Beyond the possible trauma to the personal lives of the parties involved, the big question about the sexual-harassment lawsuit filed last week against Bill O’Reilly by O’Reilly Factor associate producer Andrea Mackris is this: Will the contretemps sour viewers on the Fox News Channel star and endanger his position as a multimedia rainmaker?
O’Reilly, who is paid about $4 million annually by Fox, brings in about $50 million of the network’s $300 million yearly ad revenue. He makes millions more from his radio show, syndicated newspaper column, bestselling books and Web site.
O’Reilly, who beat her to court with a lawsuit claiming extortion, could well ride out the storm. Rush Limbaugh’s drug scandal hasn’t crimped ratings of his radio talk show, which Talkers magazine says still draws around 14.5 million listeners a week. But even if Fox loses O’Reilly over Mackris’ allegations, his leaving likely wouldn’t have the devastating effect it might had a few years ago. Hannity & Colmes, which follows The O’Reilly Factor on the schedule, trails it by just 15% in the ratings.
“The net loss if he were to be gone is not as great as you might surmise on the surface,” says Harry DeMott of Gothic Capital Management. “They’ll replace him with someone else. It makes for great headlines, but from a business standpoint, he’s not the only one on Fox News that people are watching.”
Factor’s ratings actually spiked 10% after the news broke. “This is going to be evolutionary, and if the viewers stay with him, the advertisers will, too,” says Horizon Media ad researcher Brad Adgate. “If people don’t want to watch him, the ad rates will go down, and it won’t be as critical for advertisers to buy. It’s a chicken-and-egg thing.” For now, it’s just chicken as O’Reilly and Mackris, armed with lawyers, tilt at each other in the courts.
From Andrea Mackris’ complaint:
…during the course of their dinner in early May 2002, Defendant Bill O’Reilly’s demeanor abruptly changed. O’Reilly’s eyes became glazed and bizarrely straying opposite directions. Suddenly, without provocation or warning, defendant Bill O’Reilly said to plaintiff Andrea Mackris: “And just use your vibrator to blow off steam.” When plaintiff reddened, defendant Bill O’Reilly asked lewdly: “What, you’ve got a vibrator, don’t you? Every girl does.” When plaintiff responded indignantly, “No, and no, they don’t. Does your wife?” Defendant replied: “Yes, in fact she does. She’d kill me if she knew I was telling you!” Plaintiff was repulsed.
From Bill O’Reilly and Fox News’ complaint:
…Mackris even conceded in the draft complaint that she: (a) thanked O’Reilly for dinner after he supposedly made the inappropriate comments to her of which she now complains; (b) had dinner and cocktails with O’Reilly on several occasions thereafter both alone and with others; (c) left Fox to go to its major competitor CNN for more money, a reason unrelated to O’Reilly, and she later sought to return to work with O’Reilly if he would match her salary at CNN. She also admitted in the draft complaint that after leaving Fox and while working for CNN in 2004, she went to dinner with O’Reilly and then alone with him to his hotel room to watch a presidential press conference. She further conceded that nothing untoward occurred in his hotel room.
From a Sept. 7, 2004, e-mail sent by Mackris (quoted in O’Reilly and Fox’s complaint) to a friend at CNN who asked, “How are things?”:
…things are: wonderful, amazing, fun, creative, invigorating, secure, well-managed, challenging, interesting, fun and surrounded by really good, fun people. I’m home and I’ll never leave again.
From The O’Reilly Factor For Kids, in a chapter titled “Sex”:
... I repeat my mantra: Sex is best when you combine sensible behavior with sincere affection. That’s the ideal, and it is smart to wait for it.
It is also smart to recognize that there is no area more potentially dishonest than the sexual arena. Girls, some guys will tell you anything to get that sex thing going. Then, after it’s done, they will brutally drop you. Don’t let that happen. Make your boyfriend prove [himself] over time. And don’t ever allow yourself to get drunk or stoned to have sex. That’s how most girls get pregnant.
And guys, if you exploit a girl, it will come back to get you. That’s called “karma.”