Alleged sexual harassment: Fox under pressure to drop host

Protesters calling for the removal of Bill O’Reilly at Fox News headquarters in New York on Tuesday.
Protesters calling for the removal of Bill O’Reilly at Fox News headquarters in New York on Tuesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Bill O'Reilly's position at Fox News grew increasingly tenuous on Tuesday as support from the Murdoch family showed signs of eroding.

The cable news host's fate is expected to be discussed today at a board meeting for Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox.

Chief among the considerations is a continuing investigation into his behaviour conducted by law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Pressure on the company increased on Tuesday when another woman reported sexual harassment allegations against O'Reilly, 67.

The company recently renewed his contract and the Murdoch family, which controls the company, has stood by him as allegations piled up.

But after a New York Times article this month detailed harassment allegations against him, more than 50 companies have pulled their advertising from his show.

Women inside the company have questioned whether it is serious about fixing a workplace culture beset by repeated allegations of sexual harassment.

O'Reilly, the top-rated host in cable news, has been on vacation in Italy for the past week and plans to return to his show on Monday.

He has received no indication that the company is planning to take him off the air, according to a person familiar with the matter.

His lawyer, Mr Marc Kasowitz, said on Tuesday that O'Reilly was being targeted by liberal groups trying to bring him down.

If the cable news host is forced to depart, it would be a major blow to the network. In the past year, it has also lost founding chairman Roger Ailes - who resigned after he was dogged by sexual-advance allegations - and prime-time star Megyn Kelly, who is now with NBC.

It would also be a stunning downfall for O'Reilly, who has dominated the prime-time cable news landscape for the most of two decades with a pugnacious, anti-political-correctness commentary that appeals to conservative viewers.

The latest allegation came on Tuesday when a woman, who previously worked at Fox News, called a 21st Century Fox hotline to claim that she had suffered sexual and racial harassment, according to her lawyer Lisa Bloom.

The woman, who is an African-American, worked in a clerical position at the network, but did not work directly with O'Reilly.

She said that in 2008, he would stop by her desk and grunt like a "wild boar". He would also stand back to allow her to exit the elevator first and then say: "Looking good, girl," Ms Bloom added.

Mr Kasowitz responded strongly to the claims: "It is outrageous that an allegation from an anonymous person about something that purportedly happened almost a decade ago is being treated as fact."

Although O'Reilly brings immense value to 21st Century Fox as a ratings draw and a revenue generator, the Murdoch family will have to weigh those considerations against their other ambitions.

Those include pursuing the acquisition of British satellite company Sky, long coveted by family patriarch Rupert Murdoch.

The company must convince British regulators next month that it is fit to acquire the 61 per cent of Sky that it does not own.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Alleged sexual harassment: Fox under pressure to drop host'. Print Edition | Subscribe