Fox News staff members reacted to the news of Bill O’Reilly’s departure with a mixture of surprise, relief, and anger.
The surprise was that O’Reilly, the powerful ratings behemoth who had been with the network from day one, was actually gone. Many didn’t believe that after so many years and so many other controversies, O’Reilly would be forced out.
Relief came from those who were tired of O’Reilly’s star presence and attitude. They described O’Reilly as someone who was not particularly liked among his colleagues compared to other hosts like Sean Hannity.
“There won’t be anyone shedding tears about his departure,” said one insider.
There was also anger, however, toward O’Reilly and top management who had known for many years that the prime-time host and a public face of the network was facing allegations of sexual harassment. The New York Times investigation into the millions of dollars paid by Fox management to O’Reilly’s accusers spanned a period of years, and the first settlement of a sexual harassment complaint against O’Reilly came in 2004.
Two of the five women cited in the story came forward after longtime Fox News chief Roger Ailes was forced out of his job for sexual harassment, and after 21st Century Fox’s top executives said the company was committed to “maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.”
“The corporate parent is doing what it should’ve done from day one,” the insider said, noting there should have been better oversight to prevent such cases.
A 21st Century Fox spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The last few days, as protesters massed against O’Reilly and advertisers pulled their spots from his show, were fraught for many people at Fox News, including members of O’Reilly’s staff, whose future with the network is now unclear.
The drama marked the culmination of a tumultuous year that saw the removal of Ailes also under sexual harassment allegations, as well as the departures of anchors Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren.
“It’s meltdown over there,” one person close to the Fox News crew said hours before the decision came down.
Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch acknowledged the stress the controversies have caused the staff, saying in a memo sent on Wednesday afternoon he understood "how difficult this has been for many of you.”
"Thank you for your hard work, patience, and for the great job you all do delivering news and opinion to millions of Americans whose trust you earn every day,” he wrote. "I look forward to even more success in the coming years."
But some Fox staffers wondered whether top executives were motivated by concern for O’Reilly’s colleagues – or by the growing boycott by advertisers and a looming decision by the British media regulator Ofcom on Fox’s deal to take control of the Sky News network. Fox’s actions in not notifying investors about settling the claims could affect the decision, experts have said. Ofcom has a broad "fit and proper" standard owners are expected to meet.
Staffers at Fox News also bemoaned the effect the bad publicity over Ailes and O’Reilly had in impugning the network’s workplace culture. They say the bad behavior was limited to a few powerful figures.
“I keep reading about the culture of the place. It’s like every other place for culture,” the Fox insider said. “You’ve got to realize that the stuff that happened, happened at a level that’s beyond what most people experience at that place.”
Other staff members worried about how O’Reilly will handle his departure. He’s the highest rated host in the cable news business and a successful author with legions of fans loyal to him. Would he turn his ire on the network that built him into what he is? Would he take his talents elsehwere?
“He’s going to go after us,” said the insider, noting that O’Reilly doesn’t go down without a fight. “In this digital age he can really destroy the company. Suppose he doesn’t keep quiet and says ‘I’ve been railroaded by liberal media.’ ”
But history suggests the Fox News brand is bigger than one person. When Glenn Beck left Fox News in 2011 he chose to expand his personal brand, founding his own TV network and web site, The Blaze. But it has never come close to eclipsing Fox News ratings or influence.
O’Reilly’s departure doesn’t necessarily portend any sort of vast cultural change at Fox. Much of the Fox structure remains in place, including co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy who have been at the network for years. And though the allegations against Ailes and O’Reilly have shocked employees, many lower level employees said that in their day-to-day lives weren’t much changed. The office, the insist, wasn’t the fraternity party its detractors made it out to be.
“The answer is no,” wrote former Fox News reporter Jana Winter in response to a targeted Facebook ad asking whether she had been harassed by O’Reilly.
Asked for comment, an O’Reilly spokesperson referred to O’Reilly’s earlier statement about his leaving the network.
“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 in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
"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."