In January, Bill O’Reilly paid a $32 million settlement with longtime network analyst Lis Wiehl to settle sexual harassment allegations shortly before his contract was renewed, reports the New York Times. That makes it by far the largest of O’Reilly’s known settlements with women who have accused him of harassment.
The huge January settlement, which, according to the Times was due to “allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her,” amounted to at least three times the previously known largest settlement.
Yet what makes the piece published by the Times Saturday such a bombshell is that it reveals Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, knew about the settlement before granting O'Reilly a four-year extension on his contract that paid $25 million a year.
It may have been the largest settlement but it was hardly the first. This latest payment to settle allegations of wrongdoing marked the sixth agreement the former anchor or the company made to settle harassment allegations against him. But at the time it seems Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, all of whom are top 21st Century Fox executives, made the calculated decision to paper over the accusations and stand by O’Reilly. The calculation changed shorlty after the Times reported settlements with five women who accused O'Reilly of harassment. He was fired shortly thereafter although he denied any wrongdoing.
Fox News’ parent company insists it didn’t know about the amount of the settlement. “When the company renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract in February, it knew that a sexual harassment lawsuit had been threatened against him by Lis Wiehl, but was informed by Mr. O’Reilly that he had settled the matter personally, on financial terms that he and Ms. Wiehl had agreed were confidential,” the company said in a statement. “His new contract, which was made at a time typical for renewals of multi-year talent contracts, added protections for the company specifically aimed at harassment, including that Mr. O’Reilly could be dismissed if the company was made aware of other allegations or if additional relevant information was obtained in a company investigation.”
Even though Fox knew about O’Reilly’s history it seems that Murdoch and his sons decided the network couldn’t take losing such a strong star at a time when Megyn Kelly had just left the network.
O’Reillly’s spokesperson issued a statement on behalf of the former anchor blasting the New York Times for mischaracterizing the situation:
Once again, the New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O’Reilly, this time even failing to print a sworn affidavit from his former lawyer, Lis Wiehl, repudiating all allegations against Bill O’Reilly. The Times ignored that evidence, sworn under oath, and chose to rely on unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and incomplete leaked or stolen documents.