Bill O'Reilly set­tled $32m sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim be­fore sign­ing Fox News deal – re­port

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines -

Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News com­men­ta­tor who was forced to re­sign in April, agreed to a $32m sex­ual ha­rass­ment set­tle­ment in Jan­uary which the net­work’s par­ent knew about when it gave him a new con­tract the next month, the New York Times re­ported on Satur­day.

The pre­vi­ously undis­closed agree­ment, at least the sixth in­volv­ing O’Reilly or the com­pany re­lated to ha­rass­ment charges against him, was “ex­traor­di­nar­ily large” for such cases, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per, which cited two peo­ple “briefed on the mat­ter”.

Twenty-First Cen­tury Fox ac­knowl­edged it had been aware of O’Reilly’s set­tle­ment with Lis Wiehl, a for­mer Fox News le­gal an­a­lyst, when it signed a con­tract ex­ten­sion with The O’Reilly Fac­tor host in Fe­bru­ary.

In a state­ment emailed by spokesman Nathaniel Brown, the com­pany said it “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”.

Nei­ther O’Reilly or Wiehl could be reached im­me­di­ately for com­ment. The Times re­ported O’Reilly as say­ing there was no merit to any of the al­le­ga­tions against him and adding: “I never mis­treated any­one.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Times, Ru­pert Mur­doch and his two sons, Lach­lan and James, as top ex­ec­u­tives of 21st Cen­tury Fox, de­cided in Jan­uary to re­tain O’Reilly de­spite be­ing made aware of the fresh com­plaints. The next month, the com­pany gave O’Reilly a con­tract ex­ten­sion worth $25m a year.

The dis­clo­sures fol­low al­le­ga­tions re­ported ear­lier this month by the New York Times and the New Yorker that Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein sex­u­ally ha­rassed or as­saulted a num­ber of women in in­ci­dents dat­ing back to the 1980s. Reuters was un­able to in­de­pen­dently con­firm any of the al­le­ga­tions and We­in­stein, 65, has de­nied hav­ing non-con­sen­sual sex with any­one.

The We­in­stein al­le­ga­tions have set off a wave of anger and soulsearch­ing over the is­sue of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault. Mil­lions of

women have shared their ex­pe­ri­ences, us­ing the hash­tag #MeToo on Twit­ter and with rolling posts on Face­book.

21st Cen­tury Fox said on Satur­day it had added lan­guage to the new con­tract re­lated to ha­rass­ment, stip­u­lat­ing that O’Reilly faced dis­missal if fresh al­le­ga­tions emerged or new in­for­ma­tion about ex­ist­ing al­le­ga­tions came to light. In April, af­ter ad­ver­tis­ers be­gan to flee O’Reilly’s show, the com­pany ended the com­men­ta­tor’s two-decade Fox News ca­reer.

In its state­ment on Satur­day, 21st Cen­tury said it acted in April “based on the terms of this con­tract”, re­fer­ring to the deal signed in Fe­bru­ary.

The Times re­ported on 1 April that Fox or O’Reilly had paid five women a to­tal of $13m to set­tle ha­rass­ment claims, be­fore news of the sixth deal emerged. The women ei­ther worked for the host or ap­peared as guests on his pro­gram, the pa­per re­ported.

O’Reilly said in a state­ment at the time that he had set­tled only to spare his chil­dren from the con­tro­versy.

The O’Reilly Fac­tor was the toprated show on Fox News. Ac­cord­ing to ad-track­ing firm Kan­tar Me­dia, it brought in $147.13m in ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue in 2016.

O’Reilly’s exit fol­lowed the de­par­ture of for­mer Fox News chair­man Roger Ailes. He was forced to re­sign in July 2016 af­ter be­ing ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct by a num­ber of women in­clud­ing for­mer an­chor Gretchen Carl­son. Ailes, who died in May, re­peat­edly de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

“21st Cen­tury Fox has taken con­certed ac­tion to trans­form Fox News,” the com­pany said on Satur­day. Those steps in­clude “in­stalling new lead­er­ship, over­haul­ing man­age­ment and on-air tal­ent, ex­pand­ing train­ing, and in­creas­ing the chan­nels through which em­ploy­ees can re­port ha­rass­ment or dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Bill O’Reilly poses on the set of his show The O’Reilly Fac­tor, in New York in 2015. Pho­to­graph: Bren­dan Mc­der­mid/Reuters

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