A federal court judge in New York made public the confidential settlements reached between Bill O’Reilly and three women who accused the former Fox News host of misconduct.
Judge Deborah Batts, who is presiding over a defamation suit filed last year, rejected O’Reilly’s request to keep the agreements private (read the ruling here). She wrote that his concerns about disclosing “embarrassing conduct with no public ramifications” are not sufficient to trump the public’s right to view documents the court relied on to reach its decision in the case.
“A possibility of future adverse impact on employment or the celebrity status of a party is not a ‘higher value’ sufficient to overcome the presumption of access to judicial documents,” Batts wrote.
Indeed, the judge notes, O’Reilly “asks the court to resolve a dispute by relying on the very documents he seeks to shield from public view.”
The judge’s ruling created an opening for attorneys to file the confidential agreements reached with the women who had accused O’Reilly of misconduct, and are now suing him for defamation for publicly dismissing their allegations as “politically and financially motivated” and part of a “smear campaign.”
The documents reveal the extent to which O’Reilly went to silence those who came forward with sexual harassment allegations.
Andrea Mackris, a former producer on The O’Reilly Factor who received a $9 million settlement, was required to forfeit all audio recordings and written material — including notes, diaries, photographs, video recordings, letters and emails — and to delete any computer files. She agreed to keep even the existence of such evidence confidential. Should the materials later become public, she would “disclaim them as counterfeit or forgeries.”
The Mackris agreement confirms a New York Times report that Fox News went so far as to hire private investigators to dig up information on her, noting that such materials would be destroyed.
“Strict and complete confidentiality is the essence of this agreement,” the document notes. “The parties agree that the nature and terms of this settlement and agreement, including the existence of this agreement and the fact and amounts of any payments are to remain completely confidential.”
Former Fox Business News host Rebecca Gomez Diamond received a $3.25 million settlement from O’Reilly, a payout not previously disclosed.
Diamond’s settlement terms was so strict, she could only disclose the amount of the payout to her tax advisers after the accountant signed a confidentialityagreement. The only person she told about the settlement was her husband. She, too, agreed to turn over any notes, recordings, emails, computer files or other documents dealing with any conversation she ever had with O’Reilly.
Rachel Witlieb Bernstein received a settlement of about $106,466 (minus deductions), or about 18 months worth of salary as a junior producer at Fox News, in exchange for her silence. If anyone should ask what happened, she would respond: “The matter has been resolved (or settled).” She also agreed not to disparage Fox News or any of its employees, including O’Reilly.
“After the onslaught of harassment and defamation by Bill O’Reilly it is vital that the public hear the truth and see some of the evidence,” wrote Neil Mullin in court documents.