(NEW YORK) — Fox News and its star host Bill O’Reilly are on the defensive after becoming embroiled in new allegations of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.
Some allegations began last summer and have led to the downfall of Fox News’ former chief, Roger Ailes.
Here’s a breakdown of scandals surrounding the cable news network:
O’Reilly and The New York Times investigation
On April 1, The New York Times published an in-depth investigation that “found a total of five women who have received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or the company in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation” after making accusations against O’Reilly of “sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.”
“The agreements,” The Times reported, “totaled about $13 million.”
The Times said that two of the settlements had taken place since the July resignation of Ailes.
It’s important to note that some of the settlements reported in the story were already known and date as far as 2004. ABC News has not been able to independently verify the payouts, as reported by The Times.
However, ABC News reported in February that federal prosecutors in New York City have been conducting a criminal probe of the company to determine if any laws or accounting regulations were violated when it paid money to settle misconduct accusations against Ailes.
“21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously. Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility. Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News,” 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, said in a statement.
For his part, O’Reilly wrote on his website that he, “like other prominent and controversial people,” is “vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want [him] to pay them to avoid negative publicity.”
“In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline,” O’Reilly wrote.
He said he was “a father who cares deeply for my children and who would do anything to avoid hurting them in any way,” and he had “put to rest any controversies to spare [his] children.”
According to O’Reilly, the “worst part” of his job was “being a target for those who would harm me and my employer,” and his “primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.”
Dozens of companies have since yanked their advertisements from O’Reilly’s show following news of the settlements, potentially hurting Fox’s bottom line.
The O’Reilly Factor brings in more revenue than any other show on Fox News, as well as its main competitors CNN and MSNBC, according to Kantar Media, a market research firm.
In an attempt to stem the tide, Paul Rittenberg, Fox News’ executive vice president of advertising sales, said in a statement: “We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the O’Reilly Factor. At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other FNC programs.”
More than 50 companies had withdrawn their advertisements from the program as of last Thursday. At least one company, Rosland Capital, is sticking with O’Reilly. “We have no plans to change our advertising strategy,” it said.
Meanwhile, Wendy Walsh, a regular guest on O’Reilly’s show, spoke to ABC News about her allegations first detailed in The Times’ investigation.
Walsh said that she had received a dinner invite from O’Reilly after she began appearing in a regular Thursday night segment on his show.
“He brought it up first as soon as we sat down to dinner, saying, ‘We’d like to make you a contributor,’” Walsh said.
“As we walked past the hostess stand at the restaurant, he turned right towards the bedrooms and I turned left towards the bar and he caught up with me and said, ‘No, no, come back to my suite,'” Walsh said.
According to Walsh, O’Reilly became hostile after she declined his offer.
She said that she only appeared on the show a few more times.
It hasn’t been all that bad for O’Reilly.
More than 3.6 million viewers tuned into his show on Monday, April 3, followed by 3.7 million on Tuesday, April 4, according to TVNewser, an industry tracking news site.
Then on Wednesday, O’Reilly got a presidential defense: Donald Trump, sitting in the oval office, told The New York Times that he believed O’Reilly should have fought the accusations.
Characterizing the TV host as “a person I know well” and “a good person,” Trump said he didn’t “think Bill did anything wrong.”
This wasn’t the first time that Trump has waded into allegations of sexual misconduct at Fox News.
Days after Ailes’ July resignation, Trump defended the network chief, calling him “a very, very good person.”
By Monday, Fox News said that it had asked mega law firm Paul Weiss to probe at least one complaint made against O’Reilly.
“21st Century Fox investigates all complaints and we have asked the law firm Paul Weiss to continue assisting the company in these serious matters,” a 21st Century Fox spokesman said.
Which complaint or complaints the law firm is investigating is not clear.
Last Tuesday, a 21st Century Fox spokesman said that “no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously.”
In a video posted to YouTube on Wednesday, Wendy Walsh — one of the women named in The Times investigation — and her attorney, Lisa Bloom, are seen calling the Fox News hotline to file a complaint.
On Sunday, Bloom appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources program, where she said she had received “a return phone call from a couple of attorneys who represent Fox News and they said they are indeed going to do an investigation based on Wendy’s complaint.”
“I’m told they are taking it seriously,” Bloom said.
Bloom did not reference the Weiss firm by name in her CNN appearance.
A spokesman for O’Reilly, Mark Fabiani, released a statement saying: “Paul Weiss is already retained by the company to look into all hotline calls, so it’s inaccurate to say that Paul Weiss has been brought in specifically for this matter. In short, there is nothing special about the way this hotline call is now being handled.”
