So outraged by O’Reilly’s hooliganism was Kelly that she then wrote a note to her bosses — co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy. On her show Monday, Kelly quoted a passage from the note:
Perhaps he didn’t realize the kind of message his criticism sends to young women across this country about how men continue to view the issue of speaking out about sexual harassment. Perhaps he didn’t realize that his exact attitude of shaming young women into shutting the hell up about harassment on grounds that it will disgrace the company is in part how Fox News got into the decade-long Ailes mess to begin with. Perhaps it’s his own history of harassment of women, which has, as you both know, resulted in payouts to more than one woman — including recently— that blinded him to the folly of saying anything other than, “I’m just so sorry for the women of this company who never should have had to go through that.”
There’s more. As Kelly recounted, Shine called her to let her know that he was dealing with O’Reilly. “By 8 p.m. that night, O’Reilly had apparently been dealt with. And by that I mean, he was permitted with management’s advance notice and blessing to go on the air and attack the company’s harassment victims yet again,” said Kelly. Indeed, O’Reilly continued the slam job: “If somebody is paying you a wage,” he said on his own show, “you owe that person or company allegiance. If you don’t like what’s happening in the workplace, go to human resources, or leave. I’ve done that. And then take the action you need to take afterwards if you feel aggrieved.”
Powerful men have such brilliant prescriptions for women victimized by sexual harassment! To wit: After former host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes following her dismissal, Fox News vet Brit Hume tweeted:
On Monday, once she was finished with O’Reilly, Kelly moved on to Irena Briganti, who runs Fox News’s PR shop. “At Fox News, the media relations chief Irena Briganti is known for her vindictiveness. To this day she pushes negative articles on certain Ailes accusers, like the one you are looking at right now,” said Kelly.
We asked 21st Century Fox — the corporate parent of Fox News — to respond to Kelly’s criticisms. They did, sort of: “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.” And a workplace that recently welcomed O’Reilly back on the air to chat with Sean Hannity.
On the Briganti front, the company issued a statement saying, “Irena is a valued colleague and she has our full support.”
When news of Kelly’s departure from Fox News broke in January, there were reports that Fox News had offered her north of $20 million per year to stay put — roughly on par with the salary O’Reilly would receive in his last, and very short, contract.
Now we encounter yet another reason Fox News money just wasn’t speaking to Megyn Kelly.
As for O’Reilly, scandal is now his only route to relevance. His opinions — standard conservative dogma dressed up as centrism; race-baiting whenever the topic allowed — were never terribly compelling to begin with. So without the Fox News audience, he’s left to espouse those views on BillOReilly.com, and wherever else he can find a microphone. He told the New York Times reporting team, “Why don’t you be human beings for once?” He was projecting.