On Wednesday, a court in New York permitted the release of the full settlement agreements reached by former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly and multiple women who have accused him of sexual harassment.
The former talk show host had been fighting to keep the full settlements sealed. “O’Reilly only refers to generalized ‘privacy interests,’ ‘embarrassing conduct,’ and the overarching policy goals of maintaining confidentiality in private agreements,” said U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts in her decision denying his request. “O’Reilly has failed to present compelling countervailing factors that could overcome the presumption of public access to the agreements in question.”
Last year, the New York Times published an exhaustive investigation into a series of settlements reached by former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. The report detailed millions of dollars in payments made by the conservative talk show host and his employer to at least six women, five of whom accused him of sexual harassment.
O’Reilly responded to the report by attacking the New York Times for “maliciously smearing” him by publishing information that was “out of context, false, defamatory, and obviously designed to embarrass Bill O’Reilly.”
His comments about the Times’ reporting have only landed him in deeper legal trouble, though. Three of the women who settled with O’Reilly filed a defamation suit against him in December 2017, arguing that his public comments depicted them as “liars, political operatives, and extortionists.”
O’Reilly and Fox News cited portions of the settlement agreement in their effort to get the defamation suit dismissed. On Tuesday, a judge denied a separate motion by O’Reilly to keep the full settlements sealed, ruling that they constituted judicial documents and were therefore subjected to public disclosure.
The plaintiffs, women who signed the agreements with O’Reilly and Fox News, submitted the full agreements in their response after getting a green light from the judge. By Wednesday afternoon, the full text of the separate settlements reached with Andrea Mackris and Rebecca Diamond were available online.
The settlements contain several extraordinary provisions that explain why O’Reilly was so determined to keep them from public view.
The 2004 settlement reached with former O’Reilly Factor producer Andrea Mackris, for example, states that Mackris and her attorneys are required to turn over or destroy any and all material documenting O’Reilly’s behavior. Should any material wind up publicly disclosed — even by a third party unbound by the terms of the settlement — Mackris and her attorneys were required to publicly disavow them as forgeries.
The settlement also reveals that Fox News hired private investigators — including failed New York City mayoral candidate and Fox News commentator Bo Dietl — to collect information about Mackris and her attorneys. The document stipulates that Fox News would permanently delete or destroy all material collected by their hired detectives prior to the execution of the settlement.
Incredibly, during the negotiations of the terms of their settlement, one of Mackris’s attorneys abruptly switched sides, joining O’Reilly’s legal team. Part of Mackris’ settlement provides that her attorney will provide legal advice on sexual harassment issues to O’Reilly. Mackris’ current attorney describes the arrangement as a “profoundly unethical conflict.”
In the weeks ahead, the judge will rule on whether the lawsuit can proceed.
Judd Legum contributed to this story.