Paul Weiss was retained by Fox News last summer to investigate claims made against Ailes.
Brown, Wright and Douglas allege racial discrimination
Aside from the O’Reilly scandal, Fox was forced to defend itself against two other sets of accusations.
Three Fox News employees — Tichaona Brown, Tabrese Wright and Monica Douglas — filed a lawsuit claiming that they were subject to “appalling discrimination” and “years-long relentless racial animus” at the hands of a former executive at the news company.
The women, one former and two current employees of Fox News’ payroll department, spoke to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America about their alleged treatment, which they characterized as “appalling” and “insulting.”
Among other claims, Brown and Wright alleged in the lawsuit that Judith Slate, a former vice president of accounting at Fox, mocked “stereotyped speech and complained that black employees mispronounce” certain words.
Douglas, who was not party to an earlier lawsuit, joined the two other women in an amended lawsuit filed this month, claiming she “was subjected to the same racially discriminatory treatment experienced by Ms. Brown and Ms. Wright.”
Asked about the lawsuit, a Fox News spokesperson told ABC News that the network has hired a new head of human resources, and that it fired Slater on Feb. 28. The new executive vice president of HR, Kevin Lord, was appointed on Dec. 14, 2016, according to a company press release.
The company said in a statement: “We take complaints of this nature very seriously and took prompt and effective remedial action in terminating Judy Slater before Ms. Brown, Ms. Wright and Ms. Douglas sued in court and even before Ms. Wright and Ms. Douglas complained through their lawyer. There is no place for conduct like this at Fox News, which is why Ms. Slater was fired.”
Attempts by ABC News to reach Slater for comment were not immediately successful Tuesday.
Commentator Julie Roginsky allegations
On April 3, Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky filed a lawsuit against the network claiming misconduct on the part of Ailes, the company and current co-president Bill Shine.
Among other allegations, Roginsky claimed that Ailes encouraged her to hook up with “older, married, conservative men,” and that she faced retaliation when she “refused to engage in a sexual relationship with Ailes.”
She also claims that she suffered retaliation at the hands of Shine.
Fox News declined to comment on the lawsuit, while Ailes’ lawyer, Susan Estrich, said that “Roginsky’s description of meetings that she supposedly had with Roger Ailes are total hogwash.”
“Mr. Ailes vociferously denies her allegations,” Estrich added.
Previous and ongoing controversies
Allegations of impropriety on the part of Ailes — who was pressured into resigning last summer after facing sexual misconduct claims — continue to dog the company nine months after his departure. (Ailes and Fox denied allegations at the time.)
Gretchen Carlson’s allegations
Ailes downfall was largely brought on by former network star Gretchen Carlson.
Carlson departed the network on June 23 and shortly afterward filed a lawsuit alleging that Ailes “sabotaged” her career after she “refused his sexual advances,” and that her job was terminated in retaliation for rebuffing him and complaining to him about sexual harassment.
Fox News and Ailes denied the allegations at the time as “false” and “retaliatory…for the network’s decision not to renew her contract.”
Other women are believed to have privately supported Carlson in interviews with investigators.
Ailes resigned on July 21. Media reports suggested he received a severance package valued at about $40 million.
“Within just two weeks of her filing a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, Gretchen Carlson’s extraordinary courage has caused a seismic shift in the media world,” Carlson’s lawyer said.
Among those backing Carlson was top-rated network star Megyn Kelly, who later told ABC News that Ailes “tried to kiss me three times [in his office], so I rejected that, and when I rejected that, he asked me when my contract was up.”
“As soon as I left his office, I called a lawyer, and I did bring the matter to a supervisor at Fox News,” she told Good Morning America in November.
Carlson finally settled her case in September in a deal that a source told ABC News was valued at $20 million.
Carlson and Kelly were not alone in taking on the former network chief.
A lesser known, but regular figure on the network, Andrea Tantaros, filed a suit against Ailes in August — about a month after his resignation.
In her suit, she claimed that the network “operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny,” which saw her subject to alleged sexual harassment by former Fox News boss Roger Ailes as well as by former Sen. Scott Brown.
In court filings responding to the suit, Fox News said that Tantaros “is not a victim; she is an opportunist” and that her “unverified” lawsuit “bears all the hallmarks of the ‘wannabe.’”
In an email to the Boston Globe, Brown said: “Her statement about our limited on air, green room interactions are false.”
In October, Tantaros told Good Morning America that she hoped to bring “accountability” to the network.
“Fox News has plenty of money. They’ve bought off a lot of women. What they don’t have is accountability,” Tantaros said.
Tantaros’ case has been ordered to go to arbitration by a court, her lawyer Judd Burstein told ABC News on Thursday.
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