A New York Times investigation published on Saturday revealed that Fox News and Bill O’Reilly have paid a cumulative $13 million to five women since 2002 to settle harassment allegations brought against the Fox host. According to the report, the network and O’Reilly paid former female Fox contributors and employees to keep quiet about the allegations and drop any related legal suits. In addition to the five settlements cited by the Times, two of which were already known, two other women spoke to the paper about O’Reilly’s history of harassment, which included phoning women while apparently masturbating, trying to lure them to his hotel rooms, making lewd remarks, trying to kiss them, and hampering their careers when they rebuffed him.
News of the settlements, two of which were reached after former Fox Chairman Roger Ailes was ousted after facing a damning internal investigation and his own wave of sexual harassment allegations, gives further credence to the idea that Fox News has no reason to change just because its longstanding harasser, coercer, and abuser has left the building. Many of the suits and allegations leveled at Ailes also implicated other members of Fox’s leadership in covering up and facilitating Ailes’ harassment, painting a picture of an operation built to protect its own crude misbehavior at the expense of female employees.
We already knew that Fox had publicly disciplined Ailes with one hand while working hard to hush up one of O’Reilly’s accusers with the other. We also knew that one of Ailes’ most prominent accusers, Andrea Tantaros, also accused O’Reilly of inviting her to stay with him on Long Island for some “private” time and telling her on multiple occasions that he’d like to see her “wild” side. But the newly revealed allegations and settlements build a solid case for two distinct patterns: O’Reilly’s pattern of getting rid of women who turn down his advances or complain about sexual harassment and Fox’s pattern of going on the offensive and spending whatever it takes to protect its big names from being accused of serial harassment.
In a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday, Wendy Walsh, one of the women who didn’t seek a settlement but spoke to the Times about O’Reilly’s sexual advances, said she didn’t move forward with any sexual harassment suit because her daughter was applying to colleges, so Walsh didn’t want their family in the news. She was also an unpaid guest on O’Reilly’s show, where she participated in a regular segment as a guest psychologist, though she hoped to be hired as a paid contributor. Walsh said at the press conference that she didn’t know job applicants, not just paid employees, were protected by sex-discrimination laws against retaliation for turning down sexual advances.
O’Reilly invited Walsh to dinner at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles soon after she started appearing on his show in 2013, she says. Walsh thought he was going to hire her as a paid contributor, and he promised to get Ailes’ approval on that. He told her she was a beautiful woman and suggested, when dinner was over, “Let’s get out of here.” Walsh says they left the restaurant, and she started walking toward the hotel bar while O’Reilly started walking toward the hotel rooms. He allegedly asked her to come to his suite, and Walsh apologized and declined. After that, Walsh alleged at the press conference, O’Reilly “abruptly” stopped making small talk with her off the air, responding to her emails, and discussing job opportunities at Fox. Soon, an executive producer told Walsh they were stopping her segment for a bit. The segment eventually returned but only featuring the other psychologist who had joined Walsh on the segment.
“I’m not litigious. I don’t want any money. There’s no lawsuit,” Walsh said. But “all men need to learn that the workplace is not a mating marketplace,” and women without the privileges of a celebrity lawyer and a TV career need to know their rights to workplaces free from sexual victimization.
Lisa Bloom, Walsh’s lawyer, has represented a slew of clients taking on high-profile institutions (the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church) on issues of sex abuse and discrimination. In a press release, she called Fox News “the Bill Cosby of corporate America,” wondering “how many women must come forward before Fox News complies with the law and respects women?” At the press conference, she accused Fox of deciding that payouts to harassed, shunned female employees are “the cost of doing business” and failing to make any efforts to address the root of the problem: serial harassers on staff and a culture of misogyny that values women only as sex objects. “Fox News has a very tired tattered playbook, and that is attack, attack, attack, especially against women who speak out against their moneymakers,” Bloom said, referencing O’Reilly’s repeated assertions that women who accuse him and Ailes of harassment are money-grubbing liars. “No company in America,” she went on, “has the right to drive out women who complain … [or] use its riches to flout the law. That includes Fox News.”
Bloom dismissed O’Reilly’s statement to the Times, in which he didn’t deny harassing anyone but claimed his wealth and fame made him a “target” and he settled all those suits just to protect his children from hearing nasty rumors about their dad. Most celebrities have “exactly zero” sexual harassment complaints filed against them, Bloom said, and multimillion-dollar settlements (one settlement totaled $9 million) are not the norm for people who just want to make a bogus claim go away. Those “nuisance value suits” might yield a $10,000 to $50,000 settlement according to Bloom, but hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars usually mean the defendant knows the plaintiff would likely win in court due to hard corroborating evidence. Indeed, some of O’Reilly’s accusers have said they recorded him when he called them while audibly masturbating.
Many of the Fox employees who’ve come forward with allegations against Ailes and O’Reilly have had to abide by arbitration clauses in their contracts, making it unlikely that they’d ever go to a public trial. That’s not the case with the most recent claim against the network: Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky filed a sexual harassment suit against the organization on Monday, alleging that Ailes made lewd remarks to her and once offered her a permanent position in exchange for sexual favors. After she refused, she says, her career rise stalled. Roginsky also accuses new Fox Co-President Bill Shine of enabling and hiding Ailes’ harassment, a claim echoed by Tantaros and fellow Ailes accuser Laurie Luhn.
This alleged pattern of abuse, discrimination, and mutual cover-up does not reflect well on the company that promised a zero-tolerance policy toward anyone who “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment” while privately paying a woman for her silence on O’Reilly’s alleged harassment, then renewing his $18 million contract. Bloom intends to call for an independent investigation into sexual harassment at Fox News, conducted by the human rights commissions of New York City or New York state. This kind of inquiry is justified by law if there is a “pattern, practice, or policy” of sexual harassment in a workplace. Bloom counted up all the sexual harassment allegations that have been levied against Ailes, O’Reilly, and other members of Fox leadership. “Thirty women,” she said Monday. “Sounds like a pattern or practice to me.”