Fox knew about Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment settlement before renewing contract, company says
In the wake of a new bombshell report from The New York Times, 21st Century Fox, parent company of Fox News, stated it was aware of new sexual harassment allegations lodged against Bill O’Reilly before entering contract negotiations earlier this year. Lis Wiehl, a former analyst at the network, had settled with O’Reilly for a reported $32 million.
“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,” the statement, obtained by EW, reads. “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. The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract.”
The statement continues, “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. 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.”
According to the report in the Times, O’Reilly had been accused by Wiehl of “repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship, and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her.” The settlement was said to have been reached in January, six months after the network had ousted then-CEO Roger Ailes for similar harassment offenses. This would also be the sixth and largest settlement resulting from the string of allegations against O’Reilly.
In February, Fox reportedly granted the then-host a four-year contract extension, which the report notes was worth $25 million a year. O’Reilly was then fired in April after numerous harassment claims came to light. He reportedly settled with five different women for a total of $13 million, according to earlier reports.
Mark Fabiani, a rep for O’Reilly, sent EW an affidavit signed by Wiehl that acknowledges her claims against O’Reilly and specifically mentions “certain explicit emails.” However, it also claims Wiehl and O’Reilly “resolved all of our issues” and that she “would no longer make the allegations contained in the draft complaint.”
O’Reilly denied any wrongdoing in speaking with the Times. After the report was published, Fabiani released a lengthier statement on behalf of his client.
“Once again, The New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O’Reilly, this time even failing to print a sworn affidavit from his former lawyer, Lis Wiehl, repudiating all allegations against Bill O’Reilly,” he said. Though, the initial report gives mention to the affidavit. “The Times ignored that evidence, sworn under oath, and chose to rely on unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and incomplete leaked or stolen documents.”
“Here are the facts,” he continued, “after the Chairman of Fox News Roger Ailes was fired in July 2015, dozens of women accused scores of male employees of Fox News of harassment – including the current co-president of Fox News Jack Abernathy. 21st Century Fox settled almost all these cases, paying out close to $100 million dollars. Six months after Mr. Ailes left the company, Fox News Corporation signed Bill O’Reilly to a record breaking new contract after the company had analyzed and considered all allegations against him. In its first article about Mr. O’Reilly on April 1st, The New York Times printed inaccurate settlement figures while fully understanding that O’Reilly and his counsel are legally bound by confidentiality and cannot set the record straight.”
Fabiani called the printed information to be “out of context, false, defamatory, and obviously designed to embarrass Bill O’Reilly and to keep him from competing in the marketplace.” He concluded, “Finally, in the more than 20 years Bill O’Reilly worked at Fox News, not one complaint was filed against him with the Human Resources Department or Legal Department by a coworker, even on the anonymous hotline. The New York Times has copies of two letters written by 21st Century Fox lawyers attesting to that fact. The Times failed to print them, too.”