Fox News axes top anchor over sexual allegations

Fox News parts ways with star host Bill O'Reilly following allegations of sexual harassment. VIDEO: REUTERS
Protesters at a rally against top cable news anchor Bill O'Reilly outside Fox News' headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, on Tuesday.
Protesters at a rally against top cable news anchor Bill O'Reilly outside Fox News' headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Women's rights groups called for Bill O'Reilly to be fired; over 50 advertisers abandoned his show

NEW YORK • Fox News has severed its ties with Mr Bill O'Reilly, sacking its biggest star and America's most-watched cable news anchor over a flood of sexual harassment allegations and crashing advertising sales.

It was a humiliating blow to one of the biggest US media names who counted President Donald Trump among his personal supporters and whose ratings soared in defiance of his alleged abusive behaviour towards women.

Mr O'Reilly and his employers came under intense pressure after an article by The New York Times revealed how Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, repeatedly stood by him even as sexual harassment allegations against him mounted.

The Times found that the company and Mr O'Reilly reached settlements with five women who complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behaviour by him. The agreements totalled about US$13 million (S$18 million). Since then, more than 50 advertisers have abandoned his show.

"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," said 21st Century Fox in one-sentence statement. People close to Mr O'Reilly said the family of Mr Rupert Murdoch, which controls Fox News and 21st Century Fox, effectively decided Mr O'Reilly's fate with little outside discussion.

Women rights activists declared his dismissal a victory and said they hoped it would encourage victims of sexual harassment to speak out.

But Mr O'Reilly will not walk away empty-handed, CNN reported, citing a source involved in the exit manoeuvrings. He will get tens of millions of dollars on his way out as he had signed a new contract just before his ouster, according to two sources.

Fox News' announcement came just hours after the combative and right-wing television personality was photographed shaking hands with Pope Francis in St Peter's Square while on holiday in Rome.

"It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims," said the 67-year-old Mr O'Reilly in a statement. "But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today."

His 8pm programme, which mixes discussion segments with his pugnacious commentary, drew an average of four million viewers each night during the first three months of the year, the most ever for a cable news programme. The slot will be taken over by a colleague, Mr Tucker Carlson.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'Fox News axes top anchor over sexual allegations'. Print Edition | Subscribe