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Richard Cohen

The Nonsense Factor

By Richard Cohen
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page A29

A psychotherapist years ago introduced me to the term "bear hug." I'm not sure anymore exactly how she defined it (and I don't think she originated it), but I've used it ever since to describe those situations where you are powerless to get out of someone's grip, causing anger and often rage. This, I think, helps explain the sexual harassment lawsuit leveled against Bill O'Reilly.

The specifics of the lawsuit -- the actual complaint -- are all over the Internet, so I leave it to you to find the gamier allegations on your own. Suffice it to say that a woman named Andrea Mackris, who once was O'Reilly's associate producer, has accused her former boss of pressuring her to have telephone sex with him. She says O'Reilly repeatedly made these requests both in person and over the phone -- conversations she apparently recorded. She quotes O'Reilly verbatim. It's rough stuff.

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If the allegations are true, there is no excusing O'Reilly. He would not only be a sexual harasser but an old goat drunk with power. The picture painted by Mackris in her lawsuit is of a media figure who is so high on his fame that he thinks he is invincible. He told her he would destroy any woman who retaliated against him, she says. He is fearsome -- and Mackris says she did fear him.

Still, she did not fear him so much that, after she had left O'Reilly's Fox News Channel show and gone to work at CNN, she wouldn't go to dinner with him. This happened after repeated episodes of the rawest sexual harassment, Mackris says. Yet, on April 13, 2004, "Defendant Bill O'Reilly asked Plaintiff Andrea Mackris to come watch the President's press conference on the television in his hotel room," Mackris's lawsuit says. And how did she respond? Mind you, she wasn't even working for O'Reilly at the time. She said, sure -- and went to the hotel room. "They watched the press conference without incident," the lawsuit says, and later Mackris returned to Fox and O'Reilly's show . . . for more money.

In fact, in her telling of the tale, she got both a choice assignment and a salary increase because she was the object of O'Reilly's sexual fantasies. She is saying that a quid pro quo existed. It was not merely her manifest talents as a booker that won her that raise and that choice assignment.

Let us dispense with the boilerplate denunciation of O'Reilly as an alleged pig and even more boilerplate about him being the all-powerful man and Mackris being the totally powerless woman. All of that could be true. It also seems true, though, that Mackris either skipped classes in common sense when she was at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism or was playing O'Reilly like the proverbial violin.

Whether Mackris was aware of her power is impossible for me to say. But I can say that she never went to Fox's human resources department to complain about O'Reilly. She never seemed to realize that by not complaining and, more specifically, by going to dinner with him, to his hotel room and then, upon returning to Fox News, accepting assignments and a salary increase not given to others, she was hardly telling O'Reilly that she found his behavior thoroughly repugnant, as she says in her lawsuit. I almost pity O'Reilly. Off camera, he must be a bit slow.

Initially, I gleefully read about O'Reilly's troubles because, among other things, the man has taken my name in vain -- and inaccurately. But it was a young female television producer who suggested I write about this because, if I may paraphrase, lawsuits such as Mackris's infantilize women. They portray women totally as victims, without recourse or remedy at their disposal. It insults common sense. It rewrites nature.

I can understand the rage of women subjected to the sort of sewer O'Reilly allegedly opened up on Mackris. If he did it, it is wrong -- just plain wrong. But it is also wrong for a woman to be even a bit complicit and then act as if she played no role whatsoever in the oldest game known to mankind. I can appreciate that Mackris was in an awful bear hug. But she screamed for help a bit late in the game.

cohenr@washpost.com


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