Revelations from Bill O'Reilly's settlements underscore how Fox News enables its sexual harassers
Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN
On April 3, a federal judge denied a motion by former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly to seal settlement agreements made with women who say he sexually harassed them. According to CNN, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs said the terms of the agreements include requiring one of the women to lie -- even under oath -- and levying what CNN called “onerous” penalties to enforce the agreement. The agreements are yet more evidence of the toxic, enabling culture at Fox News, which reportedly helped O’Reilly sweep these accusations under the rug.
O’Reilly’s reported sexual harassment and abuse are now well-documented. The former Fox star was fired from the network after advertisers fled his show following a New York Times report that he had paid out at least $13 million to five women. It was later revealed that O’Reilly paid another woman $32 million to halt a sexual harassment lawsuit.
But O’Reilly did not act alone; he was enabled by Fox News, which has a long history of protecting sexual harassers and abusers and which has a culture described by one former employee as a “sex-fueled, Playboy mansion-like cult steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny.” And, according to the Times, when one of O’Reilly’s accusers filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, “Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints. … Before [former Fox producer Andrea] Mackris even filed suit, Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly surprised her with a pre-emptive suit of their own.”
Here are details about some of the terms of that settlement Fox allegedly helped O’Reilly secure, as reported by CNN:
The judge's ruling means that certain terms of the settlements are coming to light for the first time. A motion filed Wednesday by Neil Mullin and Nancy Erika Smith, the attorneys representing the three plaintiffs, claims that the settlement reached with Andrea Mackris, a former Fox News producer who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against O'Reilly in 2004, required her to "lie -- even in legal proceedings or under oath -- if any evidence becomes public, by calling evidence 'counterfeit' or 'forgeries.'"
The potential penalties etched in the settlements were particularly onerous. If Mackris goes public about the details of the settlement, the agreement stated that she "shall return all sums paid under this Agreement, forfeit any future payments due under this Agreement, disgorge to O'Reilly the value of any benefit earned or received as a result of such disclosure, and pay to O'Reilly all reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred by O'Reilly in attempting to enforce this Agreement."
The filing asserts that Mackris' attorney, Benedict Morelli, switched sides and agreed to become O'Reilly's lawyer while negotiating the agreement.
"This profoundly unethical conflict left Ms. Mackris virtually without legal counsel," the filing said.
Morelli disputed those assertions in a statement.
"We worked extremely hard to secure a significant financial settlement for her (Mackris)," he said. "The claim that I did not vigorously represent her, or that I represented O'Reilly during or after the settlement process, is absolutely false."
This post has been updated with Morelli's statement.