Amid a scandal involving the settlement of multiple sexual harassment claims that has cost his Fox News show over half its advertisers, Bill O’Reilly announced Tuesday evening he was leaving for a pre-planned vacation.
“We all need R&R. Put it to good use,” O’Reilly told viewers of The O’Reilly Factor at the end of his program.
O’Reilly said he scheduled the trip “last fall,” which would have been long before the bombshell New York Times report that five former Fox News personalities were paid $13 million as part of settlements involving harassment claims.
A spokeswoman for the network confirmed that O’Reilly is expected to return on April 24th. A rotating cast of fill-in hosts will take O’Reilly’s place while he is away.
Despite assurances of his return, an abrupt mid-week vacation coming as an advertising boycott has claimed over 60 sponsors creates obvious questions about O'Reilly's future with the network. One source, a contributor to the network who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said for the first time there is open chatter about who will replace O’Reilly if and when he leaves his popular show.
In addition, New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman reports that 21st Century Fox CEO Jamie Murdoch wants O'Reilly taken off the air permanently, and is locked in a fight with Fox News Co-President Bill Shine, who wants the embattled host to stick around. His father, Rupert, and older brother, Lachlan, also reportedly back O'Reilly and want him to remain on the network.
A spokesperson for Murdoch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move also comes days after radio talk-show host Wendy Walsh filed a formal complaint about O’Reilly’s actions to a 21st Century Fox hotline. Walsh, once a contributor to The O’Reilly Factor, claims she was denied a job as a paid contributor and eventually removed from the show when she refused to visit O’Reilly in his hotel suite.
21st Century Fox confirmed on Sunday they are investigating Walsh’s claims about O’Reilly’s behavior, enlisting the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate the accusation.
At last count, over 60 companies have said they will no longer advertise on the show following the revelations made in the New York Times story (a full list can be seen here).
The boycott hasn't yet hurt the bottom line at Fox News, which has said most companies have shifted their advertisements to other programs on the network. But the growing list of companies refusing to advertise on The O'Reilly Factor has created a public-relations nightmare for executives at the network, and at the very least, it gives executives at the network some breathing room to see if it can weather the storm caused by the advertising backlash.
Despite the bad publicity, ratings are actually up for O’Reilly, as people tuned in to see if the outspoken host would break his silence on the claims made in the Times story. Last week, The O’Reilly Factor averaged over 3.7 million total viewers, an increase of 28 percent over the previous week. O’Reilly’s show was the second most popular show on cable television last week, topped only by USA Network’s Monday Night Raw.
21st Century Fox responded to the Times report earlier this month, saying in a statement it “denies the merits of these claims.” And O’Reilly said in a statement on his website that he settled the claims in order to “put to rest any controversies to spare my children.”
O'Reilly isn't the first embattled Fox News host to take a vacation amid a growing advertiser boycott. Back in 2009, Glenn Beck announced he was taking a vacation as critics blasted him for calling President Obama "a racist." At the time, there were reports that Beck would not return to his Fox News show, but ultimately he did, and remained on the network for two more years, until losses in both advertisers and ratings let to him transitioning off the network in 2011.