Fox negotiating Bill O'Relly's exit: Report
Fox Corporation and talk show host Bill O'Reilly are in discussions to end his employment by Fox News.
Neither the vacationing O'Reilly or representatives from Fox had any comment on the story. But it's clear that sexual harassment accusations against O'Reilly, which have resulted in advertisers fleeing his show, are damaging the Fox brand to the point where the host's exit may have become inevitable.
A well-placed source said Tuesday afternoon that representatives for Fox and O'Reilly have begun talking about an exit. But this prompted a denial from sources in O'Reilly's camp.
Even one person close to O'Reilly, however, said he will probably not be back on "The O'Reilly Factor."
The original well-placed source said an announcement about O'Reilly's fate was likely by the end of the week.
The fact that none of these sources were willing to go on the record speaks to the delicate maneuvering underway.
The network's parent company, 21st Century Fox (FOX), will hold a board meeting on Thursday, a spokeswoman told CNNMoney. One of the sources said O'Reilly will be a primary topic.
The Murdochs, the men who control 21st Century Fox, are pointedly not commenting on any of this.
But conversations inside Fox have already turned to possible O'Reilly successors.
New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, the author of a biography about ex-Fox News boss Roger Ailes, reported Tuesday that "the Murdochs are leaning toward announcing that O'Reilly will not return to the air."
Sherman cited "three sources with knowledge of the discussions" and said "no final decision has been made."
As CNNMoney has previously reported, there had been a split between Rupert Murdoch, the company's patriarch, and his sons James and Lachlan, with James advocating for O'Reilly's ouster. Lachlan was previously said to be in the middle. Sherman said Tuesday that Lachlan has "leaned more in his brother James's direction" in recent days.
All of this is a reaction to a New York Times story about the settlement payments that O'Reilly, Fox and 21st Century Fox paid to women who accused O'Reilly of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
Last week 21st Century Fox confirmed that an outside law firm was investigating allegations against O'Reilly.
The same firm – Paul, Weiss – played an instrumental role in the eventual resignation of Ailes last summer.
O'Reilly's allies feel that he has been unfairly demonized by his accusers and a biased news media.
His opponents, including some influential voices inside 21st Century Fox, feel that O'Reilly has behaved badly over the years, that his behavior has been exposed, and that it's inappropriate for Fox News to continue his show.
So is O'Reilly a victim? Or a cad? I suppose it depends on the context in which these accusations of sexual harassment occurred. Off the air, O'Reilly has not been known as a very nice person – screaming at people who work for him and, at times, acting like a vindictive SOB. But that doesn't make him a serial sexual harasser. In any "he said, she said" situation, there are nuances to an encounter that might tell a story different from what the charges against O'Reilly suggest. What seems pretty clear, however, is that whatever O'Reilly's intent, the result was that at least some of those women truly felt he was harassing them.
The perception of O'Reilly – if not the reality – has changed, and Murdoch may feel that O'Reilly's presence on air tarnishes the Fox brand. The Factor is the highest rated show in the history of cable news, so dropping O'Reilly from the prime-time lineup carries risks beyond the flight of advertisers. The Factor has led off the hugely successful Fox prime-time lineup for nearly 20 years, and it's an open question whether there is a way to replace the host without blowing up the network.
Liberals, of course, are ecstatic. Bringing down Fox News would be a dream come true. The irony is that they refuse to correctly perceive why Fox News draws twice as many viewers as liberal networks like CNN and MSNBC. They think Fox "fools" the viewer with fake news and false punditry. What they are really doing is projecting. Those very reasons are why viewers rejected the other networks and flock to Fox to get their news.
O'Reilly's departure would be a blow to the network with unknown consequences down the road. But The Factor draws nearly 3 million viewers a night. Does anyone really believe that Anderson Cooper of CNN or Rachel Maddow of MSNBC can attract an audience that size?