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OPEN MIC BLOG
Chuck Ross

Megyn Kelly Reveals Horrifying Details About Harassment, Bill O’Reilly Spins Out of Control, and What the Murdochs Must Do to Fix Fox News

Nov 17, 2016

Megyn Kelly’s scary, unsettling account of being sexually harassed by her then boss, former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly’s scary, unsettling response when asked about it, shows how much more work the Murdoch’s need to do to make sure people outside of Fox News and within the organization understand that the company has zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

The release this week of Kelly’s book, “Settle for More” – plus her appearances, also this week, on shows such as “Dr. Phil” and “CBS This Morning” — have given us the fullest accounts yet of how Kelly says she was sexually harassed by Ailes. Ailes, for his part, has continually denied sexually harassing anyone, Kelly included, and has not been found guilty of sexual harassment in any legal proceeding.

In her book Kelly writes, “It started in the summer of 2005.” She hadn’t been with Fox News even a year at that point, and she says she was “still a neophyte” in the Washington D.C. bureau.

Kelly writes “As with others I have since learned about, there was a pattern to his behavior. I would be called into Roger’s office, he would shut the door, and over the next hour or two, he would engage in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with me—veering  between obviously inappropriate sexually charged comments (e.g., about the ‘very sexy bras’ I must have and how he’d like to see me in them) and legitimate professional advice. This is part of what made it so complicated—it wasn’t all a come-on—he also gave helpful work-related counsel, such as his suggestion about showing the audience my real self. But there would always be a stinger—and they got more explicit and disturbing over time. I kept a record of Roger’s behavior, and have since shared the facts with those who investigated the case against him. I see no point in making all the details public, but suffice it to say, he made sexual comments to me, offers of professional advancement in exchange for sexual favors, and, eventually, physical attempts to be with me—every single one of which I rejected.”

Kelly continues, “It was an upsetting, impossible dynamic.” Then she references TVWeek (though not by name), noting that we would, year after year, name Ailes “The Most Powerful Person in News.” She adds “A man whose good opinion I desperately wanted, who could make or break my budding television career. I was happy to be working there—I had finally achieved my dream. The last thing I wanted was this kind of monkey wrench thrown into our relationship. I wanted him to like me—professionally—and for him to help develop my career based only on my work performance. But he was trying to change the stakes for my advancement, and when that realization became inescapable, I felt a surge of panic.”

Kelly says she thought to herself, “I am an attorney. How can he be so reckless?”

Then things got even worse.

In January, 2006, Kelly and Ailes had an exchange in his office that Kelly describes as “shocking.” Ailes crossed a new line, she says, “trying to grab me repeatedly and kiss me on the lips.” Pushing him away, twice, she tried to leave his office. As she was struggling to get away, Ailes “Asked me an ominous question: ‘When is your contract up?’ As Ailes tried to kiss her yet again, Kelly was able to turn the handle of the door and escape from his office.

What a friggin’ nightmare! Kelly writes, “Earlier, Roger had made sure I know the stakes, telling me: ‘I don’t like to fight, but when I do, I fight to kill.’ The message could not have been clearer: If you tell anyone, I will destroy you. [italics by Kelly] He easily could have. He was merciless to his enemies, and Roger called all the shots at Fox. He had set up the management such that everyone was completely devoted to him. Loyalty was prized above everything—it was a prerequisite of working for him.”

To read more of the nitty gritty, you’ll have to buy Kelly’s book. Let me try and quickly summarize the remainder of her story with Ailes. She hired a lawyer and told him what was going on with Ailes. She didn’t want to sue—she just wanted this nightmare with Ailes to go away. She told her officemate Major Garrett – who is now with CBS News – some of what was happening.

She also contacted a person who Kelly only refers to as “a supervisor,” and told this person what was happening with Ailes. This “supervisor” told Kelly that Ailes was probably just “smitten” with her and suggested that Kelly just avoid Ailes. Kelly said she had not thought of just trying to avoid Ailes as a viable option. The strategy seemed to work. By the next summer Kelly had another serious problem—she was being stalked. She says Ailes was “appropriate and supportive” about this problem. That fall—which would have been the fall of 2006—Kelly was offered the job of co-hosting Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” She moved to New York in January 2007 to do so. By then Kelly also met and fell in love with the man who is now her husband. Ailes never harassed her again, she writes.

