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While Fox News' ratings success in Donald Trump's early months as POTUS is unprecedented -- spelling? -- the network has been unable to distance itself from an increasing number of inflammatory sexual harassment lawsuits, and Fox News superman Bill O'Reilly has been at the center of several such lawsuits. Over the weekend, it was reported that over the years, O'Reilly settled suits with several different women for lucrative payouts that equal around $13 million. And it didn't take long for the longtime anchor to put out a public response.
Just like other prominent and controversial people, I'm vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me 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. But most importantly, I'm a father who cares deeply for my children and who would do anything to avoid hurting them in any way. And so I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children. The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel. Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children. My primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.
As anyone can read there in the statement posted on his website, Bill O'Reilly didn't exactly dispute all or any of the New York Times' report that he and Fox News made out-of-court settlements with five women who came forward and formally complained about his behavior in the workplace. (To be clear, one of the lawsuits in this story involved O'Reilly getting verbally abusive with a producer in front of others in the newsroom, and doesn't appear to be anything involving harassment of a sexual nature.) Though he does seem to be denying the claims themselves by saying they exist to draw him into negative publicity. And in fact, his reason for the payout settlements is that he wants to keep his children safe and free from whatever pain these accusations would bring them.
While wanting to protect one's kids is obviously the easiest way for anyone to provoke sympathy in a situation where he or she has been accused of making sexual offers to employees after promising them professional advancement, coughing up money to settle a lawsuit is hardly an indicator that the accused is guilty of anything. Multiple accusations of that caliber would be a nightmare scenario for both the network and O'Reilly if everything went to trial, regardless of whether the claims had any merit or not, and it's fairly common practice for celebs and well-known companies to take a small financial loss to keep as little attention as possible on a particular incident or incidents. That presents its own ethical rabbit hole that we won't even thinking about jumping into.
According to the NYT's report, two of those settlements came in the aftermath of former head honcho Roger Ailes getting ousted after his own series of controversial sexual harassment lawsuits, while another two were previously reported. (One with a producer in 2004 and another one last year with on-air personality Juliet Huddy.) The claims involved with these cases involved the host making lewd comments, unwarranted flirting and phone calls during which O'Reilly appeared to be masturbating.
Fox News' troubles didn't start with Roger Ailes' scandals, but they certainly got worse from there. Things had almost been quiet at Fox News behind the scenes in the past few months, more or less, but these reports have turned renewed attention to what could be happening at the network behind closed doors.