JUDY WOODRUFF: Bill O’Reilly is out at FOX News.
In a statement today, the company said: “After a thorough and careful review of allegations against him, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Mr. O’Reilly will not return to FOX News Channel.”
The popular TV host and commentator has been the face of the network for nearly two decades. That all began to unravel after a New York Times revealed that FOX paid some $13 million to settle allegations of sexual harassment filed by women O’Reilly worked with.
Mr. O’Reilly has long denied those allegations. And in a statement late today, he said: “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.”
With these latest developments, and what this ouster may mean for a safer workplace, I spoke a few moments ago to Michael Schmidt, a reporter with The New York Times team who help break the most recent story, and Noreen Farrell. She’s executive director of the civil rights organization Equal Rights Advocates.
I started by asking Schmidt what changed the minds of the Murdoch family. They’re the owners of FOX News.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, The New York Times: Well, we wrote our story two-and-a-half weeks ago, where we said that Mr. O’Reilly had settled harassment cases with five women, including two in the past year, since Roger Ailes had left the network.
And at the time of our story, the Murdoch family was really standing by Mr. O’Reilly. They looked like they wanted to keep him on. But what happened was that he began to lose advertisers. First, he lost Mercedes-Benz, the first one to go, and then dozens and dozens of companies, went up to about 50.
And what you had was an 8:00 hour, the prime time on the network, that had just a few ads running on it. And at the same time, FOX had brought in an outside law firm to do an investigation into Mr. O’Reilly, and there was a real trickle of women that came in that were saying different things about Mr. O’Reilly that the network didn’t know about.
So they sort of saw these two things emerging, and the dynamics in the Murdoch family changed, and that’s where we got to today, where they basically dismissed him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But it wasn’t just about money, or was it?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, the Murdoch family hasn’t really spoken about this.
But what we do know is that the younger — Rupert’s younger sons, youngest son, really care about the culture of the network and sort of modernizing it. And what happened was is that after Roger Ailes left last summer, they that said they were going to change the culture and that it was going to be different at FOX and that women were going to feel comfortable there and there weren’t going to be issues.
But what happened was is that, over that period of time, they learned about a deal Mr. O’Reilly had cut with a woman in 2011. They allowed Mr. O’Reilly to cut two more deals. Then this was exposed, and it put pressure on them.
There were protests outside of the network. There was a plane that flew a banner around New York City calling for Mr. O’Reilly’s ouster, and there was real public pressure on them. And I think the sons really won out here.
Rupert has extreme loyalty to Mr. O’Reilly, who was one of the founding hosts will of the network when it started 20 years ago.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Schmidt, as somebody who has covered network news, covered related stories, is this an earthquake in television news?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, I think Mr. O’Reilly’s probably the most recognized host in cable television.
He certainly had the highest ratings. He certainly had, if not the, or close to the highest revenues. And he was a real voice for conservatives in this country. He sort of spoke to old-school American values and really preached them.
And that preachiness and his tone, you know, rubbed some people the wrong way, but it also brought in some really, really high ratings. And he really established himself and had a real voice, more so than anything. And particularly to FOX, he was seen as very important because, at the 8:00 hour, he would bring in a lot of ratings, and then 9:00 and 10:00 would have big ratings as well.
So, the question FOX, I think, they were afraid of is, well, if we take O’Reilly out of 8:00, is the ratings not just going to go down for 8:00, but 9:00 and 10:00? And that’s what the world that they’re walking into now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Noreen Farrell, we’re hearing Michael described old-fashioned family values that Bill O’Reilly stood for. But his leaving is about something very different, isn’t it?
NOREEN FARRELL, Equal Rights Advocates: Yes, and I think this is actually a pretty remarkable moment in the cultural Zeitgeist of sexual harassment, because we’re seeing the power of men and women as consumers to influence workplaces that are not their own.
And I think, you know, to all the companies that pulled out of Bill O’Reilly’s show, I think many women in America thank them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think, Noreen Farrell, this is going to have an effect on the workplace broadly, or are we — I mean, there were those who predicted that back when Roger Ailes left FOX.
NOREEN FARRELL: Well, I think, more and more, we’re seeing that there are different strategies that influence workplaces that create incentives that clearly 50 years of federal and state laws prohibiting sexual harassment have not.
And that includes people who organize online, who are really public about protests, who influence companies that are affiliated with companies where there are bad practices, because, look, this happened in two weeks. This probably would take a lawsuit 10 years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Schmidt, is there a sense — I know you have been talking to a lot of employees at FOX — that there is no more tolerance for sexual harassment at FOX anymore?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, I’m not sure that the employees are convinced of that, because the Murdochs said last summer that there wouldn’t be any more tolerance for this, and that they had done away with this.
They had brought in a firm to investigate Mr. Ailes, and they said they had turned the page and that things were going to change. But then the employees look, and they look the how the network stood by Mr. O’Reilly, knowing all the things they that did when our story ran and continued to support him in the days after that. And we’re two, two-and-a-half weeks out from the story now.
So, the question for employees is, how is FOX going to prove itself to them that they are, indeed, serious about this issue? I guess getting rid of Mr. O’Reilly sends a certain message, but going forward, what will be different? And I think that’s what they really wonder.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Noreen Farrell, when you and Michael were on the program a couple of weeks ago, when this story first broke, I think I asked you a version of this same question, but that is, are women in other workplaces who have reason to feel threatened, who are experiencing sexual harassment, do they take away — are they empowered as a result of this? Can they take away any advice for how to handle their own situations?
NOREEN FARRELL: I certainly think this is a good day for women who want to stand up for their rights in the workplace.
I do think it remains to be seen, whether or not Mr. O’Reilly is given a golden parachute or just his walking papers, about how committed this company is to really eradicating sexual harassment in its workplaces.
But, certainly, I think that this is a day that women who — and men who believe sexual harassment has no place in the workplace can feel good.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Michael Schmidt, do you expect — I mean, is your reporting telling you that there will be a large severance for Bill O’Reilly, as there was for Roger Ailes? I guess he got, what, $20 million?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, what’s interesting here is that FOX renegotiated Mr. O’Reilly’s contract while they knew our investigation was going on, and while they knew that these settlements had occurred.
It’s believed that, in that contract, FOX was able to get some sort of leverage over Mr. O’Reilly that, if something went wrong, they had a better way of getting out of it. So ,does that mean that FOX can get out of the contract without having to give him a lot of money? We don’t know those details yet.
But we do know that Mr. O’Reilly was making at least $20 million a year, and has brought in millions of dollars in books for himself and in different paraphernalia that he sells on his show. And, you know, so the question is, what kind of hit is Mr. O’Reilly taking and what will he be doing going forward?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Michael Schmidt and Noreen Farrell. We appreciate it.
NOREEN FARRELL: Thank you.