(UPDATED with statements from O’Reilly & 21st Century Fox) Bill O’Reilly struck a $32 million sexual harassment payment with a Fox News network analyst before his contract with 21st Century Fox was granted a four-year extension, according to a bombshell New York Times story posted today.
Fox now admits they knew all about it, kind of.
“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 and not disclosed to the company,” said parent company 21st Century Fox in a statement today of the January agreement made by the now pink slipped and top rated host.
“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,” 21CF added of the big bucks four-year extension. “The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract,” it said of what became O’Reilly’s expensive firing in April of this year from the cabler, already deeply tainted by Roger Ailes.
A statement released on behalf of O’Reilly by spokesman Mark Fabiani says, in part, “Once again, The New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O’Reilly” and “The Times ignored that evidence, sworn under oath, and chose to rely on unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and incomplete or stolen documents.”
As other accusations (first about Ailes and then others) swirled around FNC before, during and since, O’Reilly was canned following revelations about $13 million paid out to settle other sexual harassment claims over the years. After some publicly poised hesitation on the host’s part, O’Reilly’s new annual and significantly upped $25 million contract was inked last spring with at least some knowledge of the various allegations – and now, clearly, including this latest revelation.
Now podcasting, O’Reilly has said that the truth will come out on why he was really fired but no fire has emerged yet from his smoke – and likely less so now.
According to the NYT, O’Reilly’s actions in the Wiehl matter took the form of “allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter.”
In trying to contain yet another scandal at the much scandalized, many times publicly remorseful and much sued FNC, the parent company today also reacted to the latest revelations with more promises that things are getting better.
“21st Century Fox has taken concerted action to transform Fox News, including installing new leaders, overhauling management and on-air talent, expanding training, and increasing the channels through which employees can report harassment or discrimination,” Saturday’s 21CF statement asserted. “These changes come from the top, with Lachlan and James Murdoch personally leading the effort to promote civility and respect on the job, while maintaining the Company’s long-held commitment to a diverse, inclusive and creative workplace.”
The Times story reports that the $32 million settlement was at least the sixth “and by far the largest” made by either O’Reilly or 21 Century Fox to settle harassment claims. “Despite that record,” the Times writes, “21st Century Fox began contract negotiations with Mr. O’Reilly, and in February granted him a four-year extension that paid $25 million a year.”
The $32 million settlement was made last January, six months after the ouster of the now deceased Fox News chairman Ailes over sexual harassment allegations. Since then similar allegations as well as claims of discrimination have seen Ailes protege and now ex FNC co-president Bill Shine and other executives exit as well. Most recently, after vehemient denials, former The Five co-host Eric Bolling was fired after claims of sexual harassment in early September.
Today’s O’Reilly article sources “people familiar with the settlement, and documents obtained by The New York Times.” Something 21CF nor FNC dispute, it should be noted.