Flash forward to this year, and Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes. Then other women came forward as well. Writes Kelly, “The details of their stories rang disturbingly true to me — I felt sick upon reading them.”

Kelly says there was “an intense campaign” within Fox to get her and her on-air colleagues to speak out publicly to defend Ailes. She writes “no way was I going to lie to protect him.” As a result, Ailes “engineered hit pieces about me online.” But by then Kelly was in position in her career to withstand Ailes’ slings and arrows.

Finally, when Fox hired the law firm of Paul Weiss to investigate Ailes’ behavior, Kelly told them her story.

One of Ailes’ defenders when Carlson filed her sexual harassment lawsuit was Bill O’Reilly. As a guest on Seth Meyers’ late-night talk show at the time, O’Reilly said: “I stand behind Roger 100%.”

Earlier this week, on Tuesday morning, Nov. 15, 2016, O’Reilly was on “CBS This Morning” to promote a kid’s book he’s co-written, and during the conversation he was asked about Kelly’s book:

Norah O’Donnell: Megyn Kelly has a book coming out. Have you read it?

Bill O’Reilly: No. I have not read it.

Gayle King: You’re in it. I don’t know, it seems like if I was in a book, Bill, I might want to take a look. What she’s sayin’ about me?

O’Reilly: I didn’t even know I was in it. Look, I’m trying to stay out of any of that kind of stuff. It doesn’t pertain to my life. I wish her well. She’s a very smart woman. You know it’s a very tough book environment. We will see if people respond to it. But I have not read it. But it’s not a dis. I mean it just came out. So I’ll look at it.

King: Bill, it just came out but you know people, you could get the book early if you wanted.

O’Reilly: No, they locked that thing down.

O’Donnell: She’s not going to be on your show talking about it?

O’Reilly: I don’t know. We’ll see if she’s going to be on the show or not. I want to be very candid here. I’m not that interested in this.

King: No?

O’Donnell: In sexual harassment?

O’Reilly: I’m not interested in basically litigating something that is finished that makes my network look bad. [O’Reilly is getting noticeably angry here] OK? I’m not interested in making my network look bad. At all. That doesn’t interest me one bit.

O’Donnell: Is that what she’s doing?

O’Reilly: I don’t know. But I’m not going to even bother with it. I’ve got a country that’s in a political transition. I’ve got a kids book that I want millions of kids to look at. That’s what I’m interested in. Not making my network look bad.

Anthony Mason: But if your network is affected by it.

O’Donnell: Excuse me. I feel a little flush here. Are you OK?

O’Reilly: Norah and I have known each other forever and we’re Irish people.

O’Donnell: And I felt the Irish heat, Bill O’Reilly.

O’Reilly: It’s open season. Let’s whack the Fox News Channel. I’ve had enough of it. It’s a good place to work. All right? We do good work. We do honest work there. So, I’m not going to buy into let’s use the Fox News Channel as a piñata. I don’t think it’s right.

Here’s a video of the segment described above. The segment in question starts 4 minutes and 40 seconds into this tape:

O’Reilly seems to think that just because Kelly says she was sexually harassed by Ailes that she is somehow delivering blows to Fox News. Actually, if anyone demeaned Fox News, it was Ailes, if it is true that he threatened and harassed Kelly and other women staffers.

Another reason O’Reilly may have been upset about talking about sexual harassment is that it may be a subject that hit too close to home.

Back on Oct. 29, 2004, according to an article published on that date in The Washington Post by Howard Kurtz – who is now a Fox News media analyst and host of the network’s Sunday show “MediaBuzz” – “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.”

Later in the piece Kurtz wrote, “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.”

And “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.’”

O’Reilly was evidently so upset with being asked about Kelly and Ailes and Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment on CBS on Tuesday morning that he prepared a piece about it for his Tuesday night show, “The O’Reilly Factor.” [Oddly, although most of O’Reilly’s Tips of the Day are posted on the Fox News website, I could not find this one posted.]

