The “No-Spin Zone” just became the no-Bill zone. Permanently. 21st Century Fox announced in a brief statement on Wednesday that the longtime Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly will not return to his job as host of The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly has been on vacation this week and not on the air. “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” the statement read.
The official news of O’Reilly’s dismissal followed a report by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman saying the network had reached a decision to force O’Reilly out. Sources told Sherman that the Murdochs, the family that controls Fox News’ parent company, planned to terminate the embattled TV host’s employment before his scheduled return from a vacation in Italy on April 24. In a meeting held Wednesday morning, sources said that executives discussed how best to fire O’Reilly from the top-rated program on cable news, The O’Reilly Factor, without alienating loyal Fox News viewers.
With accusations of sexual assault swirling in the wake of a damning New York Times report that claimed he and Fox News paid $13 million to at least five women to settle sexual harassment claims made against him, O’Reilly announced last week that he would take a vacation. Law firm Paul, Weiss — the same firm hired to investigated deposed Fox News CEO Roger Ailes — is also reportedly investigating O’Reilly’s behavior in response to a harassment claim made by former Fox contributor Dr. Wendy Walsh. On Tuesday, yet another accuser came forward with allegations about O’Reilly. The unnamed woman claimed through her lawyer that O’Reilly called her “hot chocolate” and that he would “grunt at her like a wild boar” in lieu of normal greetings, like saying “hello.”
The news of O’Reilly’s ouster came as a surprise to many Fox News staffers who spoke with Sherman. Staffers said that they had expected Rupert Murdoch’s preference for retaining O’Reilly would overcome the protests of his son James, who felt that O’Reilly should be fired. According to one source, the internal battle was decided after Lachlan Murdoch’s wife convinced him that O’Reilly’s behavior had been unacceptable, and that he should side with his brother James against their father. However, to observers outside the network, the looming outcome was hardly a surprise, as people were seen laying flowers beneath O’Reilly’s poster outside of Fox News headquarters in New York City on Wednesday morning. More than 50 sponsors had pulled their ads from O’Reilly’s show in the wake of the revelations, according to The New York Times. O’Reilly has repeatedly denied the accusations against him.
Executives were reportedly deciding whether O’Reilly would be allowed to give an official on-air send off to his remarkably loyal TV following. Even after advertisers abandoned O’Reilly in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, ratings for The O’Reilly Factor had increased.
Meanwhile in Italy, in an odd intercontinental twist to the story, a vacationing O’Reilly briefly met Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday morning at a weekly audience open to the public. O’Reilly was given a special VIP seat in a section behind the stage holding the papal throne and was photographed talking and shaking hands with the pontiff.
In February 2016, O’Reilly had condemned the pope for suggesting that good Christians build “bridges” instead of “walls” — comments seemingly critical of Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border. O’Reilly said he wanted to meet the pontiff so he could share his own thoughts on what it really means to be Christian, and further suggested that he would like to “bring the family of Kate Steinle,” an American woman killed by a Mexican laborer who had been deported multiple times, to the meeting as well.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, O’Reilly issued a statement once again saying that the claims against him are “completely unfounded.”
Statement from Bill O'Reilly: "It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims." pic.twitter.com/a0jHnPbpRI
— Tom Kludt (@TomKludt) April 19, 2017
Will O’Reilly, who is 67, be able to land a job with another network after such a swift and dramatic fall from grace? Almost certainly not with any of the major cable news networks, but Joe Concha, a columnist for The Hill, writes that O’Reilly will likely have some options.