Bill O’Reilly’s position at Fox News grew increasingly tenuous on Tuesday as support from the Murdoch family showed signs of eroding, according to three people briefed on discussions about his future.
O’Reilly’s fate at the network is expected to be discussed on Thursday at a board meeting for Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox. Chief among the considerations is a continuing investigation into O’Reilly’s behavior conducted by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. On Tuesday, another woman reported sexual harassment allegations against him to 21st Century Fox.
Although O’Reilly brings enormous value to 21st Century Fox as a ratings draw and a revenue generator, the Murdoch family, which controls the company, will have to weigh those considerations against its other ambitions. Those include overhauling a Fox News culture that has been damaged by repeated sexual harassment allegations and pursuing the acquisition of the British satellite company Sky, long coveted by the family patriarch, Rupert Murdoch.
The company must convince British regulators next month that it is fit to acquire the remaining 61 percent in Sky that it does not own.
Recently, 21st Century Fox renewed O’Reilly’s contract, and the family stood by him as allegations piled up. But since a New York Times article this month detailed harassment allegations against him, more than 50 companies have pulled their advertisements from his show. Protests calling for his dismissal continued Tuesday.
O’Reilly, the No. 1 host in cable news, has been on vacation for the past week in Italy and is planning to return to his show on Monday.
O’Reilly has received no indication that the company is planning to take him off the air, according to a person familiar with the matter.
A lawyer for O’Reilly, Marc E. Kasowitz, said in a statement: “Bill O’Reilly has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America. This law firm has uncovered evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons. That evidence will be put forth shortly, and it is irrefutable.”
The latest allegation against O’Reilly came on Tuesday when a woman who previously worked at Fox News called a 21st Century Fox hotline to report allegations of sexual and racial harassment against him, according to her lawyer, Lisa Bloom. The woman, who is not seeking money, wanted to stay anonymous to avoid the news media spotlight but thought that it was important to report her allegations to the company, Bloom said.
Bloom said that the woman, who is African-American, worked in a clerical position at the network but did not work directly for O’Reilly. The woman reported that in 2008, O’Reilly would stop by her desk and grunt like a “wild boar”; he would also stand back to allow her to exit the elevator first, and then say “Looking good, girl,” Bloom said. O’Reilly leered at the woman’s cleavage and legs and called her “hot chocolate,” Bloom said.
Bloom said she had investigated the woman’s claims by talking to the woman’s sister as well as her roommate and boyfriend at the time.
“She just felt like she had to do the right thing and include her story,” Bloom said.
Kasowitz strongly pushed back on the allegation, saying there was reason to be skeptical of the woman’s claim.
“It is outrageous that an allegation from an anonymous person about something that purportedly happened almost a decade ago is being treated as fact, especially where there is obviously an orchestrated campaign by activists and lawyers to destroy O’Reilly and enrich themselves through publicity-driven donation,” Kasowitz said.
The Times reported on April 1 that O’Reilly or Fox News had made payouts, which totaled about $13 million, to five women involving allegations of inappropriate behavior by O’Reilly or the company. In exchange, they agreed to never again speak of the allegations.
Two of the deals were struck by 21st Century Fox last year after its former chairman Roger E. Ailes was pushed out following accusations by several women of sexual harassment. In the aftermath of Ailes’ dismissal, the company said behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment” would not be tolerated.
The Times reported that two other women — who had not received payouts — had accused O’Reilly of harassing them. One of those women has since reported her accusations to Fox News, which has enlisted an outside law firm to investigate her claims.
O’Reilly and Ailes have denied the allegations against them.
New York Magazine reported earlier Tuesday that the Murdochs were leaning toward announcing that O’Reilly would not return to his show.
Over the past two weeks, protests against 21st Century Fox, Fox News and O’Reilly have grown louder. After a series of online campaigns urged advertisers to pull their spots from O’Reilly’s show, advocacy groups organized protests outside Fox News headquarters.
On Tuesday, the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet led a rally of sexual assault survivors outside Fox News headquarters in Manhattan, calling for the ouster of O’Reilly. The group also commissioned an airplane to fly over New York City with a banner that read: “Fox: #DropOReilly, The Sexual Predator.”