Executives at Fox News are bracing for more women to come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and bullying by Bill O’Reilly, according to sources within the network.
CNN’s Brian Stelter filed a late breaking story on Sunday night saying that while the network publicly supports O’Reilly against the accusations, some Fox power brokers are adopting a “wait and see” attitude with regards to the latest controversy.
Newscorp owner and Fox News Channel Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Stetler said, “are standing near O’Reilly, although not right next to him, by renewing his contract, but not issuing a full-throated defense.”
However, “Fox’s executives are waiting and watching, anticipating that more women will come forward with allegations against O’Reilly.”
Sources who Stelter spoke with at Fox say that management is waiting to see if advertisers will run from O’Reilly’s top-rated nightly show the way they did from Glenn Beck’s Fox News show after Beck called Pres. Barack Obama a racist.
The New York Times story has been in the works for month and Fox knew that the story was coming, Stelter said.
“But they didn’t need an investigation to know about O’Reilly’s reputation. Inside Fox, there is a recognition that O’Reilly is a cable news legend, a loudmouth beloved by Fox’s base — but that he’s also a liability because of his personal behavior,” Stelter wrote.
The Washington Post blasted O’Reilly on Sunday as an “awful, awful man” who spouts high-handed moralistic dogma on the air, but has had to shell out millions to at least five women who accuse him of sexual impropriety and workplace bullying.
“By the time the [Times] story came out,” Stelter said, “the Murdochs had already decided to extend O’Reilly’s contract. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal was the first to report the new deal, and a source confirmed it to CNNMoney. O’Reilly’s contract, said to be worth about $18 million a year, was due to expire at the end of 2017; now it is unclear when it expires.”
However, two executives told Stelter on condition of anonymity that O’Reilly’s deal with the network is conditional and they are waiting to see how bad the fallout is before they decide how to proceed.
The crisis highlights the divergent goals of Rupert Murdoch and his more liberal sons, James and Lachlan, said Financial Times reporter Matthew Garrahan on Sunday.
“Rupert’s sons, you know, don’t like this one bit, I can tell you. And there are people within the network itself who don’t like this one bit,” Garrahan said.
Rupert Murdoch has been running Fox News since disgraced CEO Roger Ailes stepped down over his own sexual improprieties with female subordinates. A promised handover from Rupert to his sons has yet to happen.
Stelter said, “O’Reilly is the cornerstone of the Fox News house. His show has been number one for over a decade. While Fox maintains a sizable audience all day long, more than one million additional viewers turn to Fox right at 8 p.m. for the ‘Factor,’ boosting the channel’s prime time performance.”
“The case has parallels to professional sports, in which the business interests of teams and leagues sometimes override concerns about players’ off-the-field behavior as millions of people look past the unsettling news coverage and tune in for the show,” Stelter said.