The media today: O’Reilly, Fox News, and the ‘Weinstein effect’

The revelation that Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million to a former Fox News colleague is shocking only in the settlement’s size and and timing. O’Reilly, of course, was removed from his perch as the king of Fox’s primetime lineup in April after The New York Times’s Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt reported on five previous settlements with women who had accused the host of sexual harassment.

According to Steel and Schmidt’s Saturday story, longtime Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl alleged “repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her.” Though Fox was already under fire at the time for its handling of complaints against Roger Ailes, the network rewarded O’Reilly with a new contract—and a significant raise—just a month after he settled with Wiehl.

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Fox News is already under investigation by the US Department of Justice for its handling of harassment complaints, and the new reporting by the Times raises questions about the Murdochs’ handling of their company. The situation at Fox News could also cause trouble for 21st Century Fox’s bid to take over British broadcaster Sky.

The value of persistent reporting by Steel and Schmidt—like that of their colleagues Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in breaking the Harvey Weinstein story—can’t be overlooked when discussing the current focus on sexual harassment in the workplace. In the face of nondisclosure agreements and out-of-court settlements, the journalists got the story and changed the national conversation. Writing on the ties between O’Reilly and Weinstein, the Times’s Jim Rutenberg notes that, “a full, public airing did not come to be until those meddling reporters came along.

Given the attention that Fox News hosts have paid to the Weinstein story, it will be interesting to see whether O’Reilly’s massive settlement receives much, or any, coverage from the network’s primetime opinionators and moralists. I’ll be watching Tucker Carlson tonight…

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.