Here’s how O’Reilly closed his show on Tuesday:

“Finally tonight, the Tip of the Day: Loyalty. This morning James Patterson and I were on ‘CBS This Morning’ discussing ‘Give Please a Chance.’ The conversation shifted to some problems Fox News Channel had earlier this year. I was not amused.

Video Clip from ‘CBS This Morning”:

O’Reilly: I’ve got a country that’s in a political transition. I’ve got a kids book that I want millions of kids to look at. That’s what I’m interested in. Not making my network look bad.

Mason: But if your network is affected by it.

O’Donnell: Excuse me. I feel a little flush here. Are you OK?

O’Reilly: Norah and I have known each other forever and we’re Irish people.

O’Donnell: And I felt the Irish heat, Bill O’Reilly.

O’Reilly: It’s open season. Let’s whack the Fox News Channel. I’ve had enough of it. It’s a good place to work. All right?

End of Clip.

Then O’Reilly says: “So here’s the deal. If somebody is paying you a wage, you owe that person or company allegiance. You don’t like what’s happening in the workplace, go to human resources. Or leave. I’ve done that.

“And then take the action you need to take afterward if you feel aggrieved. [Italics mine.] There are labor laws in this country. But don’t run down the concern that supports you by trying to undermine it. ‘Factor’ tip of the day: Loyalty is good. And that is it for us tonight.”

I was livid after watching this “Tip of the Day.” Leave the company then try to get your grievances addressed?

Besides the wrongheadedness of this advice, O’Reilly also has it exactly backward about loyalty. A business’s most valuable assets are the ones that leave the shop and go home every night. Its employees. And the allegiance, the loyalty, the commitment that is owed by a company to its workers is a safe workplace, free from sexual harassment.

Kelly and Carlson and the millions of women who have been sexually harassed in the workplace – and who continually are harassed today – are victims, and not disloyal for complaining about sexual harassment just because someone is paying them a wage. That Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’ most popular and culturally influential personality, doesn’t get this means Fox News still has a big problem, regardless of the fact Roger Ailes is no longer there.

Part of the problem, in my view—as I have previously written—is the reluctance of the Murdochs—James and Lachlan and Rupert—to publicly use the words “sexual harassment” when cleaning house. Now, more than ever, they need to make a public statement that says something like this:

“We are greatly disturbed by Bill O’Reilly’s recent statements when asked about Megyn Kelly’s new book, in which she says she was sexually harassed earlier in her career at Fox News. Mr. O’Reilly does not speak for management. Let us be crystal clear: There is no entity which we own where we will tolerate anyone being sexually harassed. Our tolerance for sexual harassment is zero. We have appointed (person’s name), whose sole purpose is to investigate any claims of sexual harassment in the company, and to make sure no one’s career is imperiled for making such claims. Our pledge to you is a workplace free of sexual harassment.”

4 Comments

  1. Well said.

  2. Nice hatchet job on O”Reilly and Fox News. I’m proud of you how you take half-truths, outright lies, innuendo, and rumors and make it into a story that sounds plausible by unintelligent readers. The headline, “O’Reilly Spins Out Of Control” is particularly great as there is nothing in your article that even remotely sounded like that. We’ll get rid of Fox News and get O’Reilly fired. Keep up your fabrications. Nobody checks the facts anymore so any lie is accepted as fact.

  3. Ha Chuck – will you please re-publish all the articles you did on Bill Clinton and Monica or: Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Juanita Broadrick, Gennifer Flowers. Highlight where Hillary attacked these women to support her position , I mean her husband. And while you are at it how about the articles about Bill Cosby. It is amazing how the phrase ” journalistic integrity” has become an oxymoron!

  4. Excellent article, Chuck. And in my opinion, no hatchet job because it’s all substantiated by facts from dozens of credible sources. If the interviews of the Paul-Weiss firm were ever published, or better yet aired in a court in front of a jury, then we’d have definitive proof. Yet even then, these angry deniers would say it was “rigged” or “corrupt.”

    It’s truly sad & shocking how supporters of BOR, and Trump for that matter, conveniently look the other way when faced with the truth of sexual harassment. “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”― Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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