It has been a turbulent week for Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly. On Wednesday, following multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him, parent company 21st Century Fox said the star host wouldn’t be returning to the network. (He reportedly received a $25 million payout thought to be equivalent to one year of his salary.) Now, leaked emails have shown that only the day before, O’Reilly’s legal team were contemplating a last-ditch attempt to save his job.
On April 18, O’Reilly’s lawyers at New York law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman were discussing whether their client had been the victim of a liberal smear campaign. In the message chain—which a member of the team mistakenly forwarded to Politico's Joe Pompeo—the lawyers debated showing Fox News an April 13 email in which the Democratic fundraiser Mary Pat Bonner announced two conference calls with the president of Media Matters, an organization that monitors and corrects “conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”
The purpose of the calls was to discuss Bonner’s campaign to persuade advertisers to pull out of O’Reilly’s former show, The O’Reilly Factor. Whether because of Bonner’s actions, or because of the bad publicity surrounding O’Reilly, dozens of advertisers deserted his show.
After The New York Times reported on April 1 that Fox had paid out $13 million to five women in various harassment lawsuits, major companies like BMW and GlaxoSmithKline shifted their adverts to other shows. The O’Reilly Factor, which took in $446 million in advertising revenue from 2014 to 2016, suffered a drop in ads from around 30 per episode to just 10 for O’Reilly’s last broadcast on April 11.
As the emails forwarded to Politico show, O’Reilly’s team seemed to believe that their client had been taken down covertly and unfairly. His attorney, Marc Kasowitz put out a statement that read: “Bill O’Reilly has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America. This law firm has uncovered evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons.”
Despite their outrage, it is unlikely that showing Bonner’s email to Fox would have saved O’Reilly. In an interview with Politico early April, Angelo Carusone openly discussed Media Matters’ attempts to get the anchor fired. Not only that but other advocacy organizations were calling for O’Reilly to leave the network. On Twitter, the Women’s March, which has 477,000 followers, encouraged people to use the hashtag #DropOReilly.
In any case, the email never made it to the Murdochs. O’Reilly asked his lawyers not to show it to the family until after Bonner’s first conference call, scheduled for April 20. “If we show to Fox tomorrow, word will get out and the Thursday call may be cancelled,” O’Reilly wrote on April 18. “So no formal sending to Rupert [Murdoch] until after the call. You all should know that I will not put up with much more from [Fox News].” The next day, Fox fired O’Reilly.
It was a surprise end to the anchor’s 20-year career with the network. He had been the biggest earner at Fox News, netting close to 4 million viewers a night. Just weeks before his departure, Fox News had renewed his contract for another four years.
The women he harassed have welcomed his removal. Lisa Bloom, an attorney representing three of O’Reilly’s accusers said in a statement: “This is what happens when women speak their truth: we can slay dragons.”
The lawsuits against O’Reilly included allegations that the anchor was verbally abusive, that he rang one woman while sounding like he was masturbating, and that when another spurned his advances, he dropped her from his show. Despite his alleged abusive behaviors, it is O’Reilly who seems to be leaving with the biggest payout—his $25 million is almost double what we know has been paid to his accusers.