In a stunning move, Fox News has announced that they have cut ties with Bill O’Reilly (67) after he and the news channel received a growing amount of negative press regarding sexual harassment allegations against him. O’Reilly is the news channel’s biggest star, has the highest ratings and is the longest tenured pundit (20 years). However, the inappropriate behavior backlash had reached a fervor.
To even suggest that Fox News signature show, The O’Reilly Factor, would be canceled just a few weeks ago would have been laughable. O’Reilly has long been the reigning ratings champ of cable news. The primetime show debuted on Fox News in 1996 and rode O’Reilly’s aggressive demeanor and controversial opinions straight to the top. Along the way, the political commentator has had his share of controversies, misstatements and yelling matches on the show. In fact, media watchdog organizations such as Media Matters and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting have criticized O’Reilly’s reporting on a variety of issues, accusing him of distorting facts and using misleading or erroneous statistics. Nevertheless, O’Reilly seemed impenetrable and Fox News appeared to be unfazed.
However, O’Reilly has had an unusually bad 14 days consisting of protest groups, fleeing advertisers, and negative news articles all documenting his laundry list of sexual harassment allegations. As reported by Gotham City Esquire last week, The New York times published a damning article on April 1st documenting the pundits previously undisclosed sexual harassment settlements. The allegations and lawsuits date as far back as 2002 and involved at least five women accusing O’Reilly of harassment. It was further revealed that between O’Reilly and Fox News, $13 million dollars was doled out to settle the suits.
Negative reaction to the news story was swift. Initially, Fox appeared to stand by and support their ratings giant.
“21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously.” the statement reads “Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility. Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.” O’Reilly echoed these sentiments on his personal web page, admitting to paying out the settlements in order to protect his family, but falling short of confirming the merits of the allegations.
O’Reilly has offended numerous individuals over the years, igniting criticism from progressive organizations who have consistently argued that his views had no place on television. One such organization, the Color of Change began to mobilize after the New York Times article was published. The nonprofit African-American civil rights group sent an email blast to its 1.2 million members, calling on them to help ramp up a campaign to pressure advertisers to pull money out of the show. The Color of Change worked with women’s advocacy group UltraViolet and the National Organization for Women in organizing anti-O’Reilly rallies outside Fox News headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. The campaign was incredibly effective and swift.
In just a few weeks, more than 60 advertisers, including mainstays Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai, pulled their commercials and money from The O’Reilly Factor. To put things in perspective, this is more than half of the show’s advertisers. A month ago, marketers bought more than 15 minutes of advertisements on the show, about one-quarter of its airtime. But by last Friday, that figure had fallen to under seven minutes, according to ad-tracking firm iSpot.tv. Remarkably, O’Reilly’s ever loyal fan base supported him throughout this time period and viewership increased. Regardless of the ratings, Fox began to lose money as well as the public relations battle.
Following the advertisement exodus, on April 11, O’Reilly announced that he would be taking a vacation, adding that he scheduled the trip “last fall.” Nevertheless, the timing seemed suspicious, as bad press continued to pile up against O’Reilly and Fox News. For example, just two days ago THR reported that attorney Lisa Bloom released a statement on behalf of a former Fox News employee who claimed harassment. The employee, an African American woman, stated O’Reilly routinely harassed her by growling at her as she passed, leering at her and mockingly calling her “hot chocolate”.
O’Reilly’s bad press also came in closely after the departure of Fox’s former CEO Roger Ailes. Ailes was also accused and sued for sexual harassment. Ailes resigned in embarrassment after working at the station for 20 years, like O’Reilly. Meanwhile, the media began to report that Fox News was seriously considering cutting ties with O’Reilly. The writing was on the wall.
Ultimately, the announcement was made yesterday, April 19th, that Fox News and Bill O’Reilly would be parting ways. “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,” reads the statement obtained by Gotham City Esquire. Shortly after, News Corp Executive Chairman and Fox News acting CEO Rupert Murdoch sent out a similar internal memo obtained by Gotham City Esquire that acknowledged, “By ratings standards, Bill O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news. In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable.” (O’Reilly’s publisher Henry Holt also showed support for the former pundit, telling the New Republic of their working relationship: “Our plans have not changed.”) But, added Murdoch in his memo, “Most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
The disgraced commentator, who is reported to receive tens of millions to leave also released a statement which expressed regret that he was leaving the company but showed no acknowledgment of committing any predatory acts.
“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.” the statement reads. “I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”
In the wake of the news, men (and especially women and alleged victims of Bill O’Reilly’s behavior) had plenty to say.