Fox News Channel parent 21st Century Fox has decided to cut ties with the network’s biggest star, ending Bill O’Reilly’s 21-year run at the country’s most watched cable news network. Tucker Carlson will take over his 8 PM ET time slot.
“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 Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement. It did not elaborate.
But, in an internal memo to staffers, Rupert Murdoch and sons Lachlan and James, said the decision was made in collaboration with outside counsel.
“By ratings standards, Bill O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished television personalities in the history of cable news,” the memo said. “In fact, his success by any measure it indisputable. Fox has demonstrated again and again that the strength of its talent bench. … We have full confidence the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news.”
The company’s stunning decision to remove the host of Fox New Channel’s flagship program The O’Reilly Factor comes in the wake of an April 1 New York Times report that O’Reilly and FNC paid nearly $13M to settle cases with five women going back 15 years. Since that report, two more women have claimed publicly that O’Reilly harassed them years ago. And protesters gathered outside Fox News’ Manhattan studios Tuesday to demand his ouster.
Pressure built to cut O’Reilly after dozens of advertisers pulled their spots from The Factor upon publication of that NYT report. The latest tally of lost advertisers stood at 90. The dump-O’Reilly drumbeat grew deafeningly loud late Tuesday when Fox News Channel stopped assuring he would be back on-air this coming Monday. He’s been off the air since April 11, when he announced he was taking a vacation, as he had at this time last year.
In a prescient move Tuesday, Drudge Report founder Matt Drudge took to Twitter to fete the news channel’s biggest star’s “tremendous run,” saying, “Very few in the business get to decide when and how things end. Media is most brutal of all industries.”
Wednesday morning, while 21st Century Fox executives prepared for its stunning announcement, O’Reilly was in Rome:
Even before O’Reilly’s ouster was officially announced, Eric Bolling and Dana Perino’s names were being tossed about in the media as possible FNC replacements at 8 PM ET weekdays. But when they filled in for O’Reilly during his vacation, Factor ratings took a tumble. The more likely candidate had been Carlson, whose move to Megyn Kelly’s 9 PM timeslot when she vacated the network actually improved ratings. Sean Hannity is expected to stick at 10 PM.
O’Reilly recently signed a new multi-year contract valued at about $20M million a year. When Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes left Fox News last summer amid charges of sexual harassment, the Murdochs paid out $40 million, which was the remainder of his contract.
The O’Reilly Factor has been the most-watched program in the cable news landscape for 14 years, recently clocking its highest-rated quarter ever. O’Reilly’s sudden exit is the latest blow to a network rocked staff exits related to sexual harassment charges, coming less than nine months after FNC mastermind Ailes resigned in disgrace after several sexual harassment claims were leveled against him. He also was sued for alleged sexual harassment by former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson, whose contract was not renewed. The sides settled that suit in September for $20 million.
More recently, FNC primetime star/Donald Trump nemesis Megyn Kelly departed for NBC News; O’Reilly is said to have contributed to her decision to leave, when he publicly dissed her on CBS This Morning for writing about having been among the female staffers allegedly harassed by Ailes in her newly released book Settle for More. Kelly was unhappy with O’Reilly’s comments on the CBS News program and displeased with Fox execs’ reaction to her complaint about his remarks.
But some industry pundits think O’Reilly became the flotsam and jetsam of the Murdochs’ pending $14 billion takeover of European pay-TV provider Sky. British media regulators are scheduled to decide next month whether the Murdochs are “fit and proper” to own such a large media property, Fox News unauthorized chronicler-in-chief Gabe Sherman wrote in New York magazine. The timing of the New York Times post put the Murdochs in an awkward position on that deal. “Removing O’Reilly could appease critics and help close the Sky deal,” Sherman wrote.
In that scalding New York Times report, the newspaper claimed O’Reilly had cost the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, millions of dollars in sexual harassment settlements, including two that followed the departure last summer of Ailes. Payments total $13 million, with Fox picking up the tab for three of the suits, and O’Reilly for two.
When the article was published, O’Reilly had posted a response on his website, saying in part, “In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.” Although he did not deny that the settlements were made, he noted, “The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel.”
On Tuesday, O’Reilly’s attorney issued a statement saying his client has been “subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America” and promised to present “irrefutable” evidence the campaign “s being orchestrated by “far-left organizations” bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons.
Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.