Feminist attorney Lisa Bloom and Dr. Wendy Walsh, who was a guest no Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, today called for an independent investigation into “the culture of sexual harassment” at Fox News Channel.
“Apparently Fox News does not think the anti-discrimination laws apply to them,” Bloom said at a packed press conference at her offices in Woodland Hills. “They believe they can just pay woman after woman to go away and keep harassers in place to victimize the next woman.”
Walsh, a psychology professor and radio talk show host, told reporters she was sexually harassed and then retaliated against by Bill O’Reilly in 2013 while she was working with him on an O’Reilly Factor segment called “Are We Crazy?”
The revelation comes after a scalding New York Times report Sunday claiming O’Reilly has 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 chairman Roger Ailes, himself accused of multiple cases of harassment. Payments total $13 million, the NYT reports, with Fox picking up the tab for three of the suits and O’Reilly for two.
Walsh was not among the five women named in Sunday’s NYT report. A later report in the Wall Street Journal said that O’Reilly, the cable news network’s longtime marquee name, had recently re-upped his contract despite the harassment cases.
Today, Walsh detailed her run-in with O’Reilly in 2013 before a packed room of news media and TV cameras. She said she didn’t sue and has not asked for money, adding that “it is terrifying to speak out about a man as powerful and vindictive as Bill O’Reilly.”
“Three weeks after I began the segment, I received an email from Mr. O’Reilly’s assistant asking me to join him for dinner in Los Angeles. I was excited as this confirmed for me that it was a business dinner and he was going to offer me a job.”
They met at the Hotel Bel-Air the night before the Oscars. “At dinner, he told me that I was a very beautiful woman,” she recalled. “He also told me that Roger Ailes is his good friend and that he promised to give me a paid contributor position on his show. He complimented me on my work and thanked me for the work I had done so far for free, assuring me that Roger Ailes would sign off on a paid contributor position if asked by him. I was delighted at the idea of becoming a paid contributor at the network.”
After dinner, she said that O’Reilly said, “Let’s get out of here,” assuming he meant they should move to the bar to continue their conversation about her career at Fox News. “As we walked past the host stand in the restaurant, an awkward thing happened,” she said. “I turned left toward the bar and he turned right, walking toward the bedrooms. When we were a few steps from each other, we both turned around looking for each other. He came to my side, and I immediately said, ‘I think the bar is this way,’ pointing down the pathway. To which he replied, ‘No, let’s go to my suite.’ And I politely said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.’ He seemed put-off and answered, ‘What? Do you think I’m going to attack you or something?’ To which I gently replied, ‘Bill, I’m sure you can understand since we are both parents raising teenaged girls that we should walk our talk to model good choices.’ He signed and said, ‘Whatever you want,’ and we walked to the bar.”
At the bar, she said, “his demeanor utterly transformed from charming to hostile. He asked me how much I thought my glass of water would cost him. I told him I’d be happy to buy this round. With that, he looked at my purse, a black leather clutch by Balenciaga Paris and suddenly blurted out, ‘That’s the ugliest bag I’ve ever seen.’ Then he said, ‘I want you to forget all the business advice I gave you. Do what you want. You’re on your own.’ ”
Over the next several weeks, she said, “All of our small talk off air stopped abruptly. I emailed him to follow up, trying to stay friendly and upbeat, but got little in response. The last time I saw him was in late May of 2013. I was live on the set at Fox News in New York City. In the studio, Mr. O’Reilly stiffened up and stared down at his script, ignoring me, though we were only four feet from each other. Then he suddenly looked up at me from his script and hostilely barked, ‘When are you leaving?’ ” After that, she said, “I was essentially barred from the show and was not asked back again.”
“Mr. O’Reilly’s job offer disappeared the moment I refused to accompany him to his hotel suite,” she said. “His friendliness to me vanished the moment I rebuffed him…Apparently all of my professionalism and hard work meant nothing once I refused to join him in his hotel room.”
Her story, she said, is “mild” compared to those of many others who have recently spoken out against O’Reilly and Ailes, but said decided to speak out now because “we need to change workplaces for all our daughters.”
“We have federal, state and city agencies whose job it is to protect the rights of women,” Bloom told reporters. “The New York State Division of Human Rights has the power upon its own motion to initiate investigations into discrimination or harassment. In New York City, where Fox News in headquartered, the NYC Human Rights Commission has the power to initiate its own investigations of discrimination and harassment. This is especially true where there may be a pattern and practice of discrimination and harassment.”
Noting that more than 30 women have claimed that they were the victims of sexual harassment at Fox News, Bloom said: “Thirty women? Sounds like pattern and practice to me.”
O’Reilly has claimed that he’s an easy target for such complaints. “Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity. 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.”