Bill O’Reilly Breaks His Silence After His Exit From Fox News
“I am sad that I am not on television anymore.”
With those words, Bill O’Reilly broke his silence on Monday evening, addressing listeners for the first time since he wasousted from Fox News
amid revelations that he and the network paid millions of dollars to settle allegations of sexual harassment against him by multiple women.
After 20 years as the king of cable news, Mr. O’Reilly’s return to broadcasting came not on camera, but in a 19-minute recorded podcast on his personal website. At the outset, he acknowledged to his fans that this was “a completely different experience than what you’ve had in the past.”
“I was very surprised how it all turned out,” Mr. O’Reilly said of his forced exit last week from Fox News. “I can’t say a lot because there’s much stuff going on right now. But I can tell you that I’m very confident the truth will come out. And when it does — I don’t know if you’re going to be surprised, but I think you’re going to be shaken, as I am.”
Mr. O’Reilly said that he would record a current-events podcast on his subscription-based website, airing four nights a week, that he hoped would soon develop “into a genuine news program.” But he demurred on offering further details about his abrupt removal from the air.
“I can’t say any more because I just don’t want to influence the flow of the information, O.K.?” Mr. O’Reilly said. “I don’t want the media to take what I say and misconstrue it. You, as a loyal O’Reilly listener, have a right to know, down the lane, what exactly happened and we are working in that direction.”
The re-emergence of Mr. O’Reilly, who was vacationing in Italy when Fox decided to dismiss him last Wednesday, came an hour before his successor at 8 p.m., Tucker Carlson, made his on-air debut in the time slot.
In a direct address to viewers, Mr. Carlson called himself a devoted O’Reilly fan who “marveled at how prepared he was, how tough he was, and how crisply and directly he expressed his views.”
“What O’Reilly did was not easy,” Mr. Carlson said, just before the opening credits rolled. “He set a high bar. I’m going to do my best to meet it. Thanks for sticking with us.”
Mr. Carlson’s debut marked a crucial first test of Fox News’s hastily revamped prime-time lineup. The ensemble show “The Five” was moved from the afternoon to the 9 p.m. slot, featuring a new co-host, Jesse Watters, a former O’Reilly protégé.
Inside Fox News, there is still widespread unease about what the abrupt exit of Mr. O’Reilly means for the network. Without Mr. O’Reilly on the air, ratings at 8 p.m. last week dipped nearly 30 percent from his average for the first three months of the year.
The network was also hit on Monday with a new lawsuit from a former anchor, Andrea Tantaros, who claimed that senior executives at Fox News spied on her and created an online campaign to harass her. The network denied all wrongdoing.
In a brief statement on the day he was let go, Mr. O’Reilly praised his former employer, and he restated that sentiment again Monday night. “Look, I was there for 20 years and six months,” he said on his podcast. “That vehicle was fabulous for me, and I said in the beginning that I’m sad, but why wouldn’t I wish them the best? They were there, we performed well for them, and that’s the fact.”
The podcast featured no guests, graphics or blaring headlines, and Mr. O’Reilly’s usual I-know-best tone seemed softened, even plaintive at times. But elements of the usual O’Reilly attitude broke through.
He promoted his new book, “Old School: Life in the Sane Lane,” and talked up a planned national tour, listing four separate cities where he would soon be appearing (“Plenty of good seats remain”). He bashed the mainstream media, defended President Trump, and threw in a dig at Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, saying she “could never get elected anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.”
Back at Fox News, the pressure is on. Mr. O’Reilly was the linchpin of its evening lineup, with a loyal following that swelled to nearly 4 million viewers a night earlier this year. It was his best-ever viewership — and a bountiful lead-in for his fellow anchors.
But last week, with Mr. O’Reilly off the network, ratings fell.
Network executives pointed out that, even without Mr. O’Reilly, the “Factor” was still attracting slightly more viewers than the year before. Still, last Friday’s “Factor” drew 2.84 million viewers, less than that day’s 5 p.m. edition of “The Five” and a 6 p.m. airing of Bret Baier’s “Special Report,” according to Nielsen statistics.
Concerns about the treatment of women at the network also remain.
Ms. Tantaros, a host who left the network last year, filed her lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday.
Among the listed defendants were Fox News’s former chairman, Roger E. Ailes, and several senior-level executives at the company, including its co-president, Bill Shine.
This is Ms. Tantaros’s third lawsuit involving her tenure at Fox News. She sued Mr. Ailes and the network last year, saying that Mr. Ailes had sexually harassed her; that suit is currently in arbitration. She filed a separate suit last week in the State Supreme Court of New York, claiming that Fox News tried to undermine her credibility by instigating a derogatory Twitter post about her.
Monday’s lawsuit states that Fox News hacked into Ms. Tantaros’s digital devices and eavesdropped on her phone calls, as retaliation for her claims against Mr. Ailes. Ms. Tantaros says in the suit that a fleet of anonymous social media accounts, known as “sock puppets,” used the information to send her subtle and disconcerting signals that she was being watched.
“The key question here is whether the Murdochs are serious when they say they want to usher in a new era at Fox,” said Judd Burstein, Ms. Tantaros’s lawyer.
The network vigorously denied the accusations in a statement from its outside counsel, Dechert.
Fox News executives “have no knowledge of the anonymous or pseudonymous tweets described,” the statement said. “This lawsuit is a flimsy pretext to keep Ms. Tantaros and her sexual harassment claims in the public eye.”
Susan Estrich, a lawyer for Mr. Ailes, dismissed the new lawsuit as meritless and “an obvious attempt to get publicity,” adding: “The courts and the parties should not be burdened by repeated filings such as this.”