Fox News can’t quit Bill O’Reilly

Jeanine Pirro and Andrew Napolitano are scheduled to be guests on his digital program

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

On April 19, 2017, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News severed ties. Or so we thought.

Letting O’Reilly go was not the network’s first choice; O’Reilly left only when Fox News had no other option. The New York Times had revealed that O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, paid roughly $13 million in settlements with five women who had reported O’Reilly for sexual harassment. In fact, Fox News had been silencing women who spoke up: According to the Times, “Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints.”

O’Reilly remained on the air.

But then, relentless activism (including from Media Matters) spurred advertisers to pull their ads from the The O’Reilly Factor’s time slot. Sexual violence survivors demanded that Fox take action.

It was only then that Fox agreed to remove O’Reilly from the air. 

But the network and some of its personalities quickly started helping O'Reilly rehabilitate his image. They barely covered the story at all.

Before long, O’Reilly popped up on Sean Hannity’s radio show. In an appearance on September 18, 2017, Hannity helped O’Reilly attack the women who reported him for sexual harassment, smearing a former Fox News clerical temp who had reported workplace misconduct by O’Reilly to the 21st Century Fox hotline. In return, Hannity said O’Reilly was a victim of a nefarious left-wing campaign aimed at silencing conservatives.

A week later, O’Reilly returned to Fox News. In an appearance that Fox teased throughout the day, Hannity welcomed the exiled host back for a lengthy in-studio chat, in which they whined about at the “totalitarians” at Media Matters.

O’Reilly hasn’t returned to Fox News since then. He did appear again on Hannity’s radio show, though.

Over the past several months, we have learned more about O’Reilly’s behavior. In October, The New York Times reported that O’Reilly had settled a sexual harassment claim with former contributor Lis Wiehl for $32 million. 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch claimed, “It was news to me,” even though Fox gave O’Reilly a lucrative contract after that settlement.

Months later, the draconian terms of O’Reilly’s settlements were revealed.

In April, Media Matters pointed out that a marketing campaign for an O’Reilly event at Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., was pushing a tour of the Fox & Friends studio as a donation reward. A Fox spokesperson told Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, “We had no knowledge of this and we are not allowing Fox & Friends to be part of any donation package.”

Now, months later, Fox News personalities Jeanine Pirro and Andrew Napolitano are appearing on O’Reilly’s digital program, helping him reestablish his media presence:

Pirro, a Fox host, has downplayed sexual misconduct allegations against then-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and President Donald Trump. When multiple women spoke out about Trump touching them inappropriately, Pirro rejected their reports as “a little too convenient.” Napolitano, Fox’s senior judicial analyst, has appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show and once described Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) as a “good looker” on air.

O’Reilly has commented on Pirro’s appearance before in public. In April 2017, The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh drew attention to a moment on air between the two:

But, on Thursday night, there was an odd moment when O’Reilly drew attention to the appearance of a female colleague. He was introducing Judge Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News host who is launching a new show, and he wanted the producer to move from a shot of his face to a shot of hers. “On her, please—much more photogenic than I am,” he said. “Judge Pirro—take a good look—is now going to host a show on the Fox broadcast network.”

O’Reilly’s interviews with Pirro and Napolitano come after Hannity arranged a top White House job for former Fox executive Bill Shine, even though Shine has been repeatedly implicated in the rampant sexual misconduct at Fox News. Fox News' new CEO has reportedly ignored sexual harassment and retaliating against complaints as well.

While O’Reilly has gotten numerous chances from Fox even after being let go, others have not been so lucky. Former Fox host Gretchen Carlson two years ago filed suit against Ailes for sexual harassment. She also detailed gender-based harassment from Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy.

Carlson has never been back on Fox News. Doocy still has his job.