The future of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly appears increasingly uncertain amid growing signs that the embattled TV star is losing support from his bosses at 21st Century Fox.
O’Reilly, 67, has been on a planned vacation since last Wednesday and said on his top-rated prime-time program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” that he would be back April 24.
But a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly confirmed that O’Reilly’s status will be discussed at a previously scheduled board meeting of 21st Century Fox. The move has added to speculation that the anchor’s return to Fox News is looking doubtful in the wake of sexual harassment claims against him.
A 21st Century Fox representative declined to comment on the meeting.
Support for O’Reilly inside the company is apparently slipping. New York Magazine, citing unnamed sources, reported Tuesday that 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch is supporting O’Reilly’s return while his sons, Chief Executive James Murdoch and Chief Operating Officer Lachlan Murdoch, want the combative commentator out. Rupert Murdoch has a long association with O’Reilly, who joined Fox News when it launched as an upstart competitor to CNN in 1996.
O’Reilly’s behavior has been under scrutiny since an April 1 report in the New York Times that said he and Fox News have paid $13 million in settlements against women who have accused him of sexual harassment or abusive behavior going back to 2002. The report led to O’Reilly losing dozens of advertisers that appeared on his program, which has the highest ratings in cable news.
The crisis for Fox News has escalated in recent days because the law firm Paul Weiss is investigating the claim that O’Reilly reneged on offering a paid contributor’s job to Wendy Walsh, a frequent guest on his program, after she spurned his advances at a dinner meeting in 2013. Walsh does not have a legal claim against O’Reilly due to the statute of limitations on harassment cases in New York and California, but she did report the matter to the human resources hotline of the company last week.
On Tuesday, 21st Century Fox received an anonymous complaint against O’Reilly from a black female employee who claimed that the anchor had “leered” at her and referred to her as “Hot Chocolate” in 2008.
The alleged victim, whose name has not been revealed, is being represented by attorney Lisa Bloom, who is also representing Walsh.
The report of the latest claim prompted a statement from Marc E. Kasowitz, an attorney for O’Reilly, who said his client is being targeted by liberal groups who are out to “destroy” him.
“Bill O’Reilly has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America,” Kasowitz said in a statement. “This law firm has uncovered evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying Bill O’Reilly for political and financial reasons. That evidence will be put forth shortly and it is irrefutable.”
Bloom said the newest alleged victim’s charges have been backed up by three witnesses. The employee told Bloom that she never reported O’Reilly out of fear that she would be fired if she did.
O’Reilly has denied the merits of all sexual harassment claims made against him. He said he agreed to the settlement payments to spare his family the negative publicity that would come with lawsuits.