It was already shocking when Fox News decided to dump its top-rated host Bill O'Reilly, after mounting revelations of sexual harassment and multi-million dollar settlements, earlier this year. Now the NY Times reports that Fox News had extended O'Reilly's contract by four years, at $25 million a year, right after O'Reilly paid $32 million to a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.
"Although the deal has not been previously made public, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, acknowledges that it was aware of the woman’s complaints about Mr. O’Reilly. They included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter," according to the Times.
"This is crap, and you know it," O'Reilly told the Times, when asked about the settlement.
The money was given to Lis Wiehl, who had been a legal analyst for Fox News. CNN says two sources also "confirmed the $32 million figure," which is "far, far higher than any of the previously known settlements."
The huge payout became a concern because of the U.S. Attorney's investigation into Fox News' and its parent company 21st Century Fox's handling of sexual harassment allegations, in the wake of Fox News founder Roger Ailes' ouster over his own pattern of sexual harassment. From the Times:
[F]ederal prosecutors who had been investigating the network’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr. Ailes had asked for material related to allegations involving Mr. O’Reilly, according to an internal Fox email obtained by The Times.
“Their legal theory has been that we hid the fact that we had a problem with Roger,” Gerson Zweifach, Fox’s general counsel, wrote in the email, referring to the prosecutors and Mr. Ailes, “and now it will be applied to O’Reilly, and they will insist on full knowledge of all complaints about O’Reilly’s behavior in the workplace, regardless of who settled them.”
He warned the Murdochs that they should expect details from the January settlement to become public. Six days later, Mr. O’Reilly was fired.
O'Reilly hotly denied the circumstances around the settlement. He posted on his website, "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."
— Michael S. Schmidt (@nytmike) October 21, 2017
However, the Times says that while Wiehl signed an agreement to say she had no claims against O'Reilly—and that all emails between her and O'Reilly were under her capacity as his lawyer—this was only after the settlement was made. Apparently O'Reilly received a draft of the lawsuit Wiehl was going to file in early January, and his lawyer told Fox News O'Reilly would handle it on his own. The TImes added that O'Reilly was due for a custody hearing with his son later in January, while Fox News was trying to keep O'Reilly with the network in the wake of Megyn Kelly's departure.
Prior to this Times report, it was revealed that O'Reilly allegedly paid out about $13 million to various accusers. Debra Katz, a D.C attorney who handles sexual harassment cases, said the $32 millionsettlement amount was "tantamount to a class-action suit," in a conversation with the L.A. Times: "Katz said a settlement of that size typically includes a promise to withdraw the allegation. 'It's done as a way to put a hammer over the individual who signs so they will never come forward and disclose the allegations,' she said. 'If she does, the person who has settled for an obscene amount of money can pull the declaration and say ‘she recanted.''"
O'Reilly has been trying to get back on air. His spokesman, Mark Fabiani, said, "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."
— Bill O'Reilly (@BillOReilly) October 21, 2017
Nobody pays $32m for false allegations - nobody https://t.co/qB3njcHHuy
— Gretchen Carlson (@GretchenCarlson) October 21, 2017
21 Century Fox said, "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 multi-year talent contracts, added protections for the company specifically aimed at harassment, including that 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."