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New Bill O’Reilly Accusations Heighten Pressure as Murdochs Weigh Fox News Star’s Fate

Variety logo Variety 4/18/2017 Ted Johnson
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New harassment claims against Bill O’Reilly have heightened the pressure on the Murdoch clan as they weigh a decision about the fate of Fox News’ star anchor.

O’Reilly went on vacation on April 12 as the sexual harassment scandal snowballed, although he maintained it was a long-scheduled plan to take a vacation with his family. He’s been scheduled to return to “The O’Reilly Factor” on April 24, but an online report published Tuesday by New York magazine said the Murdochs — James Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch, 21st Century Fox CEO and chairman, respectively, and patriarch Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News — are leaning toward not allowing O’Reilly return to his show. That would be a stunning decision for a personality who has been part of Fox News Channel almost from day one in 1996 and has remained the single-biggest driver of its success.

Attorney Lisa Bloom said Tuesday that she is representing a new woman making a complaint of sexual and racial harassment against O’Reilly, claiming that he made offensive gestures toward her and called her “hot chocolate.” O’Reilly’s lawyer called the claim “outrageous” and blasted the fact that it was made by an anonymous woman.

“It is outrageous that an allegation from an anonymous person about something that purportedly happened almost a decade ago is being treated as fact, especially where there is obviously an orchestrated campaign by activists and lawyers to destroy Mr. O’Reilly and enrich themselves through publicity-driven donations,” said attorney Marc Kasowitz.

A source close to O’Reilly said Tuesday afternoon that the host has not been fired, nor has Fox News initiated any negotiations on an exit agreement. A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment.

Fox News is already conducting an investigation into allegations made by former “O’Reilly Factor” contributed Wendy Walsh, who is also repped by Bloom. O’Reilly has been at the center of a sexual harassment scandal since April 1, when the New York Times published an expose documenting $13 million in settlements paid by O’Reilly or Fox News to five women since 2004.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Bloom said that the woman called in to report a complaint on the Fox News hotline (the anonymous hotline is for all of 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, according to a spokeswoman). The woman’s identity was not disclosed.

“She is an African-American woman who was a clerical worker in 2008 at Fox News,” Bloom said in an interview with HLN. “She did not work directly for Bill O’Reilly, but she worked near him and she alleges that he engaged in a campaign for months of sexual harassment against her. He wouldn’t speak to her, other than to say things like, ‘Mmm Hmm,’ make grunting noises like an animal, she alleges, leering at her, looking at her cleavage and her legs, and he would call her ‘hot chocolate,’ which she found to be very offensive.”

Bloom said that the woman found the situation “upsetting and distressing.” She said that they have spoken to a family member, a boyfriend, and a roommate who back up her claims.

“She wanted to keep her job, she didn’t complain at the time, but now she knows that Fox News is considering whether or not to keep him, and although she is very scared and wishes to remain anonymous, she felt that she had to add her story and speak out, and so we called that into the hotline today,” Bloom said. She said that her client is not asking for money, but wants “accountability.”

Bloom spurred the internal Fox News investigation by calling the company’s HR hotline with Walsh’s complaint earlier this month. That triggered an investigation by 21st Century Fox’s outside law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

In an interview, Bloom said that one or more accusers are “very likely” to come forward “soon,” although she declined to get into specifics. Responding to the statement from O’Reilly’s attorney, she said, “I am representing all of my O’Reilly accusers for free, and I am sure that Mr. Kasowitz is being compensated handsomely for his representation of accused serial harasser Bill O’Reilly.”

Bloom also has called for an independent investigation of harassment and retaliation at Fox News by state authorities in New York. She has called on O’Reilly to be fired, but says that even if that were to happen, she it would still like to see a state investigation to proceed.

Dozens of advertisers have pulled their advertising from O’Reilly’s show in the wake of the Times report, and protesters demonstrated outside Fox News headquarters on Tuesday to demand that he be fired. The protest was sponsored by the advocacy group UltraViolet.

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