The scandal surrounding Bill O'Reilly is just the latest in a series of self-inflicted wounds that have left Fox News with a scarred public image and a reputation that may be too damaged to repair.
Former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million to settle new sexual misconduct allegations just one month before Fox News extended his contract, according to a new report by The New York Times.
This was at least the sixth payout, and by far the largest, made by O’Reilly or Fox News to settle claims of sexual harassment or abuse against him.
The revelations paint a damning picture of a company that was willing to continue working with O’Reilly despite being fully aware of the sexual misconduct allegations against him, as well as the massive payout he made to keep the accusations quiet.
They also add to a growing list of self-inflicted wounds — including multiple sexual misconduct scandals, allegations of racial discrimination, internal conflict, numerous retractions, and a worn-out business model reliant upon bashing the media for ratings — that have left Fox struggling to repair what may be an irreparably damaged public image.
According to the Times, the latest sexual misconduct complaint was brought by former Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl, who accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the transmission of sexually explicit material, including gay pornography.
Two people briefed on the matter said 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, knew about the $32 million settlement O’Reilly paid in January. But that didn’t stop the network from renewing his contract just one month later — and even giving him a raise, agreeing to pay him $25 million a year to yell incoherently into a monitor.
At the time O’Reilly’s new deal was set, Fox News was still reeling from the ouster of its CEO and founder, Roger Ailes, amid another sexual harassment scandal that led Fox to reach a $20 million settlement with former anchor Gretchen Carlson.
Fox News finally fired O’Reilly in April, after the Times reported that he had been involved in settlements of harassment and sexual harassment claims with five women totaling $13 million, dating back to 2002.
Fox News is currently under federal investigation, which began with a probe into “settlements made with women who alleged sexual harassment by former Fox News boss Roger Ailes, and questions about whether Fox had a duty to inform shareholders about the settlement payments,” but later grew to include an investigation into potential financial crimes, as well.
Ailes, a close friend of the Trump family, was publicly accused of sexual misconduct by ten different women and privately accused of misconduct by at least twenty more.
Most recently, longtime Fox News host and avid Trump fan Eric Bolling was ousted following revelations that he had sent unwanted sexually explicit text messages to female colleagues.
The new revelations surrounding the O’Reilly scandal are just the latest sign that Fox is headed in a downward spiral from which it may not be able to recover.
Just this week, Fox News had to retract a story about about a man claiming to be a decorated Vietnam veteran who loved Trump so much that he started making artwork to praise him. It was later revealed that the man, described by Fox as a “purple heart recipient…who served seven years and was a member of the nation’s first Navy SEAL team,” had never actually served in Vietnam, was not a Navy Seal, and had never been awarded a purple heart.
Only after eleven days did the network finally retract the story.
This comes amid ongoing legal trouble stemming from a now-retracted May 2017 story, aired by Fox News, alleging to confirm the conspiracy theory that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich had been in contact with Wikileaks before his death. The story was revealed to be completely fabricated, and the single named source in the story, Rod Wheeler, is now suing Fox for defamation. The point of publishing the now-discredited story, Wheeler’s lawyers said, was to “help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the Presidential election.”
In other words, Fox ran with a false story to provide cover for Trump — making the network’s role as his personal propaganda outlet even more glaring as his presidency erupts into a new scandal nearly every week.
Meanwhile, Fox has taken a ratings hit, as others give the network unfamiliar competition in the cable news market. Fox has had to scramble to keeps its ratings afloat by switching time slots as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow bested the conservative network in the 9:00 PM hour last quarter, and continues to be a formidable opponent for capturing viewership.
Americans are getting tired of being fed fake news (Trump already does enough of that) and having someone else tell them what they should be outraged about this week.
And certainly, many are disgusted by the rank hypocrisy of a network that purports to cherish family values while simultaneously covering up their own sexual misconduct scandals. As the massive sexual abuse scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein began to break wide open, Fox anchors gleefully used it to attack liberals, ignoring their own complicity in similar cases.
Despite what Fox may think and wish, Americans aren’t stupid, and most actually want to know what’s going on in the world. Fox isn’t delivering that, in part because the entire network is too embroiled in its own scandals to produce newsworthy content. Moreover, far too many Fox employees are too unwilling to criticize Trump to actually cover what’s going on in his failing administration.
These are all self-inflicted wounds reflecting a pattern of decision-making that prioritizes profit and partisanship over journalistic integrity.
Fox is imploding, and they have no one to blame but themselves.