O’Reilly out at Fox News, denies harassment claims
NEW YORK — Fox News Channel’s parent company fired Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday following an investigation of harassment allegations, bringing a stunning end to cable news’ most popular program and one that came to define the bravado of his network over 20 years.
Mr. O’Reilly lost his job on the same day he was photographed in Rome shaking the hand of Pope Francis. By the evening, “The O’Reilly Factor” no longer bore his name, simply titled “The Factor.”
The downfall of Fox’s most popular — and most lucrative — personality began with an April 1 report in The New York Times that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about disturbing encounters with Mr. O’Reilly, who continued to deny any wrongdoing in a statement hours after he was fired. Dozens of his show’s advertisers fled within days, even though Mr. O’Reilly’s viewership increased.
Mr. O’Reilly’s exit came nine months after his former boss, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, was ousted following allegations of sexual harassment.
Following the Times story, 21st Century Fox said it had asked the same law firm that investigated Mr. Ailes to look into
review” of the charges.
“I understand how difficult this has been for many of you,” Rupert Murdoch said in a memo to Fox staff.
Mr. O’Reilly, denied a chance to say goodbye to his Fox viewers, did so via a statement.
“It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims,” he said. “But that is the unfortunate reality that 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.”
Fox said conservative pundit Tucker Carlson would move into Mr. O’Reilly’s time slot — the second time in three months he’s replaced an exiting prime-time personality. Mr. Carlson, a veteran who has hosted shows on CNN, MSNBC and PBS, had taken over for Megyn Kelly in January after she announced she was moving to NBC News. “The Five,” a talk show with five rotating hosts that regularly airs at 5 p.m., will move into the 9 p.m. time slot. Eric Bolling will host a new show that airs at 5 p.m. starting next month, the company said.
Dana Perino, who had been subbing for Mr. O’Reilly while he had been on vacation for the past few days, acknowledged his departure at the top of “The Factor.” At the end of the show, she paid him a warm tribute.
Noting the “dramatic changes,” Ms. Perino said: “It is the end of the era. Bill has been the undisputed king of cable news, and for good reason.”
Mr. O’Reilly, 67, had ruled the “no spin zone” on television with a quick smile and an even quicker temper. He pushed a populist, conservative-leaning point of view born from growing up on Long Island, and was quick to shout down those who disagreed with him.
“What Rush Limbaugh was to talk radio, Bill O’Reilly has been to conservative television,” said Mark Feldstein, communication professor at the University of Maryland. “You can’t underestimate the influence and the profits that he brought into Fox News for all these years and that’s why they hesitated so long in doing the right thing.”
His show generated $178 million in advertising revenue in 2015, according to Kantar Media. Before the advertising boycott, there was the prospect of even more: His audience was larger in the first three months of 2017 than it had ever been. With a profit center gone, 21st Century Fox stock fell almost 1 percent Wednesday in heavy trading.
Mr. O’Reilly’s pugnacious personality wasn’t just an onscreen affectation, with one of the settlements going to a woman who complained about being shouted at in the newsroom. Mr. O’Reilly was alleged to have slowed the careers of women who spurned his advances. One former Fox personality, Juliet Huddy, said she pulled away and fell to the ground when he tried to kiss her, and he didn’t help her up, the Times reported.
One harassment case, from a former producer who said Mr. O’Reilly called her and described sexual fantasies and appeared to be masturbating, dated back more than a decade and was widely reported then.
Some of Mr. O’Reilly’s critics were happy with the news.
Author Stephen King tweeted: “New book by Fox News: Killing Bill O’Reilly.” It referred to O’Reilly’s series of best-selling books on the deaths of major historical figures.
“Mission accomplished,” said Keith Olbermann, who frequently tweaked Mr. O’Reilly on an MSNBC show that competed in the same time slot for several years.
Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyers said he was the victim of an orchestrated campaign by liberal organizations like Media Matters for America, which contacted his advertisers to pressure them to leave the show.
Mr. O’Reilly is also one of the country’s most popular nonfiction authors. The books in his “Killing” historical series, including “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Reagan,” have consistently sold 1 million or more copies in hardcover.