The worst of Bill O’Reilly’s on-air denigration and harassment of Lis Wiehl

The New York Times reported over the weekend that then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly paid a $32 million settlement to longtime network legal analyst Lis Wiehl in January to forestall a sexual harassment lawsuit. A Media Matters review finds that Wiehl received a steady stream of sexually suggestive and demeaning on-air commentary from O’Reilly while serving as the co-host of his nationally syndicated radio show a decade ago. O’Reilly described Wiehl as “eye candy” for his pleasure, urged her to conduct a protest in a bikini, called for her to be strip-searched, and suggested that she learn to dance at strip clubs, among other despicable remarks.

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

O’Reilly reportedly paid Wiehl $32 million to halt sexual harassment lawsuit

January: O’Reilly made a massive payout in response to reported “repeated harassment” and a “nonconsensual sexual relationship.” In January, then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly “struck a $32 million agreement” with Lis Wiehl, a longtime Fox legal analyst who had also served as his lawyer at one point, to forestall a lawsuit covering 15 years of sexual harassment allegations, including “repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her” including via email, The New York Times reported. The Times also reported that O’Reilly announced “that Ms. Wiehl had landed a job at the network and said she owed him” during a 2001 Fox segment and that he made “suggestive remarks” to her during the radio show they co-hosted. As part of the settlement, Wiehl signed an affidavit “stating that the two sides had resolved their dispute and that she had ‘no claims against Bill O’Reilly concerning any of those emails or any of the allegations in the draft complaint.’” [The New York Times, 10/21/17]  

February: Fox re-signed O’Reilly to a new contract after learning of Wiehl’s allegations. In February, after O’Reilly’s lawyers had informed Fox News of the settlement, O’Reilly “received his new contract, with a salary increase to $25 million, from about $18 million.” The new deal included provisions “that allowed for his dismissal if new allegations or other relevant information arose,” according to the company. [The New York Times, 10/21/17]  

April: Fox fired O’Reilly after public reports of his sexual harassment settlements triggered an advertiser boycott. On April 1, the Times reported that O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, had paid out at least $13 million in settlements to five women who had reported sexual harassment by O’Reilly. Less than three weeks later, after dozens of advertisers said they would no longer air ads during O’Reilly’s time slot, and as more women came forward, Fox fired O’Reilly, sending him off with a $25 million severance package. [The New York Times, 4/1/17, 10/21/17; Media Matters, 4/20/17]  

September: O’Reilly returned to the Fox airwaves to promote his book. O’Reilly appeared on Fox News’ Hannity on September 26 to promote his latest book. Fox promoted the appearance on social media, on its website, and during each hour of programming between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. -- whether through an on-screen graphic or a promotional commercial. O’Reilly subsequently credited the Fox appearance with boosting his book sales. [Media Matters, 9/26/17, 9/26/17, 10/5/17]

O’Reilly objectified and harassed Wiehl on his radio show for years

O'Reilly to Wiehl: “You're here because you're eye candy ... for me.” During a June 2004 radio segment, O’Reilly said to Wiehl, who co-hosted his show, “I don't expect anything from you, Lis. You know that. You're here -- you’re here because you’re eye candy. That’s why you’re here.” After Wiehl responded, “What? This is radio.” O’Reilly replied, “I know. But -- for me.” O’Reilly added, “I don't care about the people listening. You're here because you're good-looking, so I got somebody to look over” while broadcasting. Later, O'Reilly referred to Wiehl as actress Drew Barrymore, remarking, “I loved you in Poison Ivy. Was that the one [movie] she was naked in?” [Media Matters, 6/24/04]

O'Reilly asked Wiehl to protest outside CBS News in a bikini. During an October 2005 radio segment, O’Reilly instructed Wiehl to protest CBS News by standing outside the CBS studio wearing a bikini.

BILL O'REILLY (CO-HOST): All right, I want you to go in front of CBS News this afternoon after The Radio Factor, OK? I want you to get a sign.


O’REILLY: Right, and I want you to -- “I am outraged at this poll.”


O’REILLY: Now, I think to get attention --

WIEHL: Yes --

O'REILLY: Because you'll be by yourself. And just you with the sign may not do it.

WIEHL: No. So what should I do?

O'REILLY: Bikini.

WIEHL: Oh, no.

O'REILLY: Come on.

WIEHL: That's going too far to protest.

O'REILLY: Why? Why?

WIEHL: That's too far to protest.

O'REILLY: Don't you love your country?


O'REILLY: Don't you want a fairness in the media?

WIEHL: I do.

O'REILLY: Get Lis the outfit.

[Westwood One, The Radio Factor with Bill O’Reilly, 10/26/05]

O'Reilly called for “a full-body search” on Wiehl, adding that she “asked for it.” During a November 2005 radio segment, while discussing a lawsuit over New York City's policy of searching bags on the subway, Wiehl said, “I want my bags searched” in the subway. O'Reilly replied: “Would you please bring in some security to do a full-body search on Lis Wiehl.” When Wiehl clarified, “I said my bags, not my body,” O'Reilly responded, "Full-body search on Lis Wiehl right this minute. She asked for it.”

[Media Matters, 11/7/05]

O'Reilly told Wiehl she should learn to dance to get $10,000 tips in strip clubs. During a November 2005 segment on a telecommunications executive who spent $250,000 in one night at a New York City strip club, O'Reilly asked Wiehl if “it might be worth learning how” to dance for a $10,000 tip, adding, “You're a good-looking girl. ... I mean, if you haven't seen Lis on TV, she's a good-looking blonde.” O’Reilly pressed the point several more times, saying that he would do it if he “were a girl.”


