O’Reilly Settled $32 Million Harassment Claim, Then Fox Renewed His Contract

Bill O’Reilly struck a $32 million sexual harassment payment with a Fox News network analyst before his contract with 21st Century Fox was granted a four-year extension.

Fox now admits they knew all about it, kind of.

New York Times posted the bombshell story Saturday:

Although the deal has not been previously made public, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, acknowledges that it was aware of the woman’s complaints about Mr. O’Reilly. They included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter.

It was at least the sixth agreement — and by far the largest — made by either Mr. O’Reilly or the company to settle harassment allegations against him. Despite that record, 21st Century Fox began contract negotiations with Mr. O’Reilly, and in February granted him a four-year extension that paid $25 million a year.

Interviews with people familiar with the settlement, and documents obtained by The New York Times, show how the company tried and ultimately failed to contain the second wave of a sexual harassment crisis that initially burst into public view the previous summer and cost the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, and eventually Mr. O’Reilly, their jobs.

In January, the reporting shows, Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, the top executives at 21st Century Fox, made a business calculation to stand by Mr. O’Reilly despite his most recent, and potentially most explosive, harassment dispute.

Their decision came as the company was trying to convince its employees, its board and the public that it had cleaned up the network’s workplace culture. At the same time, they were determined to hold on to Mr. O’Reilly, whose value to the network increased after the departure of another prominent host, Megyn Kelly.

But by April, the Murdochs decided to jettison Mr. O’Reilly as some of the settlements became public and posed a significant threat to their business empire.

Early that month, The Times reported on five settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly, leading advertisers to boycott his show and spawning protests calling for his ouster. About the same time, the O’Reilly settlements arose as an issue in 21st Century Fox’s attempt to buy the European satellite company Sky.

In addition, federal prosecutors who had been investigating the network’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr. Ailes had asked for material related to allegations involving Mr. O’Reilly, according to an internal Fox email obtained by The Times.

“Their legal theory has been that we hid the fact that we had a problem with Roger,” Gerson Zweifach, Fox’s general counsel, wrote in the email, referring to the prosecutors and Mr. Ailes, “and now it will be applied to O’Reilly, and they will insist on full knowledge of all complaints about O’Reilly’s behavior in the workplace, regardless of who settled them.”

He warned the Murdochs that they should expect details from the January settlement to become public. Six days later, Mr. O’Reilly was fired.

A representative of Fox News parent 21st Century Fox acknowledged that it knew about the settlement, but was not aware of the financial terms at the time.

“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,” said 21st Century Fox in a statement today of the January agreement made by the now pink slipped and top rated host.

“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,” 21CF added of the big bucks four-year extension. “The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract,” it said of what became O’Reilly’s expensive firing in April of this year from the cabler, already deeply tainted by Roger Ailes.

A statement released on behalf of O’Reilly by spokesman Mark Fabiani says, in part, “Once again, The New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O’Reilly” and “The Times ignored that evidence, sworn under oath, and chose to rely on unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and incomplete or stolen documents.”

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