Fox News’ former star personality, Bill O’Reilly, will leave the network with the equivalent of one year’s salary — or $25 million, according to two people familiar with the settlement terms.
Parent company 21st Century Fox on Wednesday fired O’Reilly, 67, after investigators retained by the company began reviewing allegations of sexual harassment and payouts to women who brought grievances against Fox News’ biggest star.
O’Reilly’s ouster came just 18 days after disclosures of sexual harassment complaints and settlements by multiple women, and a call last week to Fox’s corporate hotline by Wendy Walsh, who alleged that O’Reilly promised her a coveted spot appearing on his show but reneged after she refused to have sex with him.
O’Reilly’s firing was an inglorious end to a spectacular career with Fox News. O’Reilly’s opinion-based show “The O’Reilly Factor” was a tent pole of Fox News’ prime-time lineup, supporting the suite of programs that surrounded it.
Viewers, particularly older men, reveled in O’Reilly’s pugnacious, take-no-prisoners approach and his trademark “No-Spin Zone” version of current events. “The O’Reilly Factor” drew an average of 4 million viewers an episode, according to Nielsen.
In recent months, O’Reilly received a new employment agreement that stipulated that he would receive the equivalent of one year’s salary should he be forced out, according to the informed sources.
Fox also fired the architect of Fox News, Roger Ailes, after women complained that they were subjected to a hostile workplace and that Ailes suggested they provide sexual favors in exchange for career advancement. Ailes received a $40 million payout when he left.
However, after The New York Times detailed settlements to at least five women earlier this month, protesters began agitating for change. Rupert Murdoch, the company’s co-chairman and controlling shareholder, initially wanted to keep O’Reilly on the network but advertisers began bailing out of the program, making the situation untenable for the Murdoch family.
Fox Chief Executive James Murdoch is said to have led the charge to dismiss O’Reilly. On Sunday, after Walsh’s call to the corporate hotline, Fox brought in Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate. The law firm also investigated complaints against Ailes.
“If O’Reilly would have stayed in his position, there might have been other women who would have come forward,” said Marlene Morris Towns, an adjunct marketing professor at Georgetown University. “They probably realized that it was just the tip of the iceberg.”
O’Reilly maintains that the charges against him are untrue. His spokesman was not immediately available Thursday.
“It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims,” O’Reilly said in a statement released Wednesday. “But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers.”