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Fox News' Bill O'Reilly Is Accused of Sexual Harassment

The talk show host, known for advocating personal responsibility, calls the move extortion.

October 14, 2004|Scott Collins and Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writers

Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, the nation's top-rated cable news host and an insistent advocate for personal responsibility and self-control, was accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a producer on his show who says O'Reilly repeatedly pressured her to engage in phone sex and frightened her with lewd "monologues."

The suit, filed in New York by Andrea Mackris, a 33-year-old associate producer on "The O'Reilly Factor," quotes O'Reilly as speaking to her in highly explicit terms about vibrators, oral sex, masturbation and a fantasy involving a Caribbean hotel room shower.

It also quotes O'Reilly as threatening "any woman" who complained about his advances, and as suggesting that Fox News chief Roger Ailes would "go after" enemies of the channel.

"Look at Al Franken -- one day he's going to get a knock on his door and life as he's known it will change forever," the suit quotes O'Reilly as saying.

Franken, a liberal commentator, has been engaged for months in a public feud with O'Reilly. Franken did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The suit names O'Reilly and several other defendants, including Fox's parent, News Corp., and Westwood One Inc., the syndicator of O'Reilly's radio show.

Before the suit was made public, O'Reilly and Fox News filed their own claim in New York Supreme Court against Mackris and her attorney, Benedict Morelli, accusing them of trying to extort $60 million from him.

"Enough is enough," O'Reilly said in a statement. "I will not give in to extortion."

In their court papers, O'Reilly and Fox News said Mackris' allegations "may ... be motivated by Morelli's political connections to the Democratic Party." Morelli has given to the campaigns of Democratic candidates including Sen. John F. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards, the suit says. "The extortion scheme is timed to coincide with [the] upcoming presidential election, to cause maximum disruption and damage to plaintiffs, while at the same time benefiting Fox's major competitor CNN," the papers say.

The scandal comes at an awkward time for Fox News. The channel has logged record ratings for its coverage of the White House race, routinely beating CNN more than 2 to 1.

O'Reilly, the married father of two, is the host of the network's most watched regular program and has become its most recognizable personality through his combative style and populist opinions. Last month he published "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids," a bestseller in which "he lays bare the unvarnished truths about sex, money, smoking, drugs, alcohol and friends," according to the publisher. It was ranked No. 40 in sales Wednesday.

O'Reilly is not the first top-rated talk show host to encounter controversy over allegations about personal behavior. Rush Limbaugh, after the National Enquirer published a report last year about his use of painkillers, admitted he was addicted to prescription drugs and underwent treatment. He has since returned to the air.

A Fox News spokeswoman said the network had no plans to pull O'Reilly's show. It declined to comment further. O'Reilly, Mackris and their attorneys could not be reached.

On his show Wednesday, O'Reilly told his viewers that the suit was "the most evil thing I have ever experienced."

"We are living in treacherous times," he said. "Just about every famous person I know has been threatened and worked over by somebody.... But there comes a time when enough's enough .... Obviously, I can't get into specifics as the litigation is in motion

According to Mackris' suit, a copy of which was posted on the website, Mackris has worked as an associate producer on "The O'Reilly Factor" since April 2000, except for a six-month stint at CNN this year.

At a dinner in May 2002, Mackris' suit claims, O'Reilly told her to "just use your vibrator to blow off steam." Mackris says that when she grew embarrassed, O'Reilly said: "What, you've got a vibrator, don't you? Every girl does."

At a dinner last April, Mackris says, she told O'Reilly she would return to Fox only if he stopped his inappropriate behavior. He agreed, she says, but became threatening when reminded that he had bragged of similar behavior with others.

"If any woman ever breathed a word, I'll make her pay so dearly that she'll wish she'd never been born," he allegedly said, adding, "Ailes knows very powerful people, and this goes all the way to the top."

Mackris says that in August, O'Reilly called her at home, "excited" after interviewing two porn stars, and launched into a monologue about sex and vibrators. "It became apparent that [O'Reilly] was masturbating as he spoke," the suit says. Last month, the suit says, O'Reilly told Mackris he'd like to take her on a Caribbean vacation and fantasized about foreplay involving a loofah.

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