O'Reilly's women problem exposed.
The sexual harassment scandal that engulfed Fox News last year and led to the ouster of its chairman, Roger Ailes, continued to batter the network on Monday, as a new lawsuit described unwanted sexual advances by Mr. Ailes and two major advertisers pulled their spots from the show of its top-rated host, Bill O’Reilly.
Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai said they were withdrawing their ads from Mr. O’Reilly’s prime-time show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” after The New York Times published an investigation this weekend that found five women who made allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior against him. Those five women received settlements totaling about $13 million, The Times reported.
Together, the developments portray a network buffeted by allegations on multiple fronts, even as it draws record ratings with programming supportive of President Trump. Staff members remain anxious, some said on Monday, over questions about its workplace culture and its priorities.
If more advertisers abandon Mr. O’Reilly’s show, it will be a blow to Fox News, which provides billions of dollars in revenue each year to its parent company, 21st Century Fox. Mr. O’Reilly has long been the pugnacious face of a prime-time lineup that sets the tone for conservative commentary. His show attracts almost four million viewers a night, and from 2014 through 2016 it generated more than $446 million in advertising revenue, according to the research firm Kantar Media.
“Given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” Donna Boland, the manager of corporate communications for Mercedes-Benz, wrote in an email. Mercedes-Benz has spent an estimated $1.9 million in ads on “The O’Reilly Factor” in the last year, according to iSpot.tv, the TV ad analytics firm.
Hyundai cited “the recent and disturbing allegations” in announcing that it was removing its ads from Mr. O’Reilly’s show. “We had upcoming advertising spots on the show, but are reallocating them,” Hyundai said in an emailed statement.
“As a company, we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity,” the statement said. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions.”
Despite Mr. O’Reilly’s history of settlements and the series of allegations against him, the company has extended his contract, which was set to expire this year, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. O’Reilly makes about $18 million per year. When the company extended the contract, it knew of multiple settlements that had been reached with women who had complained about his behavior.
The company says it has discussed the issue with Mr. O’Reilly. It believes his new contract gives it more leverage over him regarding his behavior, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. O’Reilly has said that the allegations are without merit. He did not address the controversy on his show Monday night.
Earlier on Monday, Julie Roginsky, a current Fox News contributor, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Ailes, Fox News and Bill Shine, the network’s co-president, asserting that she faced retaliation for rebuffing Mr. Ailes’s sexual advances and for refusing to disparage Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News host who sued Mr. Ailes last summer.
And a former regular guest on Mr. O’Reilly’s program, Wendy Walsh, who had recounted her allegations against him to The Times, held a news conference with her lawyer to discuss those claims and to call for an independent inquiry into sexual harassment at the network.
Also, the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan is investigating Fox News, including how it structured settlements.
On Monday, Fox News moved to contain the fallout from the weekend’s developments, urging its employees in an internal memo to report inappropriate behavior to the human resources department or other network executives.
“Particularly in light of some of the accounts published over the last few days, I wanted to re-emphasize the message we have been conveying at our training sessions for several months,” said Kevin Lord, the network’s new head of human resources, who was hired in the aftermath of the Ailes scandal.
Irena Briganti, a Fox News spokeswoman, declined to comment on advertising decisions, Ms. Roginsky’s lawsuit or Ms. Walsh’s news conference.
Ms. Walsh, speaking in Los Angeles, repeated the account she provided to The Times. She said that Mr. O’Reilly did not follow through on a verbal offer to make her a contributor to his show after she declined an invitation to go to his hotel suite after a 2013 dinner in Los Angeles that was arranged by his secretary. She has not received a settlement and said she does not want any money. She did not report her complaints to Fox News at the time, she said, because she did not want to jeopardize her career prospects.
“Other women who are under gag orders, who cannot talk, they have been silenced,” Ms. Walsh said while seated next to her lawyer, Lisa Bloom. “I had to be the voice for them.”
Ms. Walsh is recounting her experiences publicly despite receiving a warning on Saturday from Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyer, Fredric S. Newman, demanding that she retract the statements she made to The Times. The letter, obtained by The Times, said that her assertions were “patently false and highly defamatory” and said to “cease and desist all defamation of Mr. O’Reilly’s character.”
“Your segment was a failure,” Mr. Newman wrote. “That is established as matter of undisputable fact in the minute-by-minute analysis of your segment, which showed that the segment was unsuccessful.”
Fox News’s troubles continued when Ms. Roginsky filed her suit in New York State Supreme Court. The suit echoes the complaints that other women have made about Mr. Ailes and the culture at the network, where women have said they faced harassment and feared reporting it. Ms. Roginsky’s lawyer is Nancy Erika Smith, the same lawyer who represented Ms. Carlson, who received a $20 million settlement after leaving the network.
Ms. Roginsky, who has been a paid contributor on Fox News since 2011, stated in her complaint that Mr. Ailes made sexist comments and unwanted sexual advances toward her during one-on-one meetings in his office, including requiring that she “bend down to kiss him hello” when he sat in a low armchair and telling her that they would get into “so much trouble” if he took her “out for a drink.”
Mr. Ailes also would tell her that she should “engage in sexual relationships with ‘older, married, conservative men,’” the suit stated.
Ms. Roginsky asserted in the suit that she faced retaliation for refusing Mr. Ailes’s advances. She said that she was denied a permanent position as a host on the program “The Five” and was rarely allowed to host her own segments on the show “Outnumbered,” unlike other panelists. She also stated that she was punished for not joining “Team Roger” when Ms. Carlson filed suit last summer — a reference, presumably, to a group of Fox News employees who publicly supported Mr. Ailes.
Susan R. Estrich, a lawyer for Mr. Ailes, said that he “vociferously denies” the allegations in Ms. Roginsky’s suit. She called the assertions “hogwash” and said that the suit was a “copycat complaint.”
“Her interactions with Mr. Ailes were not even close to the fictional version she wants people to believe now,” Ms. Estrich said in a statement.
The developments raised new questions about the internal investigation at Fox News that was started after allegations about Mr. Ailes first became public. In the suit, Ms. Roginsky also stated that she discussed her complaints in a meeting with Mr. Shine and another top network executive during a meeting in November, months after Mr. Ailes was dismissed in July.