The New York Times reported on Saturday that in January, Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million to settle a previously undisclosed allegation of sexual harassment, just weeks before he agreed to a new contract with Fox News that would pay him $25 million a year. According to the Times, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, was aware of the allegations and settlement, but not the settlement amount.
The star anchor was dismissed in April amid widespread public outrage after the Times revealed that he and Fox News had paid about $13 million in settlements to bury numerous similar allegations over the years. O’Reilly has dismissed all the charges as baseless, telling the Times that they are “politically and financially motivated.”
In a statement, O’Reilly spokesperson Mark Fabiani dismissed Saturday’s Times report as “false, defamatory, and obviously meant to embarrass Bill O’Reilly and to keep him from competing in the marketplace.”
The Times reports that the newly disclosed case centered around O’Reilly and Lis Wiehl, a former Fox legal analyst who periodically appeared as a guest on The O’Reilly Factor and co-hosted his radio show for a time. Wiehl claimed that she had been subject to a pattern of behavior that included “harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her,” according to people familiar with the settlement.
O’Reilly said that Wiehl was one of his lawyers, and that he had forwarded explicit messages from viewers to her as part of an effort to vet threats against him.
In 2006, Media Matters reported that O’Reilly routinely made inappropriate comments to and about Wiehl during their radio show, labeling her “eye candy” and calling for a “full body search” of his co-host.
Despite the lurid details — and the (at least) five other harassment claims that had been settled in previous years — Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan reportedly made a “business calculation” to retain O’Reilly, their biggest star at the time, in January.
O’Reilly’s record-breaking contract came just months after the Murdochs pushed out Roger Ailes, who built the network into the cultural force it is today, over allegations of Ailes’s own longtime pattern of alleged sexual impropriety. He died in May.
The money involved in O’Reilly’s case is also exceptional; the $32 million O’Reilly dished out eclipsed the $20 million paid to Gretchen Carlson in her settlement against Roger Ailes and singlehandedly dwarfed the amount of the five other publicly known settlements pertaining to claims against O’Reilly.
Since his dismissal, O’Reilly’s media profile has dimmed, though he continues to broadcast his hard-edged political opinions from home, and recently published the latest installment in his bestselling Killing series. O’Reilly hasn’t exactly been exiled from Fox News either — he recently appeared on Sean Hannity’s show, where he lamented not fighting harder to keep his job. When the charges against him first appeared, O’Reilly also found an ally in fellow alleged groper President Trump, who said “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong. I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person.”
In the meantime, O’Reilly’s replacement, Tucker Carlson, has, without irony, embarked on a quest to expose Hollywood’s pervasive culture of sexual misconduct — conspicuously ignoring the lengthy trail of gross misbehavior at his own network.
This post originally stated that Fox News had paid the $32 million settlement, but the Times reported that it was O’Reilly personally. We regret the error.