Bill O’Reilly will no longer be employed at Fox News, the network’s parent company 21st Century Fox said in a statement Wednesday. The decision comes after allegations of him sexually harassing female colleagues prompted protests outside network headquarters and a mass exodus from advertisers.
“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox New Channel,” the statement read.
O’Reilly confirmed the news later that afternoon in a press release, saying his ousting was provoked by “completely unfounded claims.”
Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and significantly contributed to building Fox into the dominant news network in television. It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best Fox News Channel.
O’Reilly had said mid-April that he was taking a vacation. The official departure from Fox is an unceremonious end for the host, who had anchored the top-rated cable news show “The O’Reilly Factor” since its inception more than 20 years ago. His stunning exit mirrors that of former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who launched Fox News in 1996 and abruptly left the network last summer amid widespread sexual harassment allegations.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson will take over O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. time slot next Monday, Fox confirmed. “The O’Reilly Factor” will continue this week with guest hosts Dana Perino on Wednesday and Thursday, and Greg Gutfeld on Friday.
Following a bombshell New York Times report earlier this month indicating O’Reilly and Fox News have paid around $13 million in settlements to address complaints brought by five of his former female colleagues, advertisers began fleeing the show. Within days, more than 50 companies announced they would no longer air spots during the show.
New York magazine reported that Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, had advocated for keeping O’Reilly on board, while sons James and Lachlan had pushed for his departure.
Though 21st Century Fox had pledged to clean up Fox News following the Ailes scandal, the Times revealed that the company continued to privately settle lawsuits with O’Reilly accusers and even renewed the host’s contract, reportedly at more than $20 million a year.
The entertainment and media giant presumably stuck with O’Reilly because he has been a cash cow for Fox News. He’s the linchpin of the network’s primetime lineup and his top-rated show is major draw when it comes to negotiating fees to carry the channel with cable and satellite providers. And “The O’Reilly Factor” brought in $446 million in advertising dollars over a three-year period.
But advertisers quickly began to feel the pressure from consumers following the Times report and allegations from a sixth woman, Wendy Walsh, who held a press conference two days after the story was published online.
Mercedes-Benz was the first to announce its departure from the show’s ad schedule. “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” spokeswoman Donna Boland said.
“Fox News was forced to act,” Angelo Carusone, president of progressive watchdog Media Matters and lead organizer behind the @StopOReilly Twitter campaign, said Wednesday. “Without advertisers, Bill O’Reilly’s show was no longer commercially viable. Fox News had no choice but to fire O’Reilly. Accountability came from the outside, not from within. Fox News deserves no accolades, only scorn for the industrial-scale harassment they have forced their employees to endure.”
In initial responses to the Times’ report that O’Reilly inappropriately propositioned women and retaliated against them when they turned him down, both he and the network issued statements saying no accusers ever called Fox’s internal hotline, an 800 number employees can use to anonymously report concerns.
Following the Times’ report, 21st Century Fox announced Sunday that law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison would conduct an investigation into the claims of Walsh, a former guest on O’Reilly’s show who accused him of reneging on a promise to get her a contributor deal after she rebuffed his advances.
On Tuesday, civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom said that an African-American former clerical worker at Fox News, who remains anonymous, had claimed O’Reilly leered at her and called her “hot chocolate.”
Bloom, who also represents Walsh, submitted a request for a second, independent probe to the New York State Division of Human Rights.
That request comes as the U.S. attorney’s office in New York is already investigating 21st Century Fox over whether the company properly notified investors about payments made to Ailes’ accusers.
The recent allegations against O’Reilly aren’t the first time he was dogged by claims of sexual harassment. In 2004, O’Reilly settled a lawsuit filed by former Fox News producer Andrea Mackris, which contended that he spoke to her about sexual fantasies and masturbation.
And Fox News has faced an advertiser boycott before. In a campaign led by the racial justice organization Color of Change in 2009, advertisers began leaving former host Glenn Beck’s show after he called then-President Barack Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”
But O’Reilly and Fox News weren’t able to weather this latest scandal, which occurred in a different media environment.
“We weren’t in the same type of social media climate that we are in now,” Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, told The Huffington Post earlier this month. “The speed and pace of people’s interest is different because of the participation age ... Companies are hearing from their consumers directly through Twitter.”
But Robinson is skeptical of O’Reilly’s ousting indicating any culture change at Fox News.
“While today is an important victory, it hardly absolves Fox News of its decades of racism and sexism,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “Fox News didn’t clean up its act after Roger Ailes was fired, and it won’t just because O’Reilly was fired. We’ll continue to demand accountability from the Murdochs.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated how much advertising revenue “The O’Reilly Factor” brought in. It was $446 million over three years and about $111 million last year.