Bill O’Reilly & Fox News Close To Cutting Ties, News Corp-Owned Paper Says – Update

Bill O'Reilly

UPDATED, 7:55 PM: Fox News is preparing to cut ties with Bill O’Reilly, News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal reports this evening. But the report goes on to say “a final decision” on O’Reilly’s future, or not, at 21st Century Fox-owned Fox News Channel has not yet been made but could come as early as this week.

O’Reilly, whose Fox News contract had been renewed early this month, is expected to top the list of things discussed at Thursday’s board meeting of  FNC parent company 21st Century Fox.

Tonight’s report, which says Fox News is “preparing to cut ties” with O’Reilly,
comes in the wake of multiple sexual harassment allegations against him and a New York Times report that he and FNC paid nearly $13M to settle cases with five women going back 15 years. And protesters rallied outside Fox News’ Manhattan studios today demanding his ouster.

Also today, Fox News Channel stopped assuring that O’Reilly will be returning to its air this coming Monday. He’s been off the air since April 11, when FNC said its star was going on vacation.

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. While O’Reilly has been off the air, his show’s ratings have slipped noticeably.

Also today, in a potentially prescient move, Drudge Report founder Matt Drudge took to Twitter to fete the news channel’s biggest star’s “tremendous run.”

Drudge took to Twitter this afternoon to talk Bill O’Reilly in a past-tense-ish way, opening the floodgate for media posts borrowing Shakespeare gags about burying/praising Caesar.

Drudge’s rare, and cryptic, tweet comes the same day about 30 people stationed outside Fox News Channel’s New York headquarters demanded O’Reilly get the sack. More to the point, FNC chronicler-in-chief Gabe Sherman penned a post for New York magazine alleging that both of Rupert Murdoch’s sons now are leaning toward recommending O’Reilly be removed from the cable news network’s slate, while their father leans in the opposite direction.

Sherman speculated O’Reilly might become the flotsam and jetsam of the Murdochs’ pending $14 billion takeover of European pay-TV provider Sky. British media regulators will decide next month whether the Murdochs are “fit and proper” to own such a large media property and “removing O’Reilly could appease critics and help close the Sky deal,” Sherman wrote.

FNC recently re-upped O’Reilly’s contract.

O’Reilly’s attorney, however, said 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.

Last week, O’Reilly announced he was taking a pre-planned vacation while speculation about his future at the network was at full boil. He paid a visit to the Vatican and is still in Italy, according to one source. When O’Reilly left, he did so without publicly addressing the New York Times report that Fox News and its primetime star had, between them, allegedly paid five women nearly $13M in settlements going back 15 years.

That report had triggered massive advertiser bailout from The O’Reilly Report; the list quickly grew to 70, with CNN leading the coverage tracking advertiser pull-out.

FNC had been running O’Reilly promos in his absence, including a full-court press starting Sunday with spots sighted at noon, 7 PM and midnight and Monday at 3, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 AM.

O’Reilly has been keeping Fox News and parent company very busy since the NYT report came out.

EVP Ad Sales Paul Rittenberg worked with the companies to address their current concerns about The O’Reilly Factor and moved the ads into other FNC programs.

The parent company, 21st Century Fox confirmed it was investigating the sexual harassment claims.

NewsCorp chief Murdoch sent a memo to FNC staff thanking them for the network’s ratings success as the O’Reilly probe got underway.

The President of the United States weighed from the Oval Office, praising O’Reilly to NYT reporters he’d called into the room as a “good person” who “I don’t think … did anything wrong” – except, that is, to have settled with the women.

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.

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