Television Producer Files Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill O’Reilly Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Bill O’Reilly, a conservative political commentator best known for his Fox News television show The O’Reilly Factor, was sued by his show’s producer, Andrea Mackris, for sexual harassment. O’Reilly was first to sue Mackris, however, claiming in his preemptive suit filed the same day that Mackris and her attorney were extorting him. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. In the long term, the suits had little impact on O’Reilly’s or Mackris’s careers in broadcasting.

Summary of Event

On October 13, 2004, Fox News talk-show host Bill O’Reilly was sued by his show’s former producer, Andrea Mackris, for sexual harassment. Mackris claimed she had audiotapes of sexually provocative phone calls made to her by O’Reilly. She also claimed that O’Reilly sexually harassed her repeatedly by talking about his own sex life and fantasies and by asking her questions about her sex life, even though she expressed no interest in continuing the conversations. O’Reilly had sued Mackris first earlier on the same day, claiming she and her attorney, Benedict Morelli, a leading employment discrimination lawyer, were trying to extort him. [kw]Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill O’Reilly, Television Producer Files (Oct. 13, 2004) [kw]O’Reilly, Television Producer Files Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill (Oct. 13, 2004) O’Reilly, Bill Mackris, Andrea Morelli, Benedict O’Reilly Factor, The (television)[OReilly Factor, The (television)] Sexual harassment;and Bill O’Reilly[OReilly] O’Reilly, Bill Mackris, Andrea Morelli, Benedict O’Reilly Factor, The (television)[OReilly Factor, The (television)] Sexual harassment;and Bill O’Reilly[OReilly] [g]United States;Oct. 13, 2004: Television Producer Files Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill O’Reilly[03440] [c]Law and the courts;Oct. 13, 2004: Television Producer Files Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill O’Reilly[03440] [c]Radio and television;Oct. 13, 2004: Television Producer Files Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill O’Reilly[03440] [c]Communications and media;Oct. 13, 2004: Television Producer Files Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill O’Reilly[03440] [c]Women’s issues;Oct. 13, 2004: Television Producer Files Sex Harassment Suit Against Bill O’Reilly[03440]

O’Reilly decided to file suit against Mackris and Morelli after he received a letter from Morelli dated September 29, indicating that his law firm was representing “a young woman employee of Fox” who had “been the victim of constant and relentless” sexual harassment “by one of Fox’s most prominent on-air personalities.” The letter did not name names, however.

Unfortunately for O’Reilly, the details of the suit against him became readily accessible to the public on the Web. O’Reilly never denied the accusations against him, leading Mackris to amend her lawsuit on October 19. The original lawsuit against O’Reilly, Fox News Channel, News Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and Westwood One sought $60 million.

Andrea Mackris, left, with her attorney Benedict Morelli, announce their sexual harassment lawsuit against television commentator Bill O’Reilly at a news conference in New York City on October 13, 2004.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Considered by many to be one of the top-rated cable news hosts, O’Reilly graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in history and received a master’s degree in broadcast journalism in 1975. He began his career as a high school teacher and then became a news anchor. By 1980, he was an anchor for his own program with WCBS. In 1986, he joined ABC News, and later that year he began working on the entertainment news show Inside Edition. He obtained a second master’s degree that year as well and became the host of his own show, O’Reilly Report. In 1996, the show was renamed The O’Reilly Factor.

The O’Reilly Factor, like his other ventures, has been very successful with millions of viewers. On the show, O’Reilly examines highly controversial issues with a conservative bent, even though he considers himself nonpartisan and is registered as an independent. He has described himself as a “traditionalist” commentator. He has never been afraid to state his opinion, regardless of others’ perceptions of him. He also has written a newspaper column and published a number of books, including The O’Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life (2000), The No Spin Zone (2003), The O’Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America’s Families(2004), Culture Warrior (2006), and Kids Are Americans Too (2007). He also has done some acting.

Whether the sexual harassment allegations made by Mackris are true or not, the intimate details of her complaint, including eighty-five allegations against O’Reilly, have been made public through the Web. Some of those allegations include claims that he masturbated while on the phone with Mackris, and how she was sickened by this fact. In addition, she claims he gave detailed descriptions of what he would do to her sexually if he was away with her, got her drunk, or showered with her. However, no actual tapes were ever produced in the case as evidence, and Morelli could not confirm their existence.

Initially, the parties to the lawsuits attempted to settle informally, but O’Reilly then attempted to have Mackris fired. On October 28, the case was settled out of court. Each party dropped the charges against the other, but the terms of the agreement were never made public. Mackris’s attorney did state, however, that the original offer was too low to be accepted. Experts believe the settlement was probably around $10 million.

Impact

Ratings for The O’Reilly Factor jumped after Mackris’s lawsuit was filed. Critics argue that the accusations may have cost O’Reilly some of his reputation as a moralist, but viewers have not wavered in their respect for his opinion. In fact, in one of the few discussions he had with his viewers regarding the accusations, he thanked them for their loyalty and support.

Even though O’Reilly claimed that there was no wrongdoing on his part—he never apologized to his viewers, to Mackris, or to his employer—he was publicly humiliated and did cancel some scheduled interviews. Before the lawsuits, O’Reilly received many accolades, including Emmy Awards, for his investigative reporting, and he continued to do so afterward.

Impacting the scandal was the ease with which the public could access the complaint against O’Reilly on the Web, leading to further embarrassment for the commentator. In one unfortunate detail from the lawsuit, Mackris claimed that O’Reilly described how he would massage her with a loofah if they were to shower together. However, O’Reilly did not use the term “loofah”; instead he referred to using a “falafel thing” to massage her. As a consequence, the scandal has been comedically referred to as the falafel scandal by his critics.

It is also difficult to ignore the irony of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against O’Reilly, the conservative moralist who has written a children’s book on sex in popular culture, among other conservative topics. Some consider him a hypocrite. Mackris, too, has been criticized for failing to complain to her employer, Fox, at the time the harassment occurred and for returning to work with O’Reilly after the alleged harassment took place. O’Reilly, Bill Mackris, Andrea Morelli, Benedict O’Reilly Factor, The (television)[OReilly Factor, The (television)] Sexual harassment;and Bill O’Reilly[OReilly]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chowthi, Roy. Bill O’Reilly Versus the Truth: Confronting the Propaganda of Bill O’Reilly and the Scam of the “No-Spin” Zone. New York: iUniverse, 2007. Author argues that O’Reilly, who claims he is nonpartisan, is truly a conservative Republican who discredits and despises Democrats and liberals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hart, Peter. The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003. Argues that O’Reilly has misguided opinions and that he contradicts himself. Published in cooperation with the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marshall, Anna-Maria. Confronting Sexual Harassment: The Law and Politics of Everyday Life. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2005. Examines law, social change, and the politics of workers’ everyday lives, which often includes sexual harassment. Also provides a framework for studying issues of everyday life, especially in the workplace.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Reilly, Bill. The No Spin Zone. New York: Broadway Books, 2003. Discussion of current topics and getting to the truth in the context of media “spin” on those topics. Offers advice and opinion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The O’Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life. New York: Broadway Books, 2000. A best-selling book, offering O’Reilly’s opinion about what is right and wrong in the United States. O’Reilly gives his assumptions and views on politics, culture, and society in general.

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