Fox News has announced that they are axing one of their biggest stars, Bill O'Reilly, after a trickle of accusations about sexual harassment became a flood.
“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,” the network said in a statement.
O’Reilly, 67, has come under pressure ever since The New York Times reported at the beginning of this month that Fox News has paid out over $13m in settlements for at least five women accusing him of sexual harassment.
Wendy Walsh, a radio presenter, alleges that she was forced out of her job when she refused O’Reilly’s sexual advances.
And on Tuesday night another woman came forward, an African American clerk, staying that O’Reilly called her “hot chocolate” and leered at her, frightening her. Marc E. Kasowitz, O’Reilly’s lawyer, called the anonymous accusation “outrageous”.
O'Reilly has denied all accusations and on Wednesday night released a statement in which he maintained that sexual harassment claims against him were not true, calling his dismissal over the allegations "tremendously disheartening."
"It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims," he said. "But that is the unfortunate reality that many of us in the public eye must live with today. 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."
And the Murdoch family, which owns Fox News, was initially determined to keep their ratings champion – despite more than 50 advertisers pulling out of his show, The O'Reilly Factor.
President Donald Trump even got involved, using an April 5 interview with The New York Times to defend, unprompted, his old friend.
“I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” he said. “I think he’s a person I know well. He is a good person.”
O’Reilly was hired when the channel was founded in 1996, and his nightly show regularly scores America’s highest ratings. The former war correspondent is paid an estimated $18 million a year – making him the third-highest paid media figure, according to the New York Observer’s annual list, after Fox News’s Sean Hannity, on $29 million a year, and NBC News’s Matt Lauer, on $22 million.
Earlier on Wednesday executives at News Corp, the parent company, on Wednesday held an emergency meeting to decide O’Reilly’s fate.
Sources briefed on the discussions first told New York Magazine that network executives were preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from his holiday in Italy on April 24.
As the meeting was taking place, O’Reilly was meeting the Pope at the Vatican.
Discussions about O’Reilly’s departure were focused on whether he would be allowed to say goodbye to his audience, the magazine reported. O’Reilly’s viewers are considered perhaps the most loyal in all of cable television, with his ratings actually increasing during the sexual harassment allegations.
They also are thrashing out a financial deal. O’Reilly recently signed a new multiyear contract worth more than $20 million per year.
When the chief of Fox News, Roger Ailes left last summer – following further allegations of sexual harassment - the Murdochs paid out $40 million, the remainder of his contract.
It was initially believed that Rupert Murdoch would prevail over his son James, who lobbied to get rid of O’Reilly. According to one source, Lachlan Murdoch’s wife helped convince her husband that O’Reilly needed to go, which moved Lachlan into James’s corner.
Senior executives at other divisions within the Murdoch empire have complained that if O’Reilly’s allegations had happened to anyone else at their companies, that person would have been swiftly fired.