Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox renewed Bill O'Reilly's contract in February even though company officials knew he'd settled a sexual harassment claim for $32 million the previous month, The New York Times reports.
O'Reilly, host of The O'Reilly Factor, was ousted from the news channel in April amid reports he'd settled multiple suits to the tune of $13 million. But the $32 million settlement reached in January has not been reported previously.
The case involved Lis Wiehl, a longtime Fox News legal analyst who had often appeared on O'Reilly's show. When Wiehl first appeared on the show in 2001, O'Reilly said he had gotten her the job and that she owed him for it, to which she replied, "No, no, no."
He made suggestive remarks to her on the air for years afterward, such as recommending that she dance at a strip club, and her other complains against O'Reilly "included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter," the Times reports. O'Reilly reportedly sent her much of the explicit material via email.
In January, O'Reilly and 21st Century Fox received a draft of a lawsuit Wiehl was planning to file. Later that month her lawyers and the company's legal team worked out the settlement and she agreed not to sue. They agreed that all communications between her and O'Reilly would be destroyed, and she signed an affidavit saying she had "no claims against Bill O'Reilly concerning any of those emails or any of the allegations in the draft complaint," according to the Times.
O'Reilly has denied that he had a nonconsensual sexual relationship with Wiehl and, indeed, denied all the other harassment allegations brought against him. He did say that he sometimes forwarded Wiehl defamatory emails he received, some of which contained obscene material, for her legal advice on dealing with them.
The sexual harassment allegations and the publicity around them are "politically and financially motivated," O'Reilly told the Times this week, "and we can prove it with shocking information, but I'm not going to sit here in a courtroom for a year and a half and let my kids get beaten up every single day of their lives by a tabloid press that would sit there, and you know it."
In February, aware of Wiehl's claims and the settlement, 21st Century Fox offered O'Reilly a new four-year contract at $25 million a year, up from about $18 million. Fredric S. Newman, O'Reilly's lawyer, said the company was eager to have the host stay on after the departure of Megyn Kelly, another of the most popular Fox News personalities, and initiated the negotiations. Company officials said they would have renewed O'Reilly's contract whether Kelly had stayed or not.
There have been multiple sexual harassment allegations against other Fox News personnel, including founder Roger Ailes. Former Fox host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes in July 2016 and ended up receiving a $20 million settlement; Ailes resigned from the company and has since died. But the settlement received by Wiehl is the largest reported to date.
When O'Reilly left Fox News, he received a $25 million payout.