Radio host Dr. Wendy Walsh is used to speaking about interpersonal relationships, but on Monday morning the psychologist and former The O’Reilly Factor commentator told her own story of how she feels her romantic snubbing of Bill O’Reilly cost her a paid job at Fox News.
Attorney Lisa Bloom on Sunday announced the press conference, framing it as a follow-up to the recent New York Times article which reported that five women have received $13 million in payments from O’Reilly in exchange for not pursuing litigation or speaking about sexual harassment accusations against him.
In Bloom’s Woodland Hills, Calif., office on Monday, Walsh told the story of how a misunderstanding after dinner led to her ouster at the network.
Walsh says she had been a recurring guest on the show, and O’Reilly asked her to have dinner at the Bel-Air Hotel. During dinner they discussed her future at the network, and he indicated they were going to bring her on as a paid contributor. He even told her his best friend Roger Ailes was on board with the move. But, after dinner, O’Reilly said “let’s get out of here” and invited her up to his hotel room. The mood change after she politely declined, explaining that as a single mom she wanted to set a good example for her daughter.
Prior to the presser, Walsh spoke with KFI’s Bill Handel in an exclusive interview. She acknowledged that the awkward interaction itself was fairly innocuous and described O’Reilly’s move as “Mad Men-style dating tactics.” Walsh told her radio colleague that after the incident at the hotel she tried to “play nice with the big dog” and it never occurred to her to report the incident because she didn’t know job applicants could file sexual harassment complaints.
Walsh recounted much of this in the crowded conference room at Bloom’s office. “I expected that he would get over it and behave like a professional,” she said. In the months that followed, though, Walsh says O’Reilly became increasingly cold — at one point pointedly asking her on set, “When are you leaving?” It wasn’t long after that the network canned her “Are We Crazy?” segments.
Walsh also told Handel that she didn’t “come forward” to the Times. Emily Steel, a tenacious reporter, tracked her down after scanning old tapes of the show of pretty blond-haired, blue-eyed women who suddenly stopped appearing on-air.
Bloom spoke after her client, saying she’s proud of Walsh because “she has chosen to speak out against one of the most powerful men in American media.” The lawyer says there are at least 30 women who have filed complaints of sexual harassment against the network and multimillion-dollar payouts have become viewed by the company’s leadership as the price of doing business. (Read her statement in full here.)
Fox’s “very tired, tattered playbook” of attacking women who speak out against the network’s “money-makers” needs to close, Bloom says. She and Walsh are calling for independent investigators to thoroughly examine the company’s culture of sexual harassment and driving out women who complain about it. “No company in America has the right to use its riches to flout the law, and that includes Fox News,” says Bloom.
Fox News has not yet commented, but an internal email obtained by The Hollywood Reporter shows they are addressing the situation with staff.
Kevin Lord, executive vp of human resources, sent a company-wide email Monday afternoon. “Particularly in light of some of the accounts published over the last few days, I wanted to re-emphasize the message we have been conveying at our training sessions for several months,” he writes. “We want to give you every opportunity to be heard through a vehicle of your choice, so that we can attempt to address your concerns promptly and confidentially.” Lord urged employees who have concerns about behavior in the workplace to contact him, general counsel Dianne Brandi, chief compliance officer Gerson Zweifach or Michele Hirshman of Paul Weiss, the firm Fox hired over the summer when harassment allegations regarding then-CEO Ailes first made headlines.
April 3, 4:45 p.m. Updated with information from an internal memo sent to Fox News staff.