Lawyers for Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly announced a settlement late Thursday in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by producer Andrea Mackris, hours before a scheduled court showdown over audiotapes believed to be at the heart of the case.
Terms were not disclosed in the settlement to resolve both Mackris' claim against O'Reilly and a preemptive action he had filed against her, claiming extortion.
O'Reilly, the nation's No. 1 cable news host, had accused the 33-year-old Mackris and her attorney of trying to shake down Fox News for $60 million by alleging in their lawsuit that he had pressured her for phone sex and subjected her to lewd "monologues."
However, O'Reilly never directly denied the allegations, and the seemingly verbatim nature of lengthy quotes attributed to him in the suit, led many to assume that Mackris made tapes of at least some conversations. Neither Mackris nor her lawyer confirmed the existence of tapes, although her attorney has repeatedly said they have "concrete and irrefutable evidence" against O'Reilly.
O'Reilly, 55, greeted viewers of "The O'Reilly Factor" Thursday evening with "very important" news. "All litigation has ceased in that case that has made me the object of media scorn from coast to coast," he said.
"Today lawyers issued a statement saying there was no wrongdoing in the case whatsoever by anyone. Obviously the words 'no wrongdoing' are the key. On a personal note, this matter has caused enormous pain; but I had to protect my family and I did. Some of the media hammered me relentlessly because, as you know, I am a huge target, as is Fox News. All I can say to you is, please do not believe everything you hear and read."
He added: "This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again."
It could not be determined how the settlement would affect Mackris' employment at Fox, where she worked as an associate producer on O'Reilly's show.
Her attorney, Benedict Morelli, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Fox News officials did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment.
O'Reilly lawyer Ronald Green issued a statement saying that "the parties regret that this matter has caused tremendous pain, and they have agreed to settle.... Out of respect for their families and privacy ... all information relating to the cases shall remain confidential."
The case erupted into a media scandal Oct. 13, when O'Reilly and Mackris traded legal papers. O'Reilly, a brash populist who has espoused traditional values and attacked entertainers and politicians he believes set a bad example, was attacked by some for hypocrisy. Comedians and bloggers had a field day with the suit's graphic references to vibrators, masturbation and Caribbean sex fantasies. The New York tabloids competed aggressively for scoops; the Drudge Report suggested a motive for Mackris by reporting on her alleged indebtedness. One competing cable host, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, was moved to publicize a tongue-in-cheek "Save the Tapes" campaign.
Veteran employment lawyer Debra Katz characterized O'Reilly's remarks on his program Thursday as "brazen" in their emphasis that the host had been victimized by the situation. His extortion suit against Mackris, she added, trivialized the case by feeding into a "lousy sexual stereotype" of gold-digging women filing harassment claims against rich and powerful men.
But another lawyer said O'Reilly's on-air remarks probably were hammered out during the settlement talks. The settlement "is the best result, in my view," said Laura Petroff, a lawyer at Winston & Strawn in Los Angeles who has litigated numerous sexual-harassment cases. "Otherwise, both of them will be dragged through the mud."
Lawyers had been scheduled to meet for a hearing early today in Nassau Supreme Court in New York to decide whether O'Reilly could get access to any tape recordings or other evidence Mackris had obtained.
Staff writer Paul Lieberman contributed to this report from New York.