MANHATTAN (CN) — Bruised by revelations about its efforts to hush up sex scandals dogging the host of its most popular show, 21st Century Fox fired Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday.
“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” the company said in a statement.
As sources whispered to the Wall Street Journal that O’Reilly’s ouster was imminent Wednesday morning, the 67-year-old conservative commentator was photographed shaking hands with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
O’Reilly wished Fox News the best of luck in a statement, expressing his dismay “that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.”
Guest hosts have been filling in for the 20-season veteran broadcaster in the wake of an explosive April 1 report by The New York Times that sexual-harassment complaints against O’Reilly had cost his network $13 million in settlements.
Even with the absence of its namesake and the loss of 60 advertisers, “The O’Reilly Factor” has continued to soar at its 9 p.m. time slot.
Nielsen reported that 3.76 million people tuned in to O’Reilly during the first week after the bombshell. That’s an increase from January when Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper were averaging just 1.8 million and 1.6 million viewers, respectively, at rival networks MSNBC and CNN.
But even an assist from the president of the United States proved unable to save the Fox News star. President Donald Trump had defended O’Reilly in an April 5 interview with The New York Times.
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” said Trump, who also has been accused of serial sexual misconduct against women. “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
On the eve of O’Reilly’s firing, the pundit’s attorney lashed out at what he called a “brutal campaign of character assassination” against his client.
Drawing comparisons to McCarthyism without a trace of historical irony, attorney Marc Kasowitz depicted this campaign a shadowy left-wing plot.
“This law firm has uncovered evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial,” the attorney said in a Twitter post.
Kasowitz, a partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres, did not respond to phone or email requests for comment.
UltraViolet, a Washington-based group that petitioned for O’Reilly’s ouster, blasted Fox for taking so long to terminate a man they call a “serial sexual predator, a bigot and a misogynist.”
“The fact that Fox News is only taking action against O’Reilly after an investigation revealed that they could be defrauding shareholder by not revealing payments made to cover up the abuse, isn’t lost on anyone,” the group’s co-founder Shaunna Thomas wrote in a statement. “The first accusations of sexual assault lobbed against Bill O’Reilly at Fox News were made more than 13 years ago.”
Ultraviolet sent a petition Monday to 21st Century Fox’s CEO James Murdoch, and the group descended outside the Fox News headquarters on Tuesday.
SumOfUs, a San Francisco-based corporate watchdog, sounded an alarm to advertisers at other shows on the network.
“While O’Reilly may be gone now, it would be wise for advertisers to acknowledge that Fox News has a lot more to do if they want to root out systematic patterns of sexual harassment and assault,” its campaigner Nicole Carty said in a statement. “Until then, their brands are at risk.”
Months before the storm over O’Reilly, Fox News ousted CEO Roger Ailes amid allegations by Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and at least 18 other female Fox employees of top-down sexism. Black women working on what they called Fox News’ “infamous” second floor, alongside C-suite staff, filed a lawsuit in the Bronx alleging that institutional racism is also a major problem at the network.
Fox contributor Julie Roginsky was the latest to accuse Ailes on April 3, in a complaint alleging co-president Bill Shine retaliated against her in a cover-up.
Tonight and Thursday, the guest host at “The Factor” is Dana Perino, George W. Bush’s White House press secretary. Greg Gutfeld, a libertarian whose comedy show has run since 2015, will host the final broadcast Friday.