Before he was fired from his job on April 19, Bill O’Reilly was Fox News’ most lucrative host. But while he was bringing the network hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, he was also fighting off multiple lawsuits and accusations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse by women who worked with him. All this time, until now, the network stood by his side.
A number of the legal entanglements and allegations against him go back well over a decade and can be credited with giving new meaning to certain words, like “loofah” and “falafel.” More recently, The New York Times uncovered three settlements in lawsuits waged by different women. The accusations against O’Reilly in these and other cases included allegations that he made lewd comments in phone conversations, issued threats, and publicly berated a young woman in front of her colleagues. The Times also named two women who did not sue O’Reilly but said they had been harassed by him.
“It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims,” O’Reilly said in a statement following his firing. “But that is the unfortunate reality that many of us in the public eye must live with today.” O’Reilly will be leaving the network with a payout of up to $25 million, the Times reported.
Fox News, which for much of O’Reilly’s tenure was headed by Roger Ailes, himself accused of sexual harassment and pushed out in 2016, might have considered firing its star anchor much earlier, based on the long list of scandals attached to his name. Here’s a sample:
In 2004, a producer on O’Reilly’s show, Andrea Mackris, filed a lawsuit in which she accused O’Reilly of harassing her over the phone. He allegedly describing his sexual fantasies to her, involving, in one case, Mackris, a shower, and a loofah, an item he allegedly got mixed up at one point and mistakenly referred to as a falafel. O’Reilly in turn sued Mackris, disputing the claims and alleging that she was trying to shake him down. He ended up settling with her for a reported $9 million. During this time, his show’s ratings shot up 30%.
After his divorce in 2011, O’Reilly was involved in a bitter custody battle for his two children with ex-wife Maureen McPhilmy. According to court documents obtained by Gawker in 2015, the couple’s daughter told a court investigator that she saw O’Reilly “choking her mom” and “dragging her down the stairs.” O’Reilly said that “all allegations against me in these circumstances are 100% false.” A court gave custody to McPhilmy in 2016, but the legal battle between the two continued this year.
Just months before his ouster, another accusation against O’Reilly came to light. The New York Times reported in January that he had settled a lawsuit with Fox News host Juliet Huddy, who said O’Reilly tried to have a sexual relationship with her. His alleged attempts included phone calls in which he sounded like he was masturbating. O’Reilly flatly denied the accusations.
O’Reilly’s media brethren have repeatedly caught him in lies or half-truths—some similar to false claims made by NBC anchor Brian Williams, who was suspended and later demoted for the behavior.
For example, O’Reilly repeatedly claimed over the years that he had been in a “war zone” and “combat situation” covering the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina in 1982. According to O’Reilly’s former colleagues from CBS, where he worked at the time, no American or CBS reporter was on the ground on the Falkland Islands during that time, Mother Jones reported in 2015. O’Reilly defended himself, claiming he had never said he was on the islands where the fighting was happening, just that he covered the conflict, including violent protests in Argentina. Fox News supported its star host.
O’Reilly claimed in his book Killing Kennedy that he had been present when George de Mohrenschildt, a friend of John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, committed suicide in Florida in 1977. A journalist who had interviewed de Mohrenschildt on that day disputed this claim, while CNN obtained tapes that indicated O’Reilly was going to Florida only after he heard about the suicide. O’Reilly called the accusations an “attack” from the left.
When the allegations about the de Mohrenschildt were surfaced in 2015, other accounts of O’Reilly’s reporting exploits came under scrutiny: several of his former colleagues at Fox disputed his claims that he was attacked with rocks and bricks during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and Fox News had to admit he had never seen terrorist bombings in Belfast, as he claimed in another book.
Of course, these are just the most egregious examples of the personal and journalistic transgressions of which O’Reilly has been accused. There are also countless examples of the host being simply offensive and inaccurate, from his retort to a Jewish caller that if he didn’t like schools celebrating Christmas, he should “go to Israel,” or claiming that the slaves who built the White House were “well-fed.”