O'Reilly Settles Out of Court
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly and the female co-worker who accused him of sexual harassment settled their dispute out of court on Thursday, agreeing there was no wrongdoing by either side in a scandal that O'Reilly called a "brutal ordeal."
The agreement brought an abrupt end to a sensational case that had turned the media spotlight on America's top-rated cable television news host, a darling of political conservatives and an outspoken proponent of personal morality.
Both sides agreed to drop all allegations against each other, but details of the settlement were kept confidential.
"All litigation has ceased in that case that has made me the object of media scorn from coast to coast," O'Reilly said in a brief statement to his viewers on Thursday's broadcast.
The 55-year-old commentator, who is married and the father of two, added: "this matter has caused enormous pain, but I had to protect my family and I did. Some of the media hammered me relentlessly because ... 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 concluded by saying, "This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again."
The settlement came a day before O'Reilly's accuser and her lawyer were due in court to divulge whether she had recordings of her telephone conversations with the commentator.
Andrea Mackris, 33, an associate producer for "The O'Reilly Factor," had sued the talk show host earlier this month, claiming he had repeatedly pressured her to engage in sexually explicit conversations over the phone, talking about vibrators, masturbation and pleasuring himself at times as he spoke.
ANTICIPATING THE COMPLAINT
She claimed O'Reilly and Fox News had threatened retaliation if she came forward with her allegations.
Anticipating the complaint, O'Reilly and Fox News filed their own suit earlier the same day. The suit accused Mackris and her lawyer, Benedict Morelli, of trying to extort $60 million in "hush money" from him by threatening to go public with false allegations of sexual harassment.
In a statement on Thursday, legal firm Becker & Green, which represented O'Reilly, said all parties had agreed to settle the dispute out of court, withdrawing both the harassment suit and the extortion case.
"All parties have agreed that there was no wrongdoing whatsoever by Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Mackris, or Ms. Mackris' counsel," the statement said. It did not say whether a financial settlement was involved.
While O'Reilly and his attorney, Ronald Green, have both denied he did anything wrong, neither has denied publicly that O'Reilly ever made sexually explicit remarks to Mackris, like those attributed to him in her lawsuit. Green instead has suggested that Mackris secretly recorded her phone conversations with O'Reilly to entrap him.
Referring to the statement issued by his lawyers, O'Reilly told viewers on Thursday: "Obviously, the words 'no wrongdoing' are the key."
Mackris' lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
Despite the lurid nature of the case, publicity surrounding the dispute did not seem to hurt O'Reilly's following. His show has drawn consistently higher ratings since the scandal broke. Monday night's telecast was watched by 3.7 million viewers, one of the program's biggest audiences ever, according to Nielsen Media Research.
O'Reilly, however, did recently cancel a series of TV interviews planned for the promotion of his new children's book, "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids."
His lawyers had sought access to tapes they believed Mackris had made of her phone conversations with O'Reilly as part of what they said was a plan to extort money from the commentator.
Mackris began working as an associate producer on O'Reilly's program in April 2000. Earlier this year, she left her job at Fox for a few months to work for rival network CNN, but returned to Fox in July. Fox said she had been placed on paid leave since just before the exchange of lawsuits.
Asked whether Mackris remained employed by the network, a Fox News spokeswoman said only, "The statement (from O'Reilly's lawyers) speaks for itself."
Fox News Channel is part of the Fox Entertainment Group, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
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