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Ruth: The truth keeps coming out about O’Reilly

By Daniel Ruth | Times columnist
Published: October 23, 2017 Updated: October 23, 2017 at 08:13 PM
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Television host Bill O'Reilly attends the Hollywood Reporter's 2016 35 Most Powerful People in Media at Four Seasons Restaurant on April 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

It’s merely an idle guess, but don’t you suspect that after Bill O’Reilly had paid millions of dollars to settle at least five sexual harassment claims, it would have dawned on him that the James Bond theme does not automatically start playing whenever he finds himself in the company of women?

The $32 million reportedly paid to former Fox News analyst Lis Wiehl may at last have sent a message to O’Reilly. According to the New York Times, the grand total of sexual harassment claims against him is now pegged at about $45 million. That’s a great deal of heavy breathing. Some men collect stamps, coins or matchbooks. O’Reilly seems to have pulled together a notable portfolio of billable hours.

To be sure, O’Reilly joins a long (and growing) list of oafs behaving badly — the late Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, film producer Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood fixture James Toback among them. And let us not forget the creepy conduct toward women of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

Still, O’Reilly certainly represents literally the gold standard of workplace harassment toward female colleagues. It wasn’t as if nobody was aware that O’Reilly seemed to regard the Fox newsroom as the Playboy mansion. As far back as 2004, O’Reilly was making lurid late-night phone calls propositioning producer Andrea Mackris, asking her to do strange things with a "falafel." Good grief; O’Reilly couldn’t even get his sex toys straight.

Time passed, including a $1.6 million settlement with frequent on-air guest Juliet Huddy and seven-figure payouts to other women. And yet O’Reilly continued his behavior, which was just fine with Fox News as long the host pulled in big ratings for his nightly show, which might have been more properly titled The Declassé Zone.

To be sure, O’Reilly is responsible for his actions and the price to be paid for his attacks. But let us not forget for many years his sexual harassment was tolerated by Fox News, and especially Ailes, who engaged in similar behavior. Ratings and the advertising revenue they generated, it seemed, trumped common decency.

It had to be a spin worthy of a whirling dervish when O’Reilly claimed he was innocent of any wrongdoing and only agreed to $45 million in payments out of a loving paternal desire to shield his children from all the accusations. But these were the same children who reportedly witnessed their father abuse their mother. They were quite aware dear old pop was a Daddy Dearest.

Earlier this year, despite all the documented claims of sexual harassment, Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox not only renewed O’Reilly’s contract but bumped up his paycheck to $25 million a year.

But the 21st Century Fox’s leadership, Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James, added a twist to the deal, stipulating that if any future disclosures of a sexual harassment claim became public, O’Reilly would be toast. Really now, did O’Reilly, or anyone at Fox, believe a $32 million settlement to resolve allegations of sexual impropriety wouldn’t eventually leak?

It’s hard to envision O’Reilly ever working in television again. It’s even harder to imagine anyone wanting to buy any of his insufferable "Killing" books. Perhaps Wiehl’s check was so large because the allegations are so explosive, including charges he engaged in nonconsensual sex with her.

O’Reilly was one of the great con men of cable news. He proudly beat his patriotic breast for all that is great and virtuous about America, while behind scenes using his clout to demean and victimize co-workers. And it all came crashing down merely because advertisers had begun to withdraw their support from O’Reilly’s nightly hypocrisy-fest.

His loss of airtime was never about morality. It was about money.