Mind-boggling: The $32 million Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment settlement

I can’t get my head around the number. Do a google search of large wrongful death settlements — not sexual harassment, not assault, not rape, actual death — and you’ll find law firms touting blockbuster agreements they’ve brokered for their clients of … around $8 million. The famous O.J. civil verdict in favor of Ron Goldman’s family was $33.5 million but only $8.5 million of that was compensatory damages.

A $32 million settlement from one individual to another individual is a staggering, bank-breaking sum, more than a year’s gross salary even for the fantastically successful 8 p.m. host on America’s most successful cable news network. Last night Gretchen Carlson, who knows well what it’s like to be harassed at Fox, tweeted, “Nobody pays $32m for false allegations – nobody.” Try to imagine a scenario in which you’d part with that kind of change to silence someone if their accusations were meritless. Now try to imagine how grave the accusations must have been to even put a number like that on the table. Again, it costs far, far less to kill someone.

I wonder how much Harvey Weinstein paid in the largest settlement he reached with one of his accusers. A small fraction of $32 million, most likely.

Although the deal has not been previously made public, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, acknowledges that it was aware of [Lis Wiehl’s] complaints about Mr. O’Reilly. They included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter…

Asked about the allegation of a nonconsensual sexual relationship, a representative for Mr. O’Reilly, Mark Fabiani, said that 21st Century Fox was “well aware” Ms. Wiehl had signed a sworn affidavit “renouncing all allegations against him,” adding that after receiving the document Fox News offered Mr. O’Reilly “a record breaking contract.”…

In response to questions about why he sent sexually explicit material to Ms. Wiehl, Mr. O’Reilly said that during his time at the network, he had been sent threatening messages almost every day, including some that had obscene material. To deal with this problem, Mr. O’Reilly said, he set up a system in which the material would be forwarded to his lawyers so they could evaluate whether he needed to take any legal action. Mr. O’Reilly said Ms. Wiehl was among those lawyers.

O’Reilly denies everything, of course. His lawyer called the Times story “defamatory” in a statement but didn’t specify why and didn’t challenge the eye-popping $32 million figure. He also noted that “dozens” of women at Fox News came forward after Ailes was let go in 2015 alleging that they’d been harassed by “scores” of men at the network and that 21st Century Fox had paid out — deep breath — close to $100 million in settlements to resolve the claims. Clearly he’s insinuating that there’s been a feeding frenzy of bogus accusations by greedy women eager to shake down deep-pocketed Fox personnel, never mind that O’Reilly already had three settlements under his belt from over the years by the time Ailes departed. An obvious question: If the halls of Fox News are crawling with sociopathic women willing to destroy a man’s reputation with lies about harassment to make a buck, why haven’t the very rich Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, or Bret Baier been accused? Maybe the reason dozens of women made accusations and received settlements is because … there really was a culture of harassment at Fox?

His settlement with Wiehl is O’Reilly’s sixth, by the way. Mary Katharine Ham, who did guest shots on his show remotely from D.C. for years, asks another good question:

The Weinstein Company got righteously clubbed a few weeks ago by commentators gawking at the fact that Weinstein’s contract allegedly had a pay-to-prey clause that gave the firm no means to fire him over settlements with accusers. All he had to do was pay the company itself a million dollars for each infraction and his job was safe. 21st Century Fox *did* have a clause in O’Reilly’s contract that allowed them to terminate him for reasons related to harassment and they eventually put that clause to good use, as they noted yesterday in a statement. In that sense the Weinstein and O’Reilly situations are different. But in another sense they’re similar: The Weinstein Company signed Weinstein to a new deal after he’d already paid out multiple settlements. Same with Fox and O’Reilly, and Fox doesn’t have the excuse that the “problem” employee in this case was the man who founded the firm and whose name was on it. They knew that Wiehl had threatened him with a lawsuit in January, by their own admission, yet re-signed him anyway the following month after it was settled. In fact, according to the Times, there’s reason to think Fox might still have O’Reilly on the payroll if not for a federal investigation that all but ensured the Wiehl settlement would eventually become public. Per the NYT’s timeline, it was just six days after Fox’s lawyer warned the company that the details would come out that O’Reilly was canned. What if there had been no investigation? Would his employment have outlasted Big Harv’s?

Here’s the most O’Reilly-friendly version of events that I can think of based on the timeline. Whether deliberately or by happenstance, Wiehl’s lawsuit threat came at a moment when it would put the most pressure on O’Reilly. He was in a custody battle with his wife at the time and was on the verge of a big new contract with Fox that was worth around $100 million over four years. Wiehl’s allegations, especially ones that involved a “nonconsensual” sexual relationship(!!!), could have blown all of that up. The media would have went to town with the story, cheered on by O’Reilly nemeses like Media Matters. To protect himself in the custody dispute and to make sure that his deal with Fox went through, he might have been willing to pay unusually big bucks to buy Wiehl’s silence. But even then: $32 million. Gretchen Carlson, who took down the most powerful man in American news and arguably the most powerful figure in the conservative movement since the death of Reagan, received “only” $20 million in her settlement by comparison — and that was a settlement with a corporate entity, Fox News, not an individual like O’Reilly. It’s hard to imagine Wiehl demanding fully a third of O’Reilly’s pre-tax earnings for the next four years and getting it, even with maximum leverage in terms of timing, if her accusations were bogus. Which raises the question: What sort of evidence was/is Wiehl sitting on?

Here’s Tucker Carlson, the man who replaced O’Reilly at 8, recently criticizing a “culture of systematic sexual abuse.”