NBC host Matt Lauer grilled former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in one of O’Reilly’s first major TV appearances since he was ousted following revelations of numerous sexual-harassment allegations against him.
In an interview on the “Today” show on Tuesday, O’Reilly repeatedly attempted to diminish the allegations, saying he was innocent and describing his firing as the result of an advertiser boycott that “unsettled some people at Fox News.”
Throughout the interview, O’Reilly remained defiant, vowing to clear his name.
“My conscience is clear,” O’Reilly said when asked whether he had done some “soul searching” after his ouster. “What I have done is organize a legal team to get the truth to the American people.”
Lauer repeatedly prodded O’Reilly to address the allegations, asking whether he sent lewd messages to fellow Fox employees and whether he had a human-resources case brought against him, both of which O’Reilly denied.
The Fox News host pushed back, casting his firing as a business decision and appearing to allude to 21st Century Fox’s pending acquisition of Sky News in the UK, which regulators are reviewing.
“You were probably the last guy in the world that they wanted to fire, because you were the guy that the ratings and the revenues were built on – you carried that network on your shoulders for a lot of years,” Lauer said. “So doesn’t it seem safe to assume that the people at Fox News were given a piece of information, or given some evidence, that simply made it impossible for you to stay on at Fox News?”
O’Reilly said that was a “false assumption.”
“There were a lot of other business things in play at that time and still today that 21st Century was involved with,” O’Reilly said. “And it was a business decision that they made. But there isn’t any smoking gun.”
“But you don’t let your No. 1 guy go unless you have information that you think makes him…” Lauer said, trailing off.
“Sure you do,” O’Reilly replied. “That’s not true. There are billions of dollars at stake in business deals, and they made a business decision that they could possibly prosper more without me.”
When O’Reilly attempted to dismiss the sexual-harassment allegations as frivolous, Lauer asked him why he didn’t take any legal action against his accusers. The New York Times has reported that five of them were paid a total of about $13 million by O’Reilly or 21st Century Fox in separate settlements.
“Why didn’t you sue those women if you say you did absolutely nothing wrong?” Lauer said.
“Because you can’t win those lawsuits. If you’re a public figure, you cannot win them,” O’Reilly said. “And I could do that, but the collateral damage of these lawsuits, the press frenzy, every allegation is a conviction.”
Lauer said the women “came forward and filed complaints against the biggest star at the network they worked at” and asked O’Reilly to “think of how intimidating that must’ve been, how nerve-wracking that must’ve been.”
“You don’t have this story, Lauer, correct,” O’Reilly responded. “The lawsuits involved many people, many people. I was named in a few of them.”
O’Reilly touted a recent article on the right-wing site Newsmax that attempted to discredit one of his accusers by saying she was arrested for falsely filing a police report. Lauer pointed out that was from several years ago and didn’t necessarily disprove her allegations against O’Reilly.
“This was a hit job – a political and financial hit job,” O’Reilly said.
“Was this a vast left-wing conspiracy?” Lauer said.
“Don’t be sarcastic,” O’Reilly replied.
The former Fox News host concluded by again saying he was innocent.
“Nobody’s a perfect person, but I can go to sleep at night very well knowing that I never mistreated anyone on my watch in 42 years,” O’Reilly said.
After six months of largely staying out of the public eye, O’Reilly has reemerged in recent days in a series of high-profile interviews while promoting his latest book, “Killing England.”
The former host chatted with Sean Hannity on his radio show on Monday, sat for an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last week, and appeared on Breitbart News.
In every interview appearance, he claimed he had launched an investigation to clear his name, though no evidence has emerged to prove that the allegations against him are false.
Watch the clip via NBC:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 19, 2017