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Oppenheim: The Money Behind O'Reilly

James Murdoch and his brother Lachlan, top executives at parent company News Corporation, say they’ve been trying to clean things up at Fox News. In fact, the Murdochs began saying they’d clean things up after Roger Ailes was fired in August of 2016, and earlier this year, they claim they did.

On April first, The New York Times published an expose on Bill O’Reilly, pugnacious anchor of the nightly show, The O’Reilly Factor, which until then had been thriving. Ratings were through the roof, but behind the scenes the Times reported, O’Reilly and News Corp. had settled at least five sexual harassment cases totaling more than 13 million dollars. A couple weeks later, O'Reilley was fired.

Back to why he was really let go in a moment, but first, it turns out there was a lot more money paid out than 13 million. The Times has now revealed that back in January, O’Reilly personally settled a sexual harassment case with former News contributor Lis Wiehl for 32 million dollars. And right after that, the network signed him to a 4-year contract, averaging a whopping 25 million a year.

James Murdoch insists he didn’t know about O’Reilly’s personal settlement – and to save time I just have to say, I don’t find that credible. The company knew about a series of allegations in general terms, and in fact, paid to settle some of them. But the real story behind the firing of Bill O’Reilly is money.

News Corporation is one of the biggest media companies on the planet. And its subsidiary, Fox News, is a powerhouse, representing 10 percent of the company’s annual revenues of 30 billion. Bill O’Reilly was bringing in revenues in the range of 150 million dollars a year, huge sums in the cable news industry. But when the Times story broke in April, more than half his advertisers fled.

At a time when there’s been a spate of stories about powerful men and sexual harassment, there’s been no shortage of false piety and shame - so in that context, let’s get one thing straight. O’Reilly, despite being a known predator, was kept at Fox News when he represented big bucks. And the moment he no longer did, he was out.

It’s as simple, and depressing, as that.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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