Fox News extended host Bill O’Reilly’s contract for $100 million over four years shortly after he reached a $32 million agreement to settle claims of sexual harassment from a former network employee, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Fox granted O’Reilly the new contract last February after booting chairman Roger Ailes just seven months earlier in wake of multiple sexual harassment accusations against him. The contract was signed even though executives at 21st Century Fox were aware of complaints against O’Reilly by Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl, the Times reported.
O’Reilly’s four-year contract extension paid $25 million a year, according to the newspaper.
O’Reilly blasted the article Saturday as “another smear.” He insisted he “never mistreated anyone,” and said he made the payout to protect his children.
“The Times printed leaked information provided by anonymous sources that is out of context, false, defamatory, and obviously designed to embarrass Bill O’Reilly and to keep him from competing in the marketplace,” O’Reilly’s spokesman Mark Fabiani said in a statement.
The Times characterized the sum to Wiehl as “extraordinarily large.” It’s believed to be the biggest by far of at least six payouts O’Reilly made to settle complaints.
Wiehl’s accusations, according to the Times citing sources “briefed on the matter,” included:
allegations of repeated harassment, a non-consensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her.
As part of the settlement, Wiehl agreed to destroy messages and photos from O’Reilly that could back up her complaints, and to keep silent on the issue, the newspaper reported.
When Fox renewed O’Reilly’s contract in February, it “knew that a sexual harassment lawsuit had been threatened against him by Lis Wiehl, but was informed by Mr. O’Reilly that he had settled the matter personally, on financial terms that he and Ms. Wiehl had agreed were confidential and not disclosed to the company,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement.
The company also said the contract included “protections ... specifically aimed at harassment, including that Mr. O’Reilly could be dismissed if the company was made aware of other allegations or if additional relevant information was obtained in a company investigation.”
The story comes in the wake of stunning accusations of sexual harassment and assault by several actresses against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Both cases have raised questions of company complicity in such behavior without prompt action to end it. Federal authorities are investigating how Fox has handled sexual harassment complaints.
O’Reilly is in the midst of what could be seen as a comeback. He recently appeared on Fox’s Sean Hannity program to plug his new book, and is searching for a new platform for a news program that could be competitive with Fox.