Last night Bill O’Reilly announced he’d be taking a vacation on a trip he says has been scheduled since last fall. “I like to take time off around Easter, it’s calming” he told the audience.
The timing naturally struck most people as suspicious. Aside from starting an Easter vacation on a Wednesday, this came following the barrage of controversy that’s been surrounding O’Reilly this month. On April 1st the New York Times published a report disclosing that O’Reilly and Fox paid $13 million to five woman as settlements for sexual harassment complaints. A majority of advertisers pulled their ads from his show following the revelation, with the show down to only seven advertisers (down from 33).
According to the New York Mag, according to four network sources, there’s talk inside Fox News that tonight’s show could be his last. Lawyers for the law firm Paul, Weiss, hired last summer by 21st Century Fox to investigate Roger Ailes, are currently doing a “deep dive” investigation into O’Reilly’s behavior. They’re focused now on sexual harassment claims by O’Reilly guest Wendy Walsh after she reported her claims via the company’s anonymous hotline.
Fox News co-president Bill Shine has been working hard to keep O’Reilly, sources said. But O’Reilly’s future is in the hands of the Murdochs. “It’s up to the family,” the senior Fox News staffer said. The Murdochs are presently divided over how to handle it. Two highly placed Fox News sources say 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch would like O’Reilly to be permanently taken off the air, while his father, Rupert, and older brother, Lachlan, are more inclined to keep him. (A spokesperson for the Murdochs declined to comment.)
That dynamic — James pushing for swift action, while Rupert resists — played out last summer in the Ailes scandal. James, of course, got his way with Ailes. With more than three dozen advertisers boycotting O’Reilly, Fox staffers speculate the same may happen to O’Reilly, perhaps as early as during his vacation. “The assumption is that he’ll exit in a non-embarrassing way,” one senior Fox News staffer told me.
The O’Reilly factor is Fox News’ cash cow, bringing in over $100 million annually in revenue for the network, but that not be a deciding factor when it comes to his termination. Viewers could simply be more attracted to the Fox News brand than the hosts themselves. Ratings in the 9pm slot, for example, increased when Megyn Kelly was replaced by Tucker Carlson.
Will the same happen in absence of O’Reilly? The network will certainly find out when he’s on “vacation.”
It may be longer than he originally planned.
Note: This post was authored by Matt Palumbo. Follow him on Twitter @MattPalumbo12]