Lurid Claims Burst Into View
Fox News has been aware of complaints about inappropriate behavior by Mr. O’Reilly since at least 2002, when Mr. O’Reilly stormed into the newsroom and screamed at a young producer, according to current and former employees, some of whom witnessed the incident.
Shortly thereafter, the woman, Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, left the network with a payout and bound by a confidentiality agreement, people familiar with the deal said. The exact amount she was paid is not known, but it was far less than the other settlements. The case did not involve sexual harassment.
Two years later, allegations about Mr. O’Reilly entered the public arena in lurid fashion when a producer on his show, Andrea Mackris, then 33, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. In the suit, she said he had told her to buy a vibrator, called her at times when it sounded as if he was masturbating and described sexual fantasies involving her. Ms. Mackris had recorded some of the conversations, people familiar with the case said.
Ms. Mackris also said in the suit that Mr. O’Reilly, who was married at the time (he and his wife divorced in 2011), threatened her, saying he would make any woman who complained about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.”
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, current and former employees told The Times.
Before Ms. Mackris even filed suit, Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly surprised her with a pre-emptive suit of their own, asserting she was seeking to extort $60 million in return for not going public with “scandalous and scurrilous” claims about Mr. O’Reilly.
“This is the single most evil thing I have ever experienced, and I have seen a lot,” he said on his show the day both suits were filed. “But these people picked the wrong guy.”
A public relations firm was hired to help shape the narrative in Mr. O’Reilly’s favor, and the private investigator Bo Dietl was retained to dig up information on Ms. Mackris. The goal was to depict her as a promiscuous woman, deeply in debt, who was trying to shake down Mr. O’Reilly, according to people briefed on the strategy. Several unflattering stories about her appeared in the tabloids.
After two weeks of sensational headlines, the two sides settled, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed to pay Ms. Mackris about $9 million, according to people briefed on the agreement. The parties agreed to issue a public statement that “no wrongdoing whatsoever” had occurred.
Settling Behind Closed Doors
In the years that followed, Mr. O’Reilly and Fox News dealt with sexual harassment allegations in private, striking agreements with three more women.
In 2011, Rebecca Gomez Diamond, who had hosted a show on the Fox Business Network — also supervised by Mr. Ailes — was told the network was not renewing her contract. Similar to Ms. Mackris, Ms. Diamond had recorded conversations with Mr. O’Reilly, according to people familiar with the case. Armed with the recordings, her lawyers went to the company and outlined her complaints against him.
Ms. Diamond left the network, bound by a confidentiality agreement, and Mr. O’Reilly paid the settlement, two of the people said. The exact amount of the payout is not known.
Although that deal was made nearly six years ago, Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, learned of it only in late 2016 when it conducted an investigation into Fox News under Mr. Ailes’s tenure, according to another person familiar with the matter.
In the aftermath of Mr. Ailes’s ouster last summer, as 21st Century Fox was completing settlements and trying to put the scandal behind it, it reached deals with two women who had complained about sexual harassment by Mr. O’Reilly.
One was Laurie Dhue, an anchor at Fox News from 2000 to 2008. Though Ms. Dhue had not raised sexual harassment issues during her tenure or upon her departure, her lawyers went to the company to outline her harassment claims against Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Ailes, according to people briefed on the complaints. In response, 21st Century Fox reached a settlement with her for more than $1 million, according to a person briefed on the agreement.
In September, 21st Century Fox reached a settlement worth $1.6 million with Juliet Huddy, who had made regular appearances on Mr. O’Reilly’s show, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Huddy’s lawyers had told the company that Mr. O’Reilly pursued a sexual relationship with her in 2011, at a time he exerted significant influence over her airtime.
Among Ms. Huddy’s complaints was that he made inappropriate phone calls, the lawyers said in correspondence obtained by The Times. The letter said that when he tried to kiss her, she pulled away and fell to the ground and he didn’t help her up.
When she rebuffed him, he tried to blunt her career prospects, the letter said.
Ms. Huddy was eventually moved to an early morning show on WNYW, an affiliate station, where she worked until she left the company in September.
Before Ms. Huddy reached an agreement with 21st Century Fox, Mr. Newman, Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyer, sent a letter to her lawyer outlining some embarrassing personal issues he said Ms. Huddy had. He statedi that she would “face significant credibility concerns if she tries to pursue a claim against Mr. O’Reilly.” The letter, which was obtained by The Times, said that if she were to follow through with a claim against Mr. O’Reilly, he would pursue legal action “to hold Ms. Huddy, and all who have assisted her, personally liable for any damage suffered by him or his family.”
