UPDATE 2:40 p.m. EST: Bill O'Reilly has been dropped by Fox News Channel.
21st Century Fox released this statement about O'Reilly:
“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”
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Amid growing signs Fox may be dropping controversial commentator Bill O'Reilly over mounting sexual harassment charges, another woman has raised new complaints, including the allegation that he made unwanted advances toward the African-American clerical worker, referring to her as "hot chocolate."
O'Reilly has been on vacation for two weeks while Fox executives weigh the future of their biggest ratings star. The Wall Street Journal, owned by the same Murdoch family that owns Fox News Channel, reported late Tuesday that Fox executives were "preparing to cut ties" with O'Reilly. A spokesman for 21st Century Fox declined to comment to the Associated Press.
Gabriel Sherman, a long-time O'Reilly-watcher at New York magazine, reported Wednesday that the Murdochs — Rupert and sons Lachlan and James — have decided the veteran host must go and were negotiating issues such as the timing of an announcement and whether O'Reilly would be allowed to say good-bye to his audience.
Sherman, quoting unidentified "sources briefed on the discussions" as saying that executives were leaning against O'Reilly getting an on-air sign-off. The other big topic is money: O'Reilly recently signed a new multi-year contract worth more than $20 million per year.
In any case, the magazine reports, Fox execs want the move to be seamless and are discussing possible replacements such as Eric Bolling, Dana Perino and Tucker Carlson.
The board of Fox's parent company, 21st Century Fox, will meet Thursday, with O'Reilly expected to as the main topic.
Questions about O'Reilly's future come just weeks after The New York Times reported in a scathing article that he or the company made payouts totaling about $13 million to five women involving allegations of inappropriate behavior by him over several years.
Although O'Reilly's viewership increased during the latest flareup, more than 50 top-of-the-line advertisers fled the show in recent weeks.
Protesters also turned up Tuesday outside of Fox News headquarters in New York. Survivors of sexual assault and harassment, as well as members from the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, called for Fox to fire O'Reilly. Planes flew overhead with banners attached that read, "FOX: #DROPOREILLY, THE SEXUAL PREDATOR."
The latest developments follow an investigation ordered by Fox into allegations of sexual impropriety by O'Reilly. The probe is being conducted by the same law firm that looked into sexual harassment charges against then Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who denied the allegations, but resigned last year in a $40 million separation agreement with Fox.
O'Reilly likewise has rejected allegations against him. His attorney Marc Kasowitz said Tuesday, "There is obviously an orchestrated campaign by activists and lawyers to destroy Mr. O’Reilly and enrich themselves through publicity-driven donations.”
He called it "outrageous" that the latest allegation, from the unidentified African-American woman, was being treated as fact despite coming from an anonymous person almost a decade ago.
The former Fox clerical worker, who is not contemplating any legal action, is represented by Lisa Bloom, who has aired harassment complaints by at least one other woman against O’Reilly.
The latest woman, according to Bloom, said she never had a direct conversation with the Fox commentator, but said he referred to her as “hot chocolate” at one point when they were together alone, made grunting noises and leered at her cleavage and legs.
The woman reported being “very stressed and disillusioned” about her job and believed she would be fired if she complained to anyone, according to Bloom, but did report her allegations to an anonymous hotline set up at the time in 2008.