Joey Jackson writes that people are curious about what took Fox so long to deal with O'Reilly's troubled history
One key question: Why did they pay him tens of millions to leave the network?
Editor’s Note: Joey Jackson is a criminal defense attorney and a legal analyst for CNN and HLN. The views expressed here are solely his.
Yet another seismic shift has occurred at Fox News, as conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly is officially out amid a sea of sexual harassment allegations. And people are asking some important questions, like: Why did it take so long for the company to act on allegations of harassment that had been developing for years? And why did Fox pay O’Reilly tens of millions of dollars to leave?
This follows Roger Ailes’ exit this past July, with allegations that sound eerily similar. It is said that one reaps what they sow. And given the seeds that were apparently planted by both Ailes and O’Reilly, it was just a matter of time before their positions became untenable – and a new day dawned. A day when hard-working and professional woman would be respected, honored and valued for their talents – and not objectified and ogled over their looks.
But what on earth took so long? This appears to have been much more than a few isolated incidents, but rather an ingrained culture at the network.
Roger Ailes was allegedly a serial sexual harasser who reportedly engaged in these shenanigans for years, before justice finally caught up with him – and he was forced out. (Ailes and O’Reilly have each denied allegations of sexual harassment.)
And then, with full knowledge of Bill O’Reilly’s history, and notwithstanding a string of allegations against him involving multiple women, which settled for millions of dollars, the Fox anchor was recently rewarded with a new contract worth a reported $25 million per year.
But then, everything changed. Fox said that they were parting ways with O’Reilly “after a thorough and careful review of the allegations.” Really? I thought such an investigation was undertaken last summer prior to Ailes’ ouster. What did that investigation miss?
We’re left to wonder whether the latest “thorough investigation” included losing nearly 60 advertisers who pulled their money from O’Reilly’s show. Or did that “thorough investigation” include evaluating the coordinated response from woman rights organizations who worked tirelessly to stand up for women who had been demeaned by O’Reilly for far too long?
To their credit, these groups applied enormous and relentless pressure by making the public aware of O’Reilly’s alleged behavior. Given the fallout and the bevy of advertisers who were taking their money away from O’Reilly’s show, Fox had no choice but to sever ties with him.
But this leads to another issue which has almost everyone scratching their heads. First, Ailes walks away with a reported $40 million last summer after his alleged transgressions against women. And now, O’Reilly is leaving with tens of millions after doing likewise. How did that happen?
The answer is both legal and practical. From a legal perspective, the company has simply opted to terminate O’Reilly’s services, and to essentially honor the balance of his contract. Since O’Reilly had years left on his contract prior to his ouster, Fox will pay out what’s required pursuant to an agreement between the parties, without asking him to perform any additional services for the network.
CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that “Fox is on the hook for one years’ salary” but not the full term of the multiyear contract, according to one of the sources involved in O’Reilly’s exit discussions.
We commonly see this in sports, for example, when a manager is fired. The organization will honor the balance of the contract, yet have the manager stay home. In this instance, Fox has essentially said the familiar phrase to O’Reilly: “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
But is Fox compelled to pay him all this money? The answer is no. Fox could opt to enforce the “morals clause” which is typically in such contracts, and which is a provision mandating that he not act in any way that’s detrimental to Fox, or that otherwise impairs their brand. But from a practical perspective, this would mean litigation, courtrooms and public fights.
Remember, O’Reilly has denied the allegations and has called them “unfounded.” Therefore, legal proceedings would ensue going to the merits of the claims, and O’Reilly would have his day in court. This would most certainly impair Fox’s brand much more by keeping this case in the news – instead of turning the page, and simply cutting a check. Fox then, has opted to make a practical business decision.
Never underestimate the power of women. You would think that after two decades in the “no spin zone,” O’Reilly would have learned that lesson well. Even at age 67, he apparently had not. He certainly has now – as has Fox. And at a heck of a price.