Bill O’Reilly’s reign as the top-rated host in cable news came to an abrupt and embarrassing end on Wednesday as Fox News forced him out after the disclosure of a series of sexual harassment allegations against him and an internal investigation that turned up even more.
Mr. O’Reilly and his employers came under intense pressure after an article by The New York Times on April 1 revealed how Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, had repeatedly stood by him even as he and the company reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.
Since then, more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups had called for him to be fired. Inside the company, women expressed outrage and questioned whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on “trust and respect,” as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal led to the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.
That left Mr. O’Reilly’s fate in the hands of the Murdoch family, which controls 21st Century Fox. In the end, according to two people familiar with the decision, Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, made their call after reviewing the results of an internal investigation that found that multiple women had reported inappropriate behavior by Mr. 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,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement.
For a generation of conservative-leaning Fox News viewers, Mr. O’Reilly, 67, was a populist voice who railed against what they viewed as the politically correct message of a lecturing liberal media. Defiantly proclaiming his show a “No Spin Zone,” he produced programming infused with patriotism and a scorn for feminists and movements like “The War on Christmas,” which became one of his signature themes.
The news of Mr. O’Reilly’s ouster came while he was on a vacation to Italy; on Wednesday morning, he met Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Mr. O’Reilly’s tickets to the Vatican were arranged by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
In a statement later in the day, Mr. O’Reilly praised Fox News but said it was “tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.”
“But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today,” he said. “I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”
Mr. O’Reilly’s dismissal was hailed by women’s rights activists and some inside the company as a sign that the network, and perhaps corporate culture at large, was finally taking the issue of sexual harassment seriously.
“This is a seismic cultural shift, when a corporation puts a woman’s rights above the bottom line,” said Wendy Walsh, a former guest on Mr. O’Reilly’s show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” who made allegations against him. “Today, we have entered a new era in workplace politics.”
But even on Wednesday, after the ouster, some employees said they were skeptical about whether the treatment of women at Fox News would actually change.
The decision to force out Mr. O’Reilly, who was considered the network’s top asset, was a stunning reversal for a company that had long stood by him. After the dismissal of Mr. Ailes last July, the company reached two settlements involving sexual harassment complaints against Mr. O’Reilly.
21st Century Fox initially stood by Mr. O’Reilly as he faced a series of allegations of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.
The company also extended his contract this year. The contract did provide the company with some protections, including that Mr. O’Reilly could be dismissed if it was made aware of other allegations against him or if new ones arose, according to one person. The contract also included extra assurances meant to get Mr. O’Reilly to address his behavior, the person said. Mr. O’Reilly’s salary was estimated to be about $18 million.
In response to The Times’s investigation, Mr. O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox had said that no current or former Fox News employee had raised concerns about him through a company hotline. That changed on April 5 when Ms. Walsh, who had related complaints about Mr. O’Reilly to The Times, called the hotline to report her allegations.
The Murdochs then enlisted the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior. Since then, other complaints have been lodged, including one on Wednesday by a current Fox News contributor who said Mr. O’Reilly had made inappropriate comments to her, urging her to show more cleavage at work.
Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Ailes have denied the allegations against them.
Mr. O’Reilly has been an anchor at Fox News since he joined the network in 1996. His departure is a significant blow to the Fox News lineup, which has dominated the prime-time cable news ratings. In January, the network lost another star, Megyn Kelly.
He will be succeeded in the 8 p.m. Eastern slot by Tucker Carlson, who moved into the channel’s prime-time lineup only in January. “The Five,” an ensemble political round table, will move to 9 p.m. from the afternoon.
Bill O’Reilly was an essential asset to Fox News. His No. 1 cable news show made about $178 million in advertising revenue in 2015, and gained viewers in the prelude to the election and since. Meanwhile, Fox News’s financial contribution to its parent company, 21st Century Fox, has also been growing.
In a letter to staff members on Wednesday, Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch avoided any mention of the reported allegations against Mr. O’Reilly and praised him as “one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news.” The letter said, “His success, by any measure, is indisputable.”
It also said the decision “follows an extensive review done in collaboration with outside counsel.”
On his show Wednesday night — the title shortened to just “The Factor” — the substitute host, Dana Perino, paid tribute to Mr. O’Reilly, calling him “the undisputed king of cable news.”
One woman who had hesitated for months to voice her complaints came forward on Wednesday to report inappropriate behavior by Mr. O’Reilly to Paul, Weiss. The woman, Jehmu Greene, said she had decided to call the firm after she received no response to an email she sent to a network executive more than a week ago to schedule a meeting to discuss her concerns.
Ms. Greene said that instances of harassment occurred when she was a regular guest on the network but before she became a network contributor in November 2010. Ms. Greene disclosed her allegations to The Times in the fall but decided to go on the record this week.
She reported that in late 2007, Mr. O’Reilly had told her she should show more cleavage when she was in the makeup room.
About two years later, Ms. Greene was making an appearance on Mr. O’Reilly’s show. Before the segment, the two discussed a bet they had made for dinner. She had won the bet, but Mr. O’Reilly had never paid up.
Ms. Greene said Mr. O’Reilly then told her that while she might want to “break his bank” with the restaurant choice, he “was more interested in breaking my back.”
“I don’t think that these comments were focused from a sexual standpoint,” Ms. Greene said. “I think they were more of a power standpoint to put me in my place.”
Later in the day, shortly after the network’s announcement, one of Mr. O’Reilly’s accusers spoke out.
“Wow, big news day…I have merit!” Rebecca Gomez Diamond, a former Fox Business Network host, wrote in a Twitter post. Ms. Gomez Diamond received a payout from Mr. O’Reilly in 2011 after she accused him of sexually harassing her.
While Mr. O’Reilly has lost his perch atop cable news, his lucrative publishing career, for the moment, does not appear to be in jeopardy. In its first public statement since the news of the women’s allegations broke, Henry Holt, Mr. O’Reilly’s publisher, indicated that it would continue to publish his books, which have been best sellers. “Our plans have not changed,” a company spokeswoman wrote in an email.
Even if Holt sticks with Mr. O’Reilly, sales of his books will almost certainly decline without the benefit of his position at Fox, which he used to promote his books to millions of viewers.