Six months ago, The New York Times published a longform piece of reporting that functionally ended Bill O’Reilly’s TV career, an extremely detailed accounting of at least five different settlements the Fox News star had made with women over various harassment claims over the years. The report set off a firestorm of increased scrutiny on O’Reilly’s attempts to hush these incidents up, and ultimately spawned the boycott movement that caused the company’s ruling Murdoch family to eventually cut ties with the high-profile star.
One of the weirder ironies of that whole situation, though, was that the NYT piece was published on the same day that Fox officially decided to re-up and increase the paycheck on O’Reilly’s contract, the better to keep him firmly within the Fox fold. Now, the Times has written a new piece investigating that decision, as well as the new revelation that it came just months after not just the ousting of Roger Ailes on similar harassment charges, but yet another O’Reilly settlement, this one for a whopping $32 million.
The previously unknown agreement in question was between O’Reilly and legal analyst Lis Wiehl, a regular feature on O’Reilly’s show, as well as his occasional legal adviser outside the studio. The Times quotes unnamed sources who say that, despite the inclusion in the settlement of a statement from Wiehl absolving O’Reilly of all wrongdoing, her original complaints included “repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her.” The $32 million settlement was the biggest of O’Reilly’s checkered legal career.
Meanwhile, there’s also the matter of O’Reilly’s new contract; in a bit of language reminiscent of a more recent high-profile sexual harassment scandal, it appears to have included lines suggesting that people at Fox knew, to some degree, about O’Reilly’s “tendencies”. In a statement to the Times, a Fox spokesperson “emphasized that provisions were added to the new contract that allowed for his dismissal if new allegations or other relevant information arose. ‘The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract,’ the statement said.” At the same time, and despite what were clearly known liabilities, there was never any doubt that O’Reilly—who had become an even more key component of the Fox News lineup after the departure of Megyn Kelly in the wake of the Ailes scandal—was going to be re-signed. “He was the biggest star in cable TV.”
For his part, Bill O’Reilly says what he has always said about the multiple women who have accused him of inappropriate or harassing behavior: It’s all a plot against him, and he only settled because going to court would be a hassle. “It’s politically and financially motivated,” he told the Times, “And we can prove it with shocking information, but I’m not going to sit here in a courtroom for a year and a half and let my kids get beaten up every single day of their lives by a tabloid press that would sit there, and you know it.” His legal team has also contended that the management at Fox is to some degree untrustworthy, leaking the details of his settlements to the press, although it hasn’t stopped him from heavily promoting his new book on the network.