The other shoe has apparently fallen in Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly scandal, and more quickly than many had expected. According to New York Magazine, citing unnamed sources, the top-rated cable news channel has decided to part ways with the popular but embattled prime-time host following a string of sexual harassment claims lodged against him. “According to sources briefed on the discussions, network executives are preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from an Italian vacation on April 24,” New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman wrote late Wednesday morning (April 19). “Now the big questions are how the exit will look and who will replace him.”
The news of that decision brings a stunning and sudden end to O’Reilly’s 21-year career at Fox News, in which is prime-time show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” became a consistent cable-news ratings leader. As popular as the conservative icon was, mounting attention to the sexual harassment claims — including one filed just Tuesday — prompted dozens of national advertisers to abandon his show.
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Early on, Fox News appeared willing to stand behind O’Reilly, but that became more difficult to do since The New York Times published an April 1 story detailing $13 million in payouts by Fox and O’Reilly to women accusing him of sexual harassment. Since then, calls for his ouster — and criticisms leveled at Fox for standing by him — have only grown.
Fox executives were expected to make a decision on O’Reilly’s future at a board meeting scheduled for Thursday. Apparently they have decided to act even sooner.
According to the New York Magazine story, Fox executives were huddling Wednesday morning, “holding emergency meetings to discuss how they can sever the relationship with the country’s highest-rated cable-news host without causing collateral damage to the network.”
For his part, O’Reilly — who has been on vacation since April 12 — has consistently dismissed such claims, characterizing them as attempts to squeeze money from him. Any payouts, he said, were made as a way to spare his family any embarrassment of protracted legal fights.
An attorney for O’Reilly on Tuesday called the allegations “a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America,” according to The Wall Street Journal. He added that the “smear campaign” against O’Reilly is being orchestrated by left-wing interests opposed to his conservative views.
While advertisers have abandoned him, viewers don’t appear to have been similarly inclined. In the immediate wake of the New York Times story, viewership of “The O’Reilly Factor” actually increased, rising to 3.71 million that week from 3.31 million the week before, Nielsen figures show.
Since his vacation, however, viewership has declined 23 percent during, according to the AP. His favorability rating among viewers has also reportedly dropped to 73 percent, down from 80 percent.
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