Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly made a surprise announcement during the close of his show last night, saying that he is taking what he described as a pre-planned vacation from The O’Reilly Factor.
O’Reilly, whose show is currently dealing with an exodus of advertisers and a Fox investigation into a sexual harassment claim against the TV anchor, told his viewers that he takes vacation time “often around this time of year” and that he booked the trip last fall. “All of us need a break,” O’Reilly said before signing off of Tuesday night’s show. O’Reilly is reportedly set to return to the show on April 24.
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Still, the timing and seeming abruptness of O’Reilly’s vacation announcement sparked some speculation that his absence is connected to the ongoing scandal stemming from The New York Times‘ recent report that Fox and O’Reilly have paid out $13 million to five women who accused the anchor of sexual harassment. New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, who wrote a book about former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, reported on Tuesday that 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch wants O’Reilly to step down for good.
However, Bloomberg counters with a report that Fox is planning for O’Reilly to return to the show after his vacation. Both reports cite anonymous sources close to the situation.
Advertisers have flocked away from The O’Reilly Factor over the scandal, led by high-profile brands such as Allstate, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz. Fox recently brought back the law firm Paul Weiss to investigate a new sexual harassment claim against the anchor that was called in to the network’s corporate hotline last week by Wendy Walsh, a radio host and former frequent O’Reilly Factor guest. Paul Weiss is the same corporate law firm that conducted last year’s internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes, which resulted in the former Fox News chairman’s resignation.
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O’Reilly has shrugged off the controversy and he dismissed the allegations against him in a statement that said his fame makes him “vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity.”
And while advertisers flee, The O’Reilly Factor remains the most-watched program on cable news, in spite of the scandal. O’Reilly’s ratings have even increased amid the controversy, with his show averaging more than 3.7 million viewers (a 12% bump) last week.