Bill O’Reilly will receive a “maximum” payout of one year’s salary, according to a report on CNBC, citing a source with knowledge of the contract.
That would amount to $25 million under the terms of the contract extension he signed in March. (Various media sources, including CNN, have reported that his new deal was significantly higher than other estimates that had been reported in recent days.) The Financial Times also confirmed O’Reilly’s exit package would be limited to $25 million.
In contrast, former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes left during the summer with a $40 million golden parachute.
21st Century Fox appears to have anticipated problems with O’Reilly during negotiations.
According to The Washington Post, O’Reilly signed his new contract — which reportedly extended until the next election — in March, before The New York Times’ April 1 story on harassment claims. Per the Post, 21st Century Fox had been aware of the Times investigation for months even before that. The Times investigations may have sent up red flags during the negotiation process.
According to a Thursday CNN report, the company incorporated a series of “outs” into the new deal, meaning it could fire O’Reilly for cause without incurring the sort of financial hit that came with the Ailes severance.
Initially, it appeared O’Reilly would indeed weather the devastating Times story — in part because Fox already knew about the $13 million in harassment claims paid to five women dating back to the mid-’00s. What the company did not anticipate was the fallout: The withdrawal of some 50 advertisers from “The O’Reilly Factor,” pickets outside Fox’s Sixth Avenue headquarters, and the call for his firing by various women’s organizations, including the National Organization for Women.
Only after a former Fox News Channel guest commentator, Wendy Walsh, called a company hotline on April 5 that was set up in the wake of allegations against Ailes, was O’Reilly’s fate apparently determined. That call triggered an obligatory investigation of Walsh’s allegations, and when other women — the Times reported that at least two others called the hotline — those also had to be investigated. A report of the findings was given to 21st Century Fox Wednesday in advance of a board meeting Thursday. Upon reviewing those, O’Reilly was fired.
It’s unclear what other severance terms were built into his exit agreement. In the media industry, such exit agreements typically include “noncompete” clauses, although that may be moot if O’Reilly’s reputation is sufficiently damaged to preclude employment at other TV networks.
Another question is whether the exit terms prevent a wrongful termination lawsuit by O’Reilly against Fox. Dan Rather, then 77, sued CBS and Viacom in 2007 for wrongful termination, claiming he had been “scapegoated” for a 2004 report on President George W. Bush’s military service with the Air National Guard. A New York State appeals court dismissed that in 2009.
Fox declined to comment on the reports.