Sure we’ll believe it. Why? Fox News has a contract with Bill O’Reilly, that’s why, which means that he could make their lives miserable for a long time and drag out whatever embarrassment the company has experienced since the New York Times revealed that they’ve paid out $13 million to settle five sexual harassment claims. That gives O’Reilly leverage, and Fox a good reason to settle again.
So how much will he get? Eight figures, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter. But that may not mean quite as much as it seems:
Bill O’Reilly will be paid tens of millions of dollars on his way out of Fox News.
“It is a staggering amount,” said a source personally involved in the exit maneuverings. …
But two well-placed sources confirmed to CNNMoney that O’Reilly does have a parachute. That’s because O’Reilly signed a new contract right before being ousted.
The two sources, who spoke independently of one another, said the new contract was worth about $25 million per year.
This means that even just paying out the remainder of the current year on the contract involves “tens of millions of dollars.” That’s because O’Reilly was already getting paid a “staggering amount” every year, and Fox thought he was worth it. Until recently, anyway.
Stelter notes that the new contract runs either through 2020 or into early 2021, and that would put its total rumored value at $100 million. That provides a large range for settling the termination without going to court — and 21st Century Fox certainly doesn’t want that to happen. Imagine all of the discovery that could emerge when O’Reilly defends himself in a lawsuit targeting the top executives. That’s why they paid out the $13 million to settle the five earlier cases. This demonstrates why contract employment is better than at-will, and why everyone in these positions have the former rather than the latter.
In essence, Fox had to put a value on privacy while getting O’Reilly out the door. Under these conditions, that value was always going to be eight figures, not less. They’d just prefer not to pay off the whole contract, and it sounds as though they avoided it. According to Sarah Ellison at Vanity Fair, sources put the severance figure at $40 million (the same as Roger Ailes’), which would be less than two year’s salary and less than half of the rumored value of the contract.
Ellison also reports that Fox is bracing for more negotiations, although hopefully less costly:
The most unsettling feeling among some at Fox News, however, is that Wednesday’s events are only the beginning. “There’s more to come,” one Fox News insider told me, suggesting that there are more women with stories of harassment who have not come forward publicly. This estimation was affirmed by two people who heard such stories directly. Others are equally concerned about the attention that is being drawn to 21st Century Fox’s handling of the allegations by women inside the company.
In the end, the cost of cutting O’Reilly loose might be a loss leader on a bigger deal anyway. Bloomberg News points out that $40 million won’t significantly dent the bottom line for 21st Century Fox, and could open the door to more profits:
However difficult it might be for Fox to replace all the revenue O’Reilly generated, the uproar was a distraction for 21st Century Fox as it seeks regulatory clearance for its $14.6 billion acquisition of Sky, the U.K.-based satellite-TV provider. That deal needs approval from the British regulator Ofcom, which will decide whether the takeover breaches British rules on media plurality and broadcasting standards, and whether Sky would continue to be a “fit and proper” holder of a broadcast license.
The U.S civil rights group Color of Change has asked Ofcom to investigate Fox’s corporate practices before approving the Sky purchase, alleging “rampant racial discrimination and sexual harassment” at the company.
“If you believe that the Sky transaction is a strategically good thing, then elements that put the transaction at risk are much more important than Bill O’Reilly,” said Pivotal’s Wieser. Fox has mitigated the damage but “this isn’t settled by any stretch. There are still issues to overcome here on that fit-and-proper test.”
If they get that deal, the payout to O’Reilly will be forgotten quickly … even if the allegations of harassment and abuse are not. Get ready to hear from former Fox anchors and analysts such as Alyson Camerota and Kirsten Powers discussing the “pervasive” harassment at Fox under Ailes at length … in their positions at other networks after having left Fox. There are prices to pay that don’t involve cash and severance packages for paying off rather than addressing the issues, and Fox will have to pay them for quite a while. That’s a sunk cost that they can’t avoid.
Update: According to Reuters, it might not even be that much:
UPDATE: Bill O'Reilly to receive maximum payout of one year's salary following Fox News ouster – source pic.twitter.com/BNYsF1KFV8
— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) April 20, 2017
That’s still eight figures, but it’s now more like $20-25 million.
Update: NBC chimes in with the specific number:
Bill O’Reilly’s sudden departure from Fox News is netting him a payout of $25 million, a source with knowledge of O’Reilly’s contract has told NBC News.
The former Fox anchor inked a new four-year contract last month guaranteeing he make that much annually, a person with knowledge of that contract told NBC News. The contract did allow Fox to fire him in general if controversy was harming the network, the person added.
All things considered (which is another network I know), this isn’t all that impressive a severance for O’Reilly. Looks more like a contract minimum.