If any media outlet would know what Fox might do in the controversy surrounding Bill O’Reilly, one would have to assume it would be another Rupert Murdoch outlet, yes? Fox’s troubles arose when several women claimed that O’Reilly had committed sexual harassment during his tenure, and the New York Times reported on April 1 that the network had paid out $13 million in settlements. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint, the exodus of advertisers from The O’Reilly Factor since that news appeared has Fox preparing to end the show’s two-decade run:
Fox News is preparing to cut ties with star anchor Bill O’Reilly, according to people close to the situation, after revelations that he and Fox parent 21st Century Fox settled multiple sexual harassment complaints led to an exodus of advertisers from his show and mounting pressure on the network.
A final resolution on the fate of Mr. O’Reilly, host of the “The O’Reilly Factor,” could come as early as the next several days, the people said.
That’s not the only pressure Fox is feeling in this decision, either. Flint reports that probes have begun into whether Fox’s parent company properly disclosed harassment-claim settlements relating to former chief Roger Ailes:
21st Century Fox is being investigated by federal prosecutors, who are probing whether the company made insufficient disclosures about settlements of harassment claims, according to people familiar with the matter.
21st Century Fox said in a November regulatory filing that it made payments of $35 million during the quarter ending Sept. 30 to settle complaints or potential complaints related to Mr. Ailes. The settlements of interest to the investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York predate those disclosed by the company in November.
The WSJ report come amid other rumblings in New York-based media that the end may be nigh for O’Reilly. The New York Times reports that the decision will go to the 21st Century board at its meeting on Thursday, and a “well-placed source” tells CNN that they’ve already begun negotiating with O’Reilly for a smooth exit — a report that O’Reilly’s team denies.
O’Reilly’s been on vacation for the last week and isn’t due to return for another. Any exit strategy would need to get concluded before then, one would think, or rejected altogether. Perhaps one indication that Fox might still choose to stick it out is what’s happened to the hour in O’Reilly’s absence. The ratings took a steep dive over the past few days:
Through four days of Bill O’Reilly’s vacation, his show’s viewership declined by 23 percent in the hands of substitutes Dana Perino, Eric Bolling and Greg Gutfeld.
O’Reilly is on a nearly two-week vacation at the same time Fox News Channel’s parent company looks into a woman’s accusation that her career was slowed when she spurned his advances. Dozens of his show’s advertisers have fled following reports of harassment settlements paid to other women. O’Reilly has denied any wrongdoing. …
Nielsen company figures show that so far, viewers aren’t as interested in “The O’Reilly Factor” without O’Reilly. Perino has done the best, with her 3.15 million viewers on Monday down 16 percent from O’Reilly’s performance a week earlier. Bolling also showed a 16 percent drop from O’Reilly a week earlier, and he reached 3.11 million viewers.
The 2.32 million who watched Gutfeld on Friday was down 39 percent from the previous Friday and, alarmingly, was even lower than Tucker Carlson’s audience at 9 p.m. Carlson usually benefits from O’Reilly’s strong lead-in.
Still, Fox beat their competition even with the lower numbers, and dominates cable prime time. One could make an argument either way based on these numbers: it might pay to stick with O’Reilly even if having to find new advertisers to hang onto the higher ratings, or that they’re in a safe enough place to take a hit for a while with a transition to a new host. The complicating factors here are how much it will take to buy O’Reilly out, and how much they may be risking in future complaints. Calculating the risk-reward ratio for those decisions will take some PhDs lots of overtime, one would imagine.
What does everyone else think? According to a new Morning Consult poll, Americans in general want Fox to give O’Reilly the axe by a 2:1 margin (46/22). Among Trump voters, supporters of keeping the show just barely edge out axing it, 37/33. Given the news recently, the 16/48 reaction of women overall is no surprise, but men aren’t all that much further behind at 28/44, and even Republican women slightly favor Fox dumping O’Reilly at this point, 30/35. Independents largely follow the toplines on all these questions.
If he’s gone, though, Bill O’Reilly did have an astounding run at the top of his industry for more than 20 years. And he’ll have enough cash to leave it all behind, if that’s what he wants to do, no matter how the settlement talks with Fox go.
Update: Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff has more thoughts on the harassment claims themselves. I haven’t done much investigation into them and have not included their strength or lack thereof into my analysis of the situation. Paul feels that the claims are relatively weak, which could influence the decision, but $13 million is a lot of money to pay for five weak claims. It’s that figure that has prompted the protests, and which will be difficult — but not impossible — to explain if they decide to stick with O’Reilly.