The embattled Fox News host Bill O’Reilly got powerful backing on Wednesday from none other than the president of the United States, who called him “a good person.”
President Donald Trump praised Fox News and O’Reilly, just days after The New York Times reported that the host had been involved in five settlements with women who said he had harassed them. The deals resulted in payouts totaling about $13 million, The Times reported.
“Personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office with Times reporters. “Because you should have taken it all the way; I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump said.
Trump spoke as O’Reilly continued to face backlash from advertisers over the Times article, with more than 20 sponsors pulling out of his show in the last few days.
O’Reilly has said that the accusations against him are without merit and that his fame has made him a target.
Trump frequently granted interviews to O’Reilly during his political rise, including a period when Trump was fighting with the network, with particularly harsh verbal attacks on O’Reilly’s former colleague, Megyn Kelly.
But Trump’s support on Wednesday provided more than just a glimpse into the relationship between the men. It was a U.S. president backing his network of choice, one whose founding executive, Rupert Murdoch, has close ties to the president’s family.
An initial skeptic, Murdoch drew closer to Trump in the months after he clinched the Republican nomination, and people who know them both say they speak regularly.
But the family and personal ties go deeper. Murdoch and his former wife Wendi Deng socialized with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who now have influential roles in the White House.
Murdoch was a mentor to Kushner when Kushner started as a media mogul, after his purchase of The New York Observer. And Deng and Ivanka Trump were so close that the Murdochs made Ivanka Trump a trustee of their children’s fortune. She stepped down as a trustee in December.
Donald Trump even played a role in the sexual harassment scandal that engulfed Fox News last summer that led to the forced departure of its founder, Roger E. Ailes, from the network. Ailes, the network’s former chairman and chief executive, has denied the allegations.
Donald Trump helped advise Ailes as he navigated the scandal and even helped Ailes find a lawyer in New Jersey, where the first lawsuit that precipitated the scandal was filed, as Vanity Fair first reported.
Fox News has often provided Donald Trump media ballast as he has navigated a host of early controversies. Several network personalities, for instance, gave Trump backing for his unsubstantiated claims that President Barack Obama ordered surveillance of his offices.
But perhaps most important, Trump now oversees the Justice Department as the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan is investigating the way Fox News accounted for financial settlements involving harassment claims.