The day after Bill O’Reilly was ousted from Fox News, aftershocks rippled through the network, with news of O’Reilly’s exit package spreading through the newsroom and some employees questioning how committed executives were to rooting out sexual harassment.
O’Reilly is receiving a payout of as much as $25 million, equivalent to one year of his salary, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday. That development was met with “outrage” and “disgust” among some employees and among critics outside the company, who said it sent a message that a powerful newsroom figure could profit even after multiple sexual harassment allegations had been made against him.
“It’s terrible,” said Lisa Bloom, a lawyer who represents two women who reported sexual harassment allegations against O’Reilly. “Most people would consider $25 million a huge lottery win.”
O’Reilly’s package brought the total amount of payouts related to sexual harassment allegations at Fox News to more than $85 million — paid by the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox. The vast majority of that — as much as $65 million in exit packages — is being paid to the men who were ousted because of the allegations.
O’Reilly, 67, was forced out on Wednesday after the disclosure of several sexual harassment allegations against him and after an internal investigation found more women with complaints about his behavior. He was dismissed nine months after the network’s founding chairman, Roger E. Ailes, was ousted amid a sexual harassment scandal. Executives promised at that time that there was no room for “behavior that disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.” Ailes received a $40 million package when he left.
On Wednesday, Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch, the top executives at 21st Century Fox, said in a memo announcing O’Reilly’s departure that they had a “consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
Since Ailes left, the network has made an effort to clean up its culture, dismissing some executives close to him, installing a new head of human resources and conducting a series of training and sensitivity sessions.
Some Fox News employees said Thursday that while the dismissal of O’Reilly was a step in the right direction, they remained skeptical that real change would occur. As examples of how the network had yet to change, the employees pointed to the fact that Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy, the network’s co-presidents and former lieutenants to Ailes, remained in their positions. Employees in the newsroom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss delicate internal matters.
The network continues to face sexual harassment suits, including one from Julie Roginsky, a current Fox News contributor, who has asserted that she faced retaliation for rebuffing Ailes’ sexual advances and for refusing to disparage Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News host who sued Ailes last summer. “Contrary to a new environment, it is an environment of cover up and protect,” Nancy Erika Smith, the lawyer for Roginsky and Carlson, said in an interview Thursday.
She added that she had been contacted by other women who had complaints about sexual harassment at the network.
The abruptness of O’Reilly’s exit has created widespread uncertainty in the newsroom about the future of other executives, including Shine and Abernethy. But some people at Fox News said that it was unlikely that the Murdochs would allow a sense of capitulation to permeate the network and that keeping Shine and Abernethy in place would provide some needed stability at an anxious time.
Ailes and O’Reilly have denied the allegations of harassment.
O’Reilly’s ouster was a stunning reversal for 21st Century Fox, which had long stood by him even as allegations and settlements started to amass. O’Reilly, who started at Fox News in 1996, was considered the network’s top asset. His nightly program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” generated high ratings and pulled in hundreds of millions in advertising revenue.
But pressure mounted on the company to take action after a New York Times investigation early this month found that O’Reilly and the company had reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million, the majority paid by him.
Earlier this year, the network extended O’Reilly’s contract by an additional four years. At the time, the company was aware of allegations of sexual harassment against him and had even reached two settlements involving such complaints. His previous contract had been set to expire this year.
But the new contract provided the company with some protections. Those included a provision that O’Reilly could be dismissed if the company was made aware of other allegations against him or if new ones arose, according to one person briefed on the matter. The contract also included provisions meant to get O’Reilly to address his behavior, the person said.
In addition, though the contract was extended for four more years, it also modified the company’s financial commitment to O’Reilly if he was dismissed, so that he would receive a maximum of one year’s salary, according to two people. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.
The exact financial terms of O’Reilly’s exit package are not known, but it is expected that the company will disclose them in future regulatory filings.
In addition to O’Reilly’s payout and the settlements made involving him, 21st Century Fox has reached settlements with at least six women who accused him of sexual harassment, according to a person familiar with the matter.
One was Carlson, the former Fox News anchor. She sued Ailes last July and left the network with a $20 million settlement.
In November, 21st Century Fox disclosed that for the three months that ended Sept. 30, the company had about $35 million in costs related to settlements of pending and potential litigation after Ailes was ousted.