What once seemed unimaginable now seems at least possible.
New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported Tuesday that the Murdoch family is “leaning” toward pulling Bill O’Reilly off of Fox News’ airwaves in the middle of growing pressure from advertisers and activist groups.
NPR’s David Folkenflik and CNN’s Brian Stelter reported later Tuesday that an O’Reilly exit was being discussed. The board of 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, was to meet Thursday and was likely to discuss O’Reilly, according to CNN.
Sources at the company told the Wall Street Journal that the decision could come as early as this week.
The reports came as a new claim against O’Reilly was raised by attorney Lisa Bloom, who said the TV host used to call a black woman who worked as a clerical worker at Fox News “hot chocolate” during her time at the network in 2008. O’Reilly would reportedly make her feel uncomfortable in other ways as well.
“He would never talk to her, not even hello, except to grunt at her like a wild boar,” Bloom told The Hollywood Reporter. “He would leer at her. He would always do this when no one else was around and she was scared.”
Bloom, who said she verified the woman’s story with three witnesses, claims the woman feared she would lose her job if she complained at the time. She added that the woman wants no money, but has registered a complaint with the Fox News hotline in light of recent news about the host ― a service that apparently many female employees at the network only recently came to learn about.
Later on Tuesday in a statement provided to CNN’s Dylan Byers, O’Reilly lawyer Marc Kasowitz argued that the claims were part of an “orchestrated campaign by activists” to bring O’Reilly down.
“It is outrageous that an allegation from an anonymous person about something that purportedly happened almost a decade ago is being treated as fact, especially where there is obviously an orchestrated campaign by activists and lawyers to destroy Mr. O’Reilly and enrich themselves through publicity driven donations,” Kasowitz said.
In a second statement to Beyers, Kasowitz said his client “has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America,” and “irrefutable” evidence of a smear campaign would be unveiled soon.
O’Reilly, who remains cable news’ most dominant figure, went on vacation last week as advertisers dropped him by the dozens following a New York Times investigation that revealed the Fox News Network and the host had paid at least $13 million to settle five claims of sexual harassment.
More claims have continued to surface about the host’s actions ― some of them from the most unlikely of sources.
At least 70 advertisers have decided to no longer advertise on “The O’Reilly Factor,” which remains Fox News’ biggest show by far. But “O’Reilly Factor” viewers remain committed to their host. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 65 percent of people who watch the show still hold a favorable view of him, and only 9 percent of his Republican viewers think the show should be canceled.
The show’s ratings also dropped 26 percent in the first three days he was gone, further proof of O’Reilly’s influence, both nationally and internally at Fox News.
Sherman reports that James Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch have been arguing to their father, Rupert, that the network must rid itself of O’Reilly, but Rupert remains unsure, not wanting to appear to be bowing to outside pressure from outlets like The New York Times.
But on Tuesday, even Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report couldn’t help but think that O’Reilly’s days might be numbered.
This article has been updated to include reports that Fox executives are discussing O’Reilly’s exit, and a 21st Century Fox board meeting on Thursday will consider his fate.
Chris D’Angelo contributed reporting.