NEW YORK (CBS News) - A few hours after 21st Century Fox announced Bill O’Reilly would not be returning to Fox News Channel, the longtime “O’Reilly Factor” host issued a statement.
“Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and significantly contributed to building Fox into the dominant news network in television,” O’Reilly said.
“It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”
This announcement of O’Reilly’s departure comes after reports that multiple women had been paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about harassment allegations against him.
“After a thorough and careful review of allegations against him, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Mr. O’Reilly will not return to the Fox News Channel,” the network said in a statement.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, even as he was in Rome, briefly meeting the Pope after a general audience, the huge audience he had built was taken away.
Pressure on the network to fire O’Reilly has been mounting since the New York Times published a detailed report earlier this month of $13 million in settlements paid to five former employees by O’Reilly and Fox News.
Another accuser came forward this week and more than 50 major advertisers have pulled spots from his show.
A small group of protesters chanting “Fire Bill O’Reilly” rallied on the doorstep of the network’s Sixth Avenue headquarters on Tuesday.
“We’ve come here to deliver a petition and a message to Fox and that is Bill O’Reilly has got to go,” New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said.
One of the women who accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment reacted to his firing Wednesday on CNN.
“Thrilled,” she said, “that a corporation has made this seismic shift to put women’s rights ahead of their bottom line.”
Mayor de Blasio said “Fox is paying the price for their culture,” when asked about O’Reilly, according to press secretary Eric Phillips.
O’Reilly has denied any wrongdoing. His attorney claims the host has been the target of a “brutal campaign of character assassination” and has evidence, which he didn’t immediately release, that a smear campaign is being orchestrated by “far-left organizations.”
O’Reilly was set to return to work next Monday after a vacation that has since turned permanent. He had been with Fox for 21 years, helping turn the network into a perennial cable news powerhouse.
“He has a really big voice in the culture and certainly on that network and it’s certainly not going to be easy for them to fill those shoes,” Television Managing Editor for Variety Magazine Cynthia Littleton said.
New Yorkers outside of his former studio appeared satisfied with the announcement.
“I mean I’m happy about it. Sexual harassment claims. I don’t agree with his views, I just think a long time coming,” Shannon Moores said.
“Forty years ago, he would have gotten away with it, wouldn’t have been reported. Shows more and more people are realizing it’s not right, even a guy like him, the most powerful guy in cable news can get fired,” Bill Zhao said.
O’Reilly last appeared on air April 11th and was photographed in Italy Wednesday shaking Pope Francis’ hand. Last year, Fox News Channel promised a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment after former Chairman Roger Ailes resigned over similar allegations.
Fox announced that Tucker Carlson’s show would move to 8 p.m. to replace O’Reilly and that the panel talk show “The Five” would take Carlson’s time slot at 9 p.m.