During a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley fielded a question about recent press accounts that the company has been negotiating with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
“We get approached by people all the time, which is probably where these reports were coming from,” Ripley said. “He did approach us. We do not have any interest in hiring him.”
O’Reilly was let go by Fox last spring amid revelations of numerous settlements for sexual harassment and misconduct. The New York Times recently revealed that he had paid one single accuser $32 million to resolve her claim, in advance of reaching a new contract deal with the 21st Century Fox network. (CEO James Murdoch, however, maintained that the cost of that settlement came as “news to him.”)
The premise of the speculation about O’Reilly is the combination of the size and orientation of Sinclair. Already the No. 1 station owner, it could grow dramatically bigger and enter top markets including New York and Los Angeles with the closing of its pending acquisition of Tribune Media. While it has dismissed rumors it was mulling the launch of a national news network to compete with FNC, the stations are served with “must-run” op-ed pieces from former Trump Administration official Boris Epshtyn and other execs are known to have right-wing leanings. The arrival of a known quantity like O’Reilly, despite his baggage, was considered a viable way to drive tune-in.
Sinclair undershot analysts’ estimates for the third quarter, reporting downturns in revenue and profit. But it said its transformative acquisition of Tribune Media is on track to close in early 2018.