Caroline Heldman, an Associate Professor of Politics at Occidental College, has known the former O’Reilly Factor host for nearly 10 years, often appearing on his show as a political commentator from 2008 to 2011.
“The first time I met him, one of the first things, if not the first thing, out of his mouth was to the effect of, ‘When I was in college, professors didn’t look like you,’ ” Heldman, 44, exclusively tells PEOPLE. “That kind of set the tone of his, I would call it, sexist humiliation and bullying which was pretty typical for him,” Heldman claims.
On Wednesday, 21st Century Fox issued a statement stating that the network and O’Reilly, 67, have agreed that he won’t be returning. “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,” reads the statement obtained by PEOPLE.
Shortly after, News Corp Executive Chairman and Fox News acting CEO Rupert Murdoch sent out a similar internal memo obtained by PEOPLE that acknowledged, “By ratings standards, Bill O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news. In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable.” (O’Reilly’s publisher Henry Holt also showed support, telling the New Republic of their working relationship: “Our plans have not changed.”)
Murdoch added in his memo, “Most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.”
According to Heldman, that respect was hardly there.
After she “pushed back against his sexism” during a taping, Heldman alleges that O’Reilly “blacklisted” her from his show entirely.
“My upward trajectory slowed considerably,” she says. “I continued to do other shows but being blacklisted from Bill O’Reilly’s show is a big deal.”
Having filed a sexual harassment complaint just hours before Fox News announced O’Reilly’s departure, Heldman says she had thought about coming forward multiple times before, but the fear of ruining her career held her back.
“I think that there’s still a very real fear that it will have negative repercussions for our careers,” she says. “I think that even when we’re believed, which I think a lot of people are, we’re predisposed to blame the victim rather than believe them. We’re still seen as troublemakers.”
In April, The New York Times reported that five women were paid a collective $13 million by O’Reilly and Fox News for agreeing not to file lawsuits or speak publicly about allegations that he harassed them. The settlements — involving women who have either worked with O’Reilly or appeared on his show — took place sporadically between 2002 and 2016.
Addressing the allegations, O’Reilly posted a statement to his website on April 1, emphasizing that his position has made him “vulnerable to lawsuits,” despite the fact that “no one has ever filed a complaint,” about him with the Human Resources Department.
“The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel,” he wrote. “Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children. My primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.”
After the settlements were reported, The O’Reilly Factor lost more than half of its advertisers within a week, according to The New York Times.
Now, after O’Reilly’s exit, Heldman believes “the mood is somber for all the good men and women at Fox who are being tainted for this scandal.”
Adds Heldman: “Bill O’Reilly’s behavior has stained Fox.”
The Factor will continue for the remainder of this week at 8 p.m. ET with guest host Greg Gutfeld on Friday night, according to the statement. Starting Monday, Tucker Carlson Tonight will take over the 8 p.m. ET time slot, broadcasting live from FNC’s Washington, DC bureau. Additionally, The Five will move into the 9 p.m. ET time slot starting Monday.