BILL O'REILLY (CO-HOST): All right, so he's giving, according to this, $10,000 tips to the dancers. Can you dance?


O'REILLY: You can't dance.

WIEHL: Can not dance. 

O'REILLY: Don't you think it might be worth learning how?

WIEHL: No. For $10,000?

O'REILLY: Yeah. You're a good-looking girl. I'm telling you that.

WIEHL: [Laughing]

O'REILLY: I mean, if you haven't seen Lis on TV, she's a good-looking blonde.

WIEHL: No, thank you.

O'REILLY: And she's on the radio. Ten thousand dollars for doing a little dance --

WIEHL: No thanks.



O'REILLY: Wouldn't do it?

WIEHL: Nope.

O'REILLY: I would if I were a girl.

WIEHL: [Inaudible]

O'REILLY: I would.

WIEHL: Why don't you put on a little tutu --

O'REILLY: I would.

WIEHL: [Inaudible]

O'REILLY: For $10,000, I --

WIEHL: [Inaudible]

O'REILLY: If I were a girl, I'd be up on that doing the monkey on the table or whatever you want me to do. I wouldn't let them touch me or anything --


O'REILLY: Ten grand, you wouldn't -- you're not doing it?

WIEHL: I just want to see you in the little tutu --

O'REILLY: No, you're never going to see that. I mean, nobody wants to see me. But they would want to see you.

WIEHL: [Laughing] It's not going to happen.

O'REILLY: But you're not going to do it.

[Media Matters, 11/14/05]

O'Reilly: Wiehl is “here” so I can “denigrate” her and “whack her around.” Discussing an interview he had conducted with the author Norman Mailer during a March 2006 radio segment, O’Reilly told a caller, “Why would I want to go in and denigrate him? That's what I have Lis here for. Every time I want to do that, I just go over to her and whack her around. So -- figuratively speaking, of course.” Wiehl responded, “You’re get in trouble for that one.” “Yeah, I’m in trouble constantly,” O’Reilly replied. [Media Matters, 3/17/06]

O'Reilly told Wiehl her book on women’s equality is wrong because “in a lot of places” like ABC News and CBS News, “women have formed cabals to terrorize the men.” During a February 2007 radio segment, O’Reilly said he was not “sympathetic” to Wiehl’s new book, The 51% Minority: How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It, because “women were treated better than men” at ABC News and CBS News because “they had a little cabal and they intimidated the men in the organization and said, “If you look at me cross-eyed, I'm gonna bring you up to Human Resources and destroy your life.’” O'Reilly added that “every man in the place was terrified of them.” He later stated that “in a lot of places, women have formed cabals to terrorize the men because they take advantage of, ‘Oh, we're downtrodden. You're kicking us in the teeth.’” From the show:

BILL O'REILLY (CO-HOST): I didn't whine about it and call up my senator and say, “Hey, I'm 10 times better than this one that's making more money than me,” bop, bop, bop. And the other thing is that, in a lot of the situations that I was in, particularly at the network news -- and I worked for ABC News and CBS News before I came to Fox News -- women were treated better than men. They were treated better than men.

They had a little cabal and they intimidated the men in the organization and said, “If you look at me cross-eyed, I'm gonna bring you up to Human Resources and destroy your life,” and every man in the place was terrified of them. And that actually happened.

So, when I'm reading Lis' book -- and I recommend the book because it will stimulate discussion with your wife, your girlfriend, whoever, and you know, you can learn from it. The book again is The 51% Minority. I'm not sympathetic to Lis' argument at all. I think that Lis has put forth this argument based upon facts. It is true that women make less and that, you know, women have a bigger burden because they have children at home and -- that's all true. But I say the government is not gonna change that and that, in a lot of places, women have formed cabals to terrorize the men because they take advantage of, “Oh, we're downtrodden. You're kicking us in the teeth.” [Media Matters, 3/2/07]

O’Reilly told Wiehl that “a good-looking woman” like her would be physically abused in Spain or Italy for writing her book. During the same February 2007 segment, O’Reilly told Wiehl that he did not agree with her argument about the lack of women’s equality in the U.S. because in every country he'd “ever been to, women are treated worse [than] in the United States.” He went on to claim that “a good-looking woman like Lis is” would “be black and blue all day long” if she wanted to write a book like that in Italy or Spain. O'Reilly concluded: “So, all of this whining about American women -- ‘We don't have this; we don't have that’ -- to me, I'm not real sympathetic. But I am a barbarian.”

BILL O’REILLY (CO-HOST): And if you go around the world -- and this is my final argument -- every country that I've ever been to, women are treated worse [than] in the United States. I mean, if you go to Japan, for example, you go to China, anywhere in the Orient, you go to Australia, it's outrageous. You go in the Muslim countries, Lis Wiehl gets executed for writing this book. Lis Wiehl's --

WIEHL: I'm never coming back from there.

O'REILLY: Lis Wiehl is beheaded right now in Saudi Arabia for writing this book. Even if you go to Europe -- if you go to Italy and you're a good-looking woman like Lis is, you're gonna have to be black and blue all day long, if you know what I'm talking about. Guys are gonna put their hands on you in that society in Italy, in Spain, all right.

So, all of this whining about American women -- “We don't have this; we don't have that” -- to me, I'm not real sympathetic. But I am a barbarian. [Media Matters, 3/2/07]