Months after his April firing from Fox News, disgraced former TV host Bill O’Reilly is back in the news after allegations broke that last January, shortly before signing a $100 million contract renewal with Fox, O’Reilly made a $32 million agreement to settle sexual harassment claims brought against him by former colleague and Fox News analyst Lis Wiehl. Here’s five things you need to know:
1. Fox Gave O’Reilly a $100 Million Contract Renewal Weeks After the Settlement
On Oct. 21, the New York Times was the first to break the news about O’Reilly’s $32 million sexual harassment settlement with Wiehl the previous January. The Times said that Wiehl’s complaints included “allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her.”
Wiehl’s is the sixth known sexual harassment settlement against O’Reilly, and far larger than all previous settlements combined: last April, when 21st Century Fox cancelled The O’Reilly Factor and fired its host, it was known that the company had paid out more than $13 million total, to settle five different sexual harassment claims brought against O’Reilly by either colleagues or guests on his show. (O’Reilly’s firing, in turn, happened in part because news of the previous five sexual harassment suits against O’Reilly inspired a mass exodus of advertisers from the show.)
Between Wiehl’s settlement and the five previous claims against O’Reilly, the network had paid over $45 million to settle lawsuits related to his behavior — yet in February, the network still gave O’Reilly a four-year contract extension at $25 million per year.
2. Fox Defended Its Decision to Renew O’Reilly’s Contract Despite His History of Harassment
On Saturday, when the New York Times initially published the bombshell story of O’Reilly’s $32 million settlement with Wiehl mere weeks before 21st Century Fox signed O’Reilly to a $100 million contract renewal, Times reporters Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt wrote this about the network’s response:
In a statement, 21st Century Fox said it was not privy to the amount of the settlement and regarded Mr. O’Reilly’s January settlement, which was reached with a 15-year Fox News analyst named Lis Wiehl, as a personal issue between the two of them.
The Times also discussed how O’Reilly’s show was very lucrative for the network, with The O’Reilly Factor generating hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue. The Times quoted the network as saying it “surely would have wanted to renew” O’Reilly’s contract since “he was the biggest star in cable TV.”
But Fox also told the Times that O’Reilly’s contract included new provisions allowing the company to dismiss O’Reilly should his behavior or new information about it warrant such action. When Fox cancelled The O’Reilly Factor and fired its host in April, this showed that “The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract,” as reported by the Times.
3. On The O’Reilly Factor, Lis Wiehl Hosted a Regular Segment Called “Is It Legal?”
In 2012, Westchester Magazine published “a profile of legal expert Lisa [sic] Wiehl of Larchmont.” (Wiehl’s full first name is “Lis,” from the Danish word for “light.”) Among Wiehl’s other accomplishments, Westchester mentioned the then-“50-year-old law professor’s time doing commentary on MSNBC and CNN, her work on the radio, her New York Times articles, [and] her legal guides.”
At the time, however, anyone who recognized Wiehl mostly likely did so from her appearances on Bill O’Reilly’s TV show. However, Wiehl’s professional relationship with O’Reilly started not on television but on the radio; Westchester mentions Wiehl’s “seven years as Bill O’Reilly’s sparring partner on the nationally syndicated “Radio Factor.”
Before working with O’Reilly and Fox, Wiehl was a legal correspondent for “All Things Considered” on NPR. In the late 1990s, Wiehl served as legal counsel for Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Bill Clinton Impeachment Debate.
4. Wiehl Is Also a Law Professor & a Mystery Novelist
Wiehl is also a prolific author, having written over a dozen mystery novels as well as some nonfiction works. Her 2010 novel “Hand of Fate” is a murder mystery whose victim is an opinionated talk-radio host named Jim Fate — a character which, Wiehl cheerfully admitted at the time, she’d based on O’Reilly. In May 2011, Fox News ran an online radio clip under the headline “Lis Wiehl ‘Kills’ O’Reilly in New Book.”
On her Twitter account, where her bio describes her as “Author, Former Federal Prosecutor and Fox News Legal Analyst,” Wiehl posts only infrequently, with the majority of recent tweets dedicated to promoting various books. As of presstime on Oct. 21, the day the Times broke its story, Wiehl’s only Twitter activity that day was a tweet mentioning a 99-cent sale on one of her ebooks.
That was only the 17th tweet Wiehl had made since August 28, all linking to opportunities to buy her books. But on August 18, she tweeted a link to an op-ed blog post she’d written, calling it “A Sad Day in America” when “President Trump equated the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville with the peaceful counter-protesters.”
5. Wiehl Was Raised in a Legal/Law Enforcement Family
Westchester Magazine’s 2012 profile of Wiehl notes that she’s the third generation in her family to serve as a federal prosecutor: her paternal grandfather was one, and her father became one after first pursuing a career in the FBI.
In her blog, Wiehl offered this anecdote to summarize the values she was raised to have:
My father was an FBI agent. When I was growing up, he stressed to my brother and me his core belief that all men are created equal and that black Americans deserved the same rights as white Americans. He was passionate about seeing justice done. When I was 4, he took me to a civil rights march in Dallas, where he was stationed. We were two of just a handful of white faces in the crowd. I was proud of my dad that day and I’m proud of him today. It’s hardly a coincidence that I became a lawyer and federal prosecutor.
She told Westchester that during her prosecutorial days, her specialty was prosecuting hired killers. “One of the prosecutors in my office was murdered, and two people went to jail for threatening me,” she said. “That’s part of the job. And any prosecutor who says they’re not bothered by that is fibbing, or stronger than I am.