In just two years, Bill O’Reilly has generated nearly half a billion dollars in advertising revenue for Fox News. You can therefore imagine that the network would balk at the prospect of dethroning the boisterous blowhard, even with consistent complaints of sexual harassment. And it’s also worth noting that he’s denied it, but with a new article in the New York Times and subsequent coverage, what exactly happened? To avoid distraction, I’m breaking it down for ease-of-read, in timeline form.
- 2004: Andrea Mackris filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against O’Reilly. She said he had told her to buy a vibrator, called her at times when it sounded as if he was masturbating and described his sexual fantasies. He was married at the time. She alleges he threatened her, saying he would make any woman who complained about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.” She receives a settlement for $9 million. She never worked in television again.
- 2013: Wendy Walsh, the former guest on Mr. O’Reilly’s show, met O’Reilly for dinner at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. According to Walsh, during the dinner he promised to make her a network contributor. After dinner, he invited her to his hotel suite. She declined. He then became hostile and insulted her. Though she appeared on the network for months following the incident, she was never made a contributor. Fox says she was removed because her segments were not successful.
- July, 2016: Gretchen Carlson sued Roger Ailes, the Chairman and CEO of Fox News and the Fox Television Stations Group. She claimed that when she rejected his sexual advances, he retaliated by reducing her salary, cutting her on-air appearances and declining to renew her contract. At the time, Ailes said her suit was a retaliatory response to not having her contract renewed.
- July, 2016: Bill O’Reilly defends Roger Ailes, saying, “I stand behind Roger 100 percent,” adding that “in this country, every famous, powerful or wealthy person is a target. You’re a target, I’m a target. Anytime, somebody could come out and sue us, attack us, go to the press or anything like that.”
- August 2016: Fox News host named Andrea Tantaros said Mr. O’Reilly sexually harassed her in a lawsuit she filed against the network and Roger Ailes. Fox News offered to pay her a seven-figure sum to renounce her claims (she declined). She alleges that he asked her to stay with him on Long Island and said he could ‘see [her] as a wild girl.” The lawsuit is still ongoing, and Fox News said she was fired for another unrelated reason.
- November, 2016: Fox News host Megyn Kelly releases a memoir that corroborates Gretchen Carlson’s claims, alleging that Ailes tried to kiss her and made sexually-charged comments. Kelly had publicly complimented Ailes, which was quickly brought to light in response to her claims.
- March, 2017: An investigation into claims of sexual harassment against Roger Ailes unveils that the CFO of Fox News was offered immunity by prosecutors in exchange for information about alleged hidden payouts to Ailes’ accusers.
- July, 2017: Roger Ailes steps down. He receives a $40 million payout as part of his exit agreement. At the time, Fox News issues a statement saying they did not tolerate behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
- 2017 (Post Ailes Ouster): Fox News anchor (from 2000-2008) Laurie Dhue went to the company to outline her harassment claims against Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Ailes. They settled for $1 million.
- March 2017: Two black women sue Fox News in State Supreme Court in the Bronx alleging “top-down racial harassment” in the Fox News payroll department, citing racially-charged comments and “severe and pervasive discrimination and harassment.”
- September, 2017: 21st Century Fox reached a settlement worth $1.6 million with Juliet Huddy. She made regular appearances on O’Reilly’s show, and he allegedly had influence over her airtime. She says that in 2011, he made inappropriate phone calls to her and tried to kiss her. When she rejected him, her career suffered.
- Fox News reacts to the NYT investigation: “21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously. Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility. Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.”
- Advertisers flee: In response to the NYT investigation, many advertisers have pulled or redirected their ads. Some of those advertisers include, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Sanofi Consumer Care, Allstate, Esurance, T. Rowe Price, Credit Karma, Pacific Life; Jenny Craig, Advil, H&R Block, Orkin, Untuckit, Ancestry.com, Constant Contact, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, Coldwell Banker, Amica mutual insurance company, Touchnote, Invisalign, TrueCar, ODFL freight line; and LegalZoom.
There’s a lot of appropriate outrage about Bill O’Reilly’s behavior and the behavior of Fox News. The first reason is obvious. Women should feel safe in the workplace. Sexual propositions from men in power are difficult to decline, especially when they’re accompanied by threats. It’s also pathetic. Bill O’Reilly is a big baby. He’s punishing women for their disinterest, much like a high school bully. Second, Fox News is sending a message that it values money over morals, and unfortunately, they won’t dethrone their bully until his actions dent their bottom line. The good news is that if a social media firestorm forces advertisers to pull out, which in turn leads to O’Reilly’s ouster, then that’s a ground-up approach to ethics, and I’m all for it. The third, more meta point is this: O’Reilly’s soapbox is all about the moral high-ground. Apparently, that high-ground doesn’t apply to harassing his colleagues.