The story over the weekend in the media involves new revelations about FOX News mainstay Bill O'Reilly as allegations of a pattern of sexual harassment and verbal abuse and claims by five women at the network came to light. BillO settled these claims and paid them to stay quiet, but the blowback over the weekend is now threatening FOX's most famous face. CNN's media reporter Brian Stetler:
Murdoch associates winced on Saturday when The New York Times reported that five women received settlement payouts after accusing O'Reilly of harassment or verbal abuse. The Times said its reporting "suggests a pattern:" O'Reilly would wield his influence to "pursue sexual relationships" with women at Fox.
The story stung, but it was not surprising. For one thing, Fox executives and O'Reilly's representatives had known the Times investigation was in the works for months.
But they didn't need an investigation to know about O'Reilly's reputation. Inside Fox, there is a recognition that O'Reilly is a cable news legend, a loudmouth beloved by Fox's base -- but that he's also a liability because of his personal behavior.
O'Reilly settled a sexual harassment suit from ex-producer Andrea Mackris in 2004. (That payout accounts for $9 million of the $13 million in settlements The Times described, according to the paper.) And his ugly divorce proceedings, and the fallout from them, were documented by Gawker and its sister sites for years.
The Times (where I worked until 2013) began looking into the settlement payouts late last summer, after founding CEO Roger Ailes resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal.
The forthcoming story was the subject of C-suite office chatter throughout the winter. Murdoch associates wondered how damaging the story could be and discussed ways to blunt the impact.
The story went through an extensive legal review process. On Friday, as the Times was preparing to splash the story across the front page of Sunday's paper, a lawyer for O'Reilly threatened consequences, saying in a statement, "We are now seriously considering legal action to defend Mr. O'Reilly's reputation."
O'Reilly, 21st Century Fox said in a statement, "denies the merits of these claims."
In a statement on his web site, O'Reilly said he struck settlement deals to spare his children from hurtful headlines about lawsuits.
By the time the story came out, the Murdochs had already decided to extend O'Reilly's contract. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal was the first to report the new deal, and a source confirmed it to CNNMoney.
O'Reilly's contract, said to be worth about $18 million a year, was due to expire at the end of 2017; now it is unclear when it expires.
All of the parties involved declined to comment. But the news of the new deal is a contractual show of support from 21st Century Fox.
The support has limits, however. Two executives, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested Fox is taking a wait-and-see approach to the controversy that's been triggered by the Times investigation.
In other words, FOX wants to see if BillO's bad behavior becomes a burden on the bottom line numbers before they decide if his treatment of women is actually a problem. What nice people, huh?
Of course the current occupant of the White House is a serial harasser of women and a sexual abuser and voters didn't mind at all, so why shouldn't the people covering him on TV be any different in the era of Trump?