Bill O'Reilly settled a sexual harassment lawsuit by his former producer last night, ending what he called a "brutal ordeal" without an apology.
The Fox News talk show host also agreed to drop his extortion suit against Andrea Mackris and her attorney, Benedict Morelli, according to a statement by O'Reilly's lawyer. The deal likely involves payment of millions of dollars to Mackris, since the two sides were discussing an offer of well over $2 million when negotiations broke down, say sources close to O'Reilly. Both parties agreed to keep the details confidential, according to the statement.
O'Reilly told viewers, in language cleared by the lawyers, that there was "no wrongdoing in the case whatsoever by anyone" -- and appeared to dispute, without specifically doing so, some of the lurid details of what Mackris alleged were phone-sex conversations between them. "Please do not believe everything you hear and read," he said on "The O'Reilly Factor."
The top-rated cable news host has said he was humiliated by the suit, which charged that he spoke to Mackris about sexual fantasies, masturbation and vibrators while sometimes seeming to pleasure himself. But for O'Reilly to strike a settlement without an expression of regret, which is often demanded in litigation against high-profile figures, is a partial victory that spares him further embarrassment.
Morelli did not respond to requests for comment last night.
Describing himself as an "object of media scorn," O'Reilly told viewers: "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. . . .
"The good news is that 'Factor' viewers and listeners seem to have given me the benefit of any doubt when some in the media did not. You guys looked out for me and I will never forget it. This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again."
O'Reilly told The Washington Post two weeks ago that the day the suit was filed was "the worst day of my life."
Morelli had earlier predicted that O'Reilly was "not going to get away with it" and was "going down." He and his client, who also named Fox News as a defendant, did not dispute an accusation by O'Reilly that they had initially demanded $60 million to settle without going to court.
Much of the criticism of O'Reilly, 55, has centered on his role as a moralist who has lectured about too much sex in pop culture and has just published a children's book in which he warns boys against treating girls abusively. But he has had little to say on the subject since Mackris, 33, who is still employed by Fox, went public with her charges. O'Reilly even canceled several scheduled television interviews.
Fox believed Mackris had tape recordings of the long, highly detailed conversations alleged in the suit, but Morelli never confirmed that, saying only that they had concrete evidence. O'Reilly and his attorney, Ronald Green, never denied that the Fox commentator had used such language, but said he never broke the law and questioned whether Mackris was truly offended or was taking words and phrases out of context.
Questions swirled around Mackris's conduct as well, including why she didn't hang up on O'Reilly, why she never complained to Fox authorities and why she returned to work for him earlier this year after spending a few months at CNN. "I was put in a position with a man that, whenever he would call me at work or at home, work-related, he would say jump and I'd say how high and I would jump," Mackris told CNN earlier this month. "I'm not used to saying no to this man on any level. I had said no to him and no to him and no to him and no to him and no to him and no to him about his saucy language. . . . He had threatened that anybody who ever would speak of it would be raked through the mud. . . . I was absolutely threatened."
Mackris has also drawn her share of negative coverage. The New York Post, which is owned by the same parent company as Fox, ran the headline " 'Lunatic' O'Reilly Gal Went Nuts in Bar." But she kept up the public pressure, telling the New York Daily News that her father wanted to challenge O'Reilly to a duel.
Despite the unfavorable publicity -- or perhaps because of it -- O'Reilly's ratings have jumped by as much as a third in the past two weeks, sometimes reaching 3.5 million viewers.