Charlie Rose was fired by CBS Corp. (CBS) roughly a day after The Washington Post published a story in which eight women talked of inappropriate sexual behavior by the talk show host.
On Wednesday, Nov. 29, in the wake of the Lauer firing, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch was asked by Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget why the Fox News Channel took nearly two weeks before firing Roger Ailes, its founder and chairman, in July 2016, and then needed weeks if not months before cutting ties with anchors Bill O'Reilly and Eric Bolling.
Murdoch replied that not every sexual harassment case is the same, and though the headlines might appear to be similar, the allegations and back stories are often quite different. As a result, corporate executives may need more time before taking actions such as suspending or firing an employee.
"The fact set of allegations, whether there has been harassment or not, can be very different, which the headlines don't always show," Murdoch said at Business Insider's Ignition conference in New York. "The cases may be very different, and much more difficult for the company to act on."
Murdoch credited NBC for moving quickly to fire Lauer, saying the company apparently had very specific information that allowed it to take quick action.
"It's a terrific sign to see the company moving that quickly to eradicate, if that's ever possible, sexual harassment in the workplace," he said.
As for Fox News, Murdoch countered that the company fired Ailes just 13 days after former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the longtime network executive widely known for his imperial manners. Immediately after the lawsuit became public, Murdoch said Fox hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations from Carlson and, as it turned out, others, including former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
"We don't know when NBC first heard of this allegation [against Lauer]," Murdoch said, "but I certainly think that 13 days before removing a CEO of a business is a pretty good record."
Murdoch said the law firm's investigation gave the company sufficient cause to fire Ailes, a man credited with building Fox News into the most profitable part of the family's media empire. Ailes, 77, died in May following a fall in his Palm Beach, Fla., home.
The sexual harassment charges against O'Reilly, Murdoch said, were very different from those involving Ailes. In O'Reilly's case, he said, the longtime ratings winner in cable news had settled charges outside of Fox. And those settlements, he said, precluded any of the women from speaking to company executives.
"We had a complete inability to investigate these claims and see what happened," Murdoch said. Referring to Fox's human resources department, he added that "the company had never had a complaint."
Two hours later, though, Kelly, who left Fox in January, would tell the same audience that "Fox News's HR department wasn't an option for me -- it was completely controlled by Roger Ailes."
When Fox executives in January became aware of the settlements, Murdoch said Fox changed the language of O'Reilly's contract to allow the company to fire him for sexual harassment. On April 1, The New York Times published a comprehensive story showing that O'Reilly had indeed paid $13 million to quiet charges of harassment dating back to 2002.
Fox fired its longtime star on April 19, following an internal investigation coupled with pressure from advertisers.
"We determined that if any further allegations arose, we could fire him for cause," Murdoch said. "Which is what we did."
In October, the Murdochs were criticized after a separate Times story revealed that Fox signed O'Reilly to a long-term contract in February, a month after he paid $32 million to a former colleague, Lis Wiehl, to not speak publicly about allegations of sexual harassment. O'Reilly's salary was increased to $25 million a year from around $20 million under his previous deal.
Over the past year, Murdoch said, Fox has instituted new procedures through which local HR departments no longer handle sexual harassment charges. Those instead are funneled to senior management in New York, he said. In addition, anonymous hotlines have been created to allow people to make complaints without fear of retribution.