In a stunning and sudden downfall, Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News.
21st Century Fox, parent company of Fox News, released a statement Wednesday afternoon that read, “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 News Channel.”
The future of Fox’s reigning ratings superstar had grown uncertain as reports swirled that the network was preparing to sever its relationship with him over multiple claims of sexual harassment. It appears that Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, greenlighted the ousting of the network’s biggest on-air asset.
“It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims,” he said. “But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”
The swift change follows reporting by The New York Times disclosing that the influential and incendiary political commentator and 21st Century Fox had settled multiple sexual harassment complaints against him over the years for a total of $13 million.
Murdoch had initially resisted making a change, New York Magazine reported, citing three internal unnamed sources. O’Reilly’s two-decade-long show was the most profitable not just at the network, but across all of cable news.
Murdoch’s sons and successors, James and Lachlan, want a different direction and a modernized workplace. James Murdoch reportedly argued for O’Reilly to go, with Lachlan Murdoch’s originally landing somewhere between his brother and his father.
But Lachlan Murdoch began to “lean more in his brother James’s direction” in the past few days, New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman wrote.
An internal memo to employees on Wednesday signed by all three Murdochs read: “By ratings standards, Bill O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news. In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable. … We have full confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news. Lastly, and most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
Dana Perino, filling in for O’Reilly on Wednesday night, closed the show by lauding O’Reilly as “an incredibly talented broadcaster who raised the bar for interviewers everywhere.”
She read from parts of the Murdochs’ statement that honored O’Reilly’s ratings success, leaving out the controversies that had led to his ouster.
“Tucker Carlson Tonight” will fill O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. slot, moving from the 9 p.m slot. “The Five” will take over Carlson’s slot.
Now what remains is managing how O’Reilly’s departure will unfold.
Protesters had called for the star’s resignation, and dozens of advertisers left his show in the ensuing backlash.
“Bill O’Reilly has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America,” his attorney, Marc Kasowitz, said in a statement Tuesday night.
“This law firm has uncovered evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons. That evidence will be put forth shortly and it is irrefutable.”
O’Reilly denied the merits of the claims, according to 21st Century Fox. In a statement, O’Reilly said the settlements were made to “put to rest any controversies to spare my children.”
The company has said that it “takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously” and that “Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.”
While advertisers fled, his viewership went up after the Times story broke, rising to 3.77 million that week from 3.31 million the week before, according to data from the Nielsen company.
The host has been on a previously scheduled vacation in Italy since April 11, and average viewership declined by 21 percent during that time, the Nielsen data show.
O’Reilly’s favorability rating among his viewers was down to 73 percent this week from 80 percent last week, according to an online survey conducted by The Harris Poll, which queried 1,000 frequent news consumers, split evenly between supporters of President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Fox News has been at the center of a storm of controversy since Chairman and Chief Executive Roger Ailes resigned last year after he was accused of sexual harassment by several women. Ailes denied all of the allegations.
Fox News renewed O’Reilly’s contract as the Times story was in the works, but the paper reported that the contract was restructured to give Fox “more leverage over him regarding his behavior.” That could now be a factor in O’Reilly’s exit negotiations.