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James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, said it was “news to me” when he saw that Bill O’Reilly personally settled a complaint brought by a former Fox News legal analyst, Lis Wiehl, for $32 million. (The figure was reported by The New York Times over the weekend.)
Speaking at the Paley International Council Summit in New York on Wednesday morning, Murdoch made it clear to the audience that the company did not pay out the money. “The settlement wasn’t a company settlement, and it was news to me when we saw that number the other day,” he said.
The company was aware that O’Reilly had settled the matter, before re-upping his contract, but did not know how much he settled it for.
Murdoch discussed more broadly how the company has approached investigations into executives and employees like the late chairman Roger Ailes and former primetime host Bill O’Reilly.
“At the time, what you do is — you deal with what you know,” he told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. “You investigate things thoroughly. You do the best job you can with that. And you try to make the right decision, and I think we made a decision that’s clear and I hope sends a really strong signal to all of my colleagues, to everyone in the industry, etc., that actually there are behaviors that are not to be tolerated, and we’ll continue to strive to live up to that.”
Murdoch said that Fox News is a “sprawling” business. “I think, actually, I can’t make sure that everyone in the business doesn’t behave badly at times,” he said. “But what I can make sure is if we know something, we can react to that information. We can be decisive about it, as we were with Roger Ailes, as we were with Bill O’Reilly.”
Boorstin noted that Murdoch and his brother, Lachlan, have made an effort to change the culture at Fox News, and she asked about how the latest revelation would affect that effort.
“I think the fundamental thing in a company is … how do you create a culture that is dynamic, that is innovative, that can have real velocity in the business, but most importantly that can be inclusive of everybody,” he said.
Asked whether the news about the O’Reilly settlement could hurt 21st Century Fox’s bid to take over Sky, Murdoch dithered and said that, as he expected, the regulatory process has been very thorough.
“We never expected anything other than a thorough regulatory process here,” Murdoch said, reaffirming that the company expects the deal to be cleared in the first half of the next calendar year.
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