21st Century Fox Renewed Bill O’Reilly's Contract Despite Knowledge of $32M Sexual-Harassment Settlement

Teresa Kroeger/Getty
Bill O'Reilly

The company granted him a four-year extension after the host struck a $32 million agreement in January.

Before Bill O’Reilly signed a four-year extension to his contract with Fox News, the host struck a $32 million agreement with a Fox News network analyst to settle new sexual-harassment allegations, according to The New York Times.

What's more, the network's parent company, 21st Century Fox, was aware of the allegations made by Lis Wiehl, which included "repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her," the Times story said. As part of the settlement — which was made in January and marks the sixth and largest agreement to settle harassment allegations against O'Reilly — Mark Fabiani, a representative for O’Reilly, said that 21st Century Fox was "well aware" that Wiehl signed a sworn affidavit "renouncing all allegations against him" and destroying all photos, text messages and other communications between the two of them. O’Reilly's contract extension was then granted for $25 million a year. He was fired in April and left the network with a $25 million payout.

21st Century Fox said in a statement on the matter, “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. His new contract, which was made at a time typical for renewals of multiyear 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. The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract.

“21st Century Fox has taken concerted action to transform Fox News, including installing new leaders, overhauling management and on-air talent, expanding training, and increasing the channels through which employees can report harassment or discrimination. These changes come from the top, with Lachlan and James Murdoch personally leading the effort to promote civility and respect on the job, while maintaining the Company’s long-held commitment to a diverse, inclusive and creative workplace.”

O'Reilly said in a new interview with the Times that he "never mistreated anyone" but settled to protect his children, for whom he had been entangled in a custody battle at the time of the lawsuit. He added that the public outcry over the allegations against him was "politically and financially motivated. ... 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. ... This is horrible, it’s horrible what I went through, horrible what my family went through. ... This is crap, and you know it."

Wiehl joined the network after regularly appearing on O'Reilly's show in 2001. She last appeared on his show in December 2016. In the affidavit, she said she had worked as O’Reilly's lawyer when he sent her "explicit emails that were sent to him," which O'Reilly said was to evaluate whether legal action was necessary as a response.

Newly public, the $32 million deal with Wiehl tops the host's previously known agreements, including a 2004 settlement with producer Andrea Mackris for about $9 million. Altogether, O'Reilly's publicly known harassment settlements have added up to about $45 million.

Wiehl's settlement is also more than former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson's $20 million, which she received after suing Fox News chief Roger Ailes last year. "It's horrifying to think that any company would dismiss an employee following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and then allow him back on the air a few months later," she said after the Times story was published. "When will it stop? I’m doing everything I can to make sure it does."

In response to the Times story, O'Reilly representative Fabiani circulated the following lengthy statement:

Once again, The New York Times has maliciously smeared Bill O'Reilly, this time even failing to print a sworn affidavit from his former lawyer, Lis Wiehl, repudiating all allegations against Bill O'Reilly. The Times ignored that evidence, sworn under oath, and chose to rely on unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and incomplete leaked or stolen documents.

Here are the facts: After the Chairman of Fox News Roger Ailes was fired in July 2015, dozens of women accused scores of male employees of Fox News of harassment — including the current co-president of Fox News, Jack Abernathy.

21st Century Fox settled almost all these cases, paying out close to $100 million. Six months after Mr. Ailes left the company, Fox News Corporation signed Bill O'Reilly to a record-breaking new contract after the company had analyzed and considered all allegations against him.

In its first article about Mr. O'Reilly on April 1st, The New York Times printed inaccurate settlement figures while fully understanding that O'Reilly and his counsel are legally bound by confidentiality and cannot set the record straight.

In its latest diatribe against Bill O'Reilly, the Times printed leaked information provided by anonymous sources that is out of context, false, defamatory, and obviously designed to embarrass Bill O'Reilly and to keep him from competing in the marketplace.

Finally, in the more than 20 years Bill O'Reilly worked at Fox News, not one complaint was filed against him with the Human Resources Department or Legal Department by a co-worker, even on the anonymous hotline. The New York Times has copies of two letters written by 21st Century Fox lawyers attesting to that fact.

The Times failed to print them, too.

The New York Times responded to Fabiani's comments with a statement of its own, writing: "Mr. Fabiani addresses everything but what the story actually says. This article, like our previous reporting on the subject, is accurately and deeply reported and we welcome any challenge to the facts. The affidavit he claims our story ignored is quoted in our article twice."

Oct. 21, 3:33 p.m. Updated with The New York Times' response.