Bill O’Reilly has been forced out of his position as a prime-time host at Fox News, the company said Wednesday, after the disclosure of settlements involving sexual harassment allegations against him. His abrupt and embarrassing ouster ends his two-decade reign as one of the most popular and influential commentators in television.
“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,” 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, said in a statement.
O’Reilly is departing 2½ weeks after an investigation by The New York Times revealed how Fox News and 21st Century Fox had repeatedly stood by him even as sexual harassment allegations against him mounted. The Times found the company and O’Reilly had reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.
Since then, more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups had called for his ouster. Inside the company, women expressed outrage and questioned whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on “trust and respect,” as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal led to the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.
That put pressure on 21st Century Fox and the Murdoch family, which controls the company. After the dismissal of Ailes, the company struck two settlements involving sexual harassment complaints against O’Reilly and extended his contract.
Last week, the Murdochs enlisted the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate O’Reilly’s behavior after one woman who had related complaints against O’Reilly to The Times called the Fox hotline to report her allegations. Since then, other complaints have been lodged, including one on Wednesday by a current Fox News contributor who said O’Reilly made inappropriate comments to her and encouraged her to show more cleavage at work.
O’Reilly and Ailes have denied the allegations against them.
O’Reilly, 67, has been an anchor at Fox News since he started at the network in 1996. He was the top-rated host in cable news, delivering defiant commentary every weeknight with a message that celebrated patriotism and expressed scorn for political correctness. His departure is a significant blow to the Fox News lineup, which dominated the prime-time cable news ratings. In January, the lineup lost another star, Megyn Kelly.
O’Reilly will be succeeded in the 8 p.m. Eastern slot by Tucker Carlson, who moved to the channel’s prime-time lineup only in January. “The Five,” an ensemble political round table, will move to 9 p.m., from the afternoon.
A few 21st Century Fox executives outside the news division had said that they wanted a resolution and that O’Reilly would have been fired earlier had he worked in their groups, according to people familiar with the matter.
In a statement late Wednesday, O’Reilly praised Fox News but said it was “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,” he said. “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 a letter to the staff Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, the top executives at 21st Century Fox, avoided any mention of O’Reilly’s transgressions and praised him as “one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news.” The letter said, “His success, by any measure, is indisputable.” It also said the decision “follows an extensive review done in collaboration with outside counsel.”
The Murdochs added, “Lastly, and most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
The family made a similar promise last summer when it ousted Ailes, but female staff members said they remained hesitant to report inappropriate behavior to network leaders, fearing retaliation.
One current Fox News contributor who had stayed silent for months came forward Wednesday with complaints that O’Reilly had made inappropriate comments to her.
The contributor, Jehmu Greene, said she called Paul, Weiss on Wednesday to report inappropriate behavior by O’Reilly. Greene said she decided to call the firm after she received no response to an e-mail she sent to a network executive more than a week ago to schedule a meeting to discuss her concerns.
Greene said instances of harassment occurred when she was a regular guest on the network but before she became a network contributor in November 2010. Greene disclosed her allegations to The Times in the fall but decided to go on the record this week.
She reported that in late 2007, O’Reilly told her in the makeup room that she should show more cleavage.
About two years later, Greene was making an appearance on O’Reilly’s show. Before the segment, the two discussed a bet they had made for dinner. She had won the bet, but O’Reilly had never paid up.
Greene said O’Reilly then told her that while she might want to “break his bank” with the restaurant choice, he “was more interested in breaking my back.”
“I don’t think that these comments were focused from a sexual standpoint,” Greene said. “I think they were more of a power standpoint to put me in my place.”
Representatives for 21st Century Fox and O’Reilly did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Greene’s allegations.
For the moment, O’Reilly’s lucrative publishing career does not appear to be in dire jeopardy. In its first public statement since the news of the women’s allegations broke, Henry Holt, O’Reilly’s publisher, indicated it would continue to publish his books, which have been bestsellers. “Our plans have not changed,” a company spokeswoman said in an e-mail Wednesday.