In January, when The Times and others reported on Ms. Huddy’s settlement, representatives for Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly dismissed the allegations.
Fox News is now in a legal battle with Ms. Tantaros, the former on-air personality who is suing the network and Mr. Ailes after turning down a settlement offer of nearly $1 million. Mr. O’Reilly is not a defendant, but in the suit Ms. Tantaros said that in early 2016 Mr. O’Reilly had asked “her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be ‘very private,’” and told her “on more than one occasion that he could ‘see [her] as a wild girl,’” according to court documents.
In an affidavit filed under oath, Ms. Tantaros’s psychologist, Michele Berdy, who treated her from 2013 to 2016, said that she recalled “a number of occasions when Andrea complained to me about recurring unwanted advances from Bill O’Reilly.”
Fox News said it investigated Ms. Tantaros’s claims and found them baseless. The company explained her departure by saying she published a book that violated company policy. In court papers, the network said that she “is not a victim; she is an opportunist” and that her allegations bore “all the hallmarks of the wannabe.”
Ms. Walsh, the former guest on “The O’Reilly Factor,” told The Times she was propositioned by Mr. O’Reilly in 2013 but did not lodge a complaint because she did not want to harm her career prospects.
Ms. Walsh said that she met Mr. O’Reilly for a dinner, arranged by his secretary, at the restaurant in the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. During the dinner, she said, he told her he was friends with Mr. Ailes, and promised to make her a network contributor — a job that can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year.
After dinner, she said, Mr. O’Reilly invited her to his hotel suite. Ms. Walsh said she declined. Trying to remain cordial, she suggested that they go to the hotel bar instead. Once there, she said, he became hostile, telling her she could forget any career advice he had given her and that she was on her own. He also told her that her purse, a black-leather designer clutch, was ugly.
Ms. Walsh continued to appear on his show for about four months, but she said she sensed that he had become cold toward her on camera. Then, a producer for “The O’Reilly Factor” told Ms. Walsh that she would no longer appear on the show. She was never made a contributor.
“I knew my hopes of a career at Fox News were in jeopardy after that evening,” said Ms. Walsh, who now is an adjunct professor of psychology at California State University, Channel Islands, and a radio host at KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles.
A person briefed on the network’s decision said that Ms. Walsh was removed from the broadcast because the program’s ratings declined during her segments.
Shadowing Another’s Exile
Ms. Mackris, the producer who sued Mr. O’Reilly in 2004, never worked in television news again.
In the years after the dispute, she suffered from post-traumatic stress and spent years seeing a therapist, struggling to figure out how to create a new life, according to interviews with people close to her at the time.
Ms. Mackris’s settlement prevents her from talking about Fox News and her dispute with Mr. O’Reilly, according to people briefed on the deal. But she is allowed to talk about her life now.
Today, Ms. Mackris lives with her cats in an art-filled condo in her hometown, St. Louis, where she keeps bowls of colorful gumballs on tabletops. Her family is close by. She has traveled the world, volunteered, returned to school, discovered prayer and meditation, and started writing.
She is working on a book she researched and wrote over the past four years about a woman who fled Romania during World War II.
“A few years ago, I heard about a pair of natural pearl earrings forgotten in a drawer for 35 years that had just sold for millions at auction,” Ms. Mackris said. “They’d been given to a woman named Elena Lupescu by the king of Romania who ruled up until World War II, and I was immediately and completely taken by her story.”
“She lived in exile,” Ms. Mackris continued. “She lived in silence. And I got really curious about three things: How did she live with it all? Did she forgive them? And was she free?”
At Fox News, Mr. O’Reilly has continued his dominance. In the months since the presidential election, as the network has pulled in record ratings, his show has averaged 3.9 million viewers a night, according to Nielsen. Since September, he has released three books, including one for children, adding to his growing publishing empire. And in February, Mr. O’Reilly landed a coveted interview with President Trump before the Super Bowl.
Mr. O’Reilly was an early defender of Mr. Ailes and Fox News during that sexual harassment scandal last summer. His support remained resolute into the fall, after the company had reached agreements to settle the harassment claims from Ms. Huddy and Ms. Dhue. In November, he chided Megyn Kelly, his colleague at the time, after she described being sexually harassed by Mr. Ailes in her memoir.
“If somebody is paying you a wage, you owe that person or company allegiance,” , without mentioning Ms. Kelly by name. “You don’t like what’s happening in the workplace, go to human resources or leave.”
Kitty Bennett, Doris Burke and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.