Fox News waits for more women to come forward. Can Bill O'Reilly survive?
It wasn't a good weekend for Bill O'Reilly and Fox News. On Monday, it got a little worse.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, radio host Wendy Walsh opened up about an incident where she claims the Fox News star reneged on his offer to make her a Fox News contributor, which can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, when she refused to visit him in his hotel suite.
"I expected that he would get over it and behave like a professional," Walsh said. Instead, she claims O'Reilly became increasingly cold, asking her on the set one day, "when are you leaving?" Not long after that, the network ended her "Are We Crazy?" segments on The O'Reilly Factor.
Walsh's claims about O'Reilly first came to light in a bombshell New York Times report over the weekend that revealed the network paid $13 million to settle the harrassment claims of five women who made accusations about its biggest star.
Walsh, who has a doctorate in in psychology, told reporters at the news conference that she wasn't looking to speak out. In fact, she thought Times reporter Emily Steel was simply reaching out for her expert opinion about workplace harassment, something she talks about often on her Los Angeles radio show.
"What she told me off the record were a lot of stories of women under gag orders who couldn't talk," Walsh said. "My story was so mild that I thought I had to come forward and be the voice for them."
Fox News has not responded to a request to comment on Walsh's claims. 21st Century Fox responded to the Times report on Sunday, saying in a statement it "denies the merits of these claims." And O'Reilly said in a statement on his website that he settled the claims in order to "put to rest any controversies to spare my children."
Months after the network declared it would no longer tolerate behavior that "disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment," two of the settlements outlined in the Times report, made by former Fox News anchor Laurie Dhue and contributor Juliet Huddy, occurred in 2016, after former chairman Roger Ailes was forced out after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Other settlements were reportedly paid to former Fox Business Network host Rebecca Gomez Diamond, O'Reilly's former producer Andrea Mackris, and Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, a junior producer at Fox News who now works for NBC. All, except Witlieb Bernstein, alleged sexual misconduct.
Here's how the Times framed it:
"They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O'Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews. The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O'Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall."
Amid the accusations and settlements, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fox News renewed O'Reilly's contract, said to be worth about $18 million a year and was set to expire at the end of 2017. According to the Journal, a review of the allegations against O'Reilly was taken into consideration when the network negotiated the new contract, details of which weren't made public.
"Fox's executives are waiting and watching, anticipating that more women will come forward with allegations against O'Reilly," CNN host Brian Stelter reported on Sunday. "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."
The news of settlements paid to O'Reilly's accusers comes after former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes was forced out of the network after dozens of former employees, including former hosts Gretchen Carlson, Andrea Tantaros, and Megyn Kelly, accused him of sexual misconduct.
Tantaros, in her 2016 lawsuit against Fox News, claimed O'Reilly also made sexual advances, but didn't name him as a defendant in her civil suit. Here's a key paragraph, uncovered by Eric Wemple at the Washington Post:
"[C]ommencing in February 2016, Bill O'Reilly ("O'Reilly"), whom Tantaros had considered to be a good friend and a person from whom she sought career guidance, started sexually harassing her by, inter alia, (a) asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be 'very private,' and (b) telling her on more than one occasion that he could 'see [her] as a wild girl,' and that he believed that she had a 'wild side.' "
In her book Settle For More, Kelly wrote that the workplace Ailes set up at Fox News shamed victims from coming forward.
"The entire structure was set up to isolate and silence [victims]," Kelly wrote. "The more we criticize harassment victims for their understandable reluctance to go on the record, the more women we'll shame into silence forever."
The payments made to accusers on behalf of both O'Reilly and Ailes also are under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. Prosecutors are seeking to determine if Fox News' publicly-traded parent company, 21st Century Fox, did enough to disclose the payments to its investors. According to the Times, the payment made to Huddy in 2011 was kept so secret, 21st Century Fox didn't find out about it until 2016.
All this paints a picture of a workplace that seems to protect accused harassers at the expense of female personalities at the network, supporters of the victims say.
"How many women have to come forward? How many millions of dollars have to get paid before Fox News takes sexual harassment seriously?" Lisa Bloom, an attorney for one of the accusers and a former NBC News legal analyst, asked Sunday on CNN's Reliable Sources. "In my opinion, this network is the Bill Cosby of corporate America,"
Carlson offered words of support to Bloom in a tweet she sent on Sunday.
O'Reilly is known to address controversies like this head on, so it will be interesting to see what he says tonight at 8 p.m. on The O'Reilly Factor. Back in 2004, when O'Reilly's former producer Mackris sued him for $60 million for sexual harassment, the Fox News host did not hold back.