“This is as good as it gets!” New York litigator David Ratner shouted at his client, Andrea Mackris, slapping both hands on the highly polished conference table. “Take the money,” Ratner yelled, “and move on with your life!”
That was almost 17 years ago, on the evening of Oct. 28, 2004, in the imposing boardroom of celebrity lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz, on an upper floor of the Paramount Building boasting vertiginous views of Manhattan. Mackris, then a 33-year-old Fox News producer on the cusp of a promising career, didn’t want to accept her boss Bill O’Reilly’s offer to settle her sexual harassment lawsuit against him for $9 million—$3 million of which would be pocketed by her legal team, Ratner and Benedict Morelli.
The money, along with a draconian non-disclosure agreement that Mackris said she has no memory of being shown until more than a decade later, was designed to buy her eternal silence about her headline-making lawsuit’s allegations. Backed up by audio recordings of O’Reilly’s late-night phone calls, the suit detailed the Fox News star’s persistent and menacing verbal assaults during her nearly four years of working for him. They included unwelcome demands for phone sex and mutual masturbation, as well as O’Reilly’s infamous alleged fantasy of soaping her down in the shower with a either a “loofah” or a “falafel thing.”
Today, Mackris recalls to The Daily Beast for the first time intimate and graphic details of O’Reilly’s alleged harassment, including lewd, menacing telephone calls and conversations in which she says he forced her to listen to his sexual fantasies about her. “I’m going to make you play,” O’Reilly would tell Mackris. “Here was my boss, a man who held my career and future in his hands, acknowledging that he knew I’d never consented but he didn’t care,” Mackris tells The Daily Beast.
Inside Kasowitz’s boardroom, back in 2004, “I was so upset, screaming and crying that I wasn’t going to sign it, that I wanted to go to trial, so Ben said, ‘Can we clear the room and have David speak to Andrea,’” Mackris, now 50, told The Daily Beast—the first time she has spoken publicly about a crucible that ended her career in television journalism, indeed any career prospects at all, and continues to consume her daily life almost two decades later. “So everyone left except David. He said, ‘No one believes you, and you’ll never be hired again, and if you walk out of this room like this, no other lawyers will work with you. You didn’t hire us to go to trial, you hired us to make him stop.’”
An associate producer making $93,000 a year, Mackris was the only woman in a room populated by much more handsomely compensated attorneys representing the defendants: O’Reilly, Fox News, Westwood One (which syndicated O’Reilly’s radio show), Fox News’ then-parent company News Corp., and 20th Century Fox.
Ratner “was yelling because I was yelling back at him that Bill wasn’t a victim,” Mackris recalled in a series of exclusive interviews. “I was saying, ‘I’m not doing this, I’m not doing this. I’ll walk out. No, I’m not signing.’ I was sobbing and screaming. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening—that Fox heard the tapes and was doing nothing. I was in full-blown PTSD. I wasn’t in my body. I was shaking from head to toe and crying uncontrollably.”
Ratner, for his part, offered a different version of their boardroom encounter. “No one yelled. No one screamed, no one threatened,” he emailed The Daily Beast. “After several hours of negotiations Kasowitz said that $9 million was the final offer. Andrea read and signed the settlement agreement. She knew that the agreement contained an NDA because her portion of the settlement was paid in three annual installments to ensure that she did not violate the NDA… I am distressed that Andrea’s memory is so faulty.”
Yet Mackris’ older brother Lou said he recalled his sister recounting her experience in Kasowitz’s boardroom shortly after it occurred. “She felt pressured, rushed, and forced to sign the NDA. Backed into a corner. There was no other option for her,” Lou Mackris told The Daily Beast. “It wasn’t about a settlement for her. She wanted this to stop and go back to work. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
And Mackris’ former therapist, psychiatric social worker David Schwing, also recalled that she told him about the negotiations in real time. “The lawyers made her feel like she was crazy and were really screaming at her and she was screaming,” he said. “She was talking to me about it as her therapist because she couldn’t tell anyone else. One of them was screaming with his hands on the desk and the other was playing good cop. It’s been years but it was really traumatizing for her.”
It wasn’t just the lawyers. Mackris told The Daily Beast that she felt traumatized by opinion pieces attacking her credibility by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (dismissively titled “The Nonsense Factor”) and the Philadelphia Daily News’ Michael Smerconish (“The case against Bill O’Reilly is bogus,” wrote Smerconish, an occasional O’Reilly Factor guest and substitute host on his radio show) as well as by lurid headlines in the New York Post trashing her reputation (“‘LUNATIC’ O’REILLY GAL WENT NUTS IN A BAR,” screamed one). Yet Mackris ultimately signed the agreement.
Besides her silence, it required O’Reilly to drop his preemptive lawsuit claiming that she and her lawyers had attempted to extort him out of $60 million in hush money—an allegation she vigorously denies—but also permitted her alleged harasser to go on the air that night and act like the injured party for viewers of the top-rated The O’Reilly Factor: “This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again. This matter has caused enormous pain, but I had to protect my family, and I did. All I can say to you is please do not believe everything you hear and read.” O’Reilly added that there was “no wrongdoing in the case whatsoever by anyone.”
It’s a line Fredric S. Newman, who identified himself as O’Reilly’s litigation counsel, repeats today. In a letter to The Daily Beast, he claimed that “Ms. Mackris issued a public statement in 2004 in which she stated that ‘there was no wrongdoing whatsoever by Mr. O’Reilly.’”
Not true, Mackris, said: “I didn’t release a statement, he did. It was part of the NDA on October 28, 2004. I had no choice, no way out. He uses it to abuse me. That same document says Bill won’t breach, which he’s done over and over, calling me a liar. It cuts both ways.”’
In his letter, Newman also threatened to sue Mackris, The Daily Beast, the authors of this article personally, “and anyone else who acted in concert with you in connection with your proposed story.”
What he did not do—and what O’Reilly’s 2004 statement conspicuously lacked—was offer an apology, much less an acknowledgement of the behavior memorialized on Mackris’ audio recordings (which were promptly destroyed under the settlement terms), while executives at Fox News never held him accountable. “The company made billions of dollars over those 13 years of not investigating Bill,” Mackris said.
She had filed her stunning lawsuit against one of the richest and most formidable men in television news. And she had done it years before Gretchen Carlson’s 2016 sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit resulted in the professional demise of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, which was itself a precursor to the #MeToo movement that brought down movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, network news stars Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, and so many others.
In the years since, Mackris has suffered the fate of many women in a variety of industries who have had the audacity to call out their more powerful male harassers, only to be legally gagged, psychically wounded, and discarded by the people in charge and society at large. She realizes, of course, that speaking to The Daily Beast about her own ordeal can be interpreted as violating her NDA, risking potential legal consequences.
“I may not get the past 17 years back,” she reflected, “but there is one way I can retrieve my power from this storm of lies, loss, greed and grief. It’s the same thing I did back in 2004 before Fox, Bill O’Reilly and their teams of willing executioners bound me to a contract that promises to ruin whatever is left of me if I dare do it again. Tell the truth. Walk free.”
After the lawsuit settlement, O’Reilly continued to thrive at Fox News for more than a dozen years as management rewarded him with increasingly lucrative contracts while he co-authored a series of popular history books published by Macmillan, and even made multiple friendly television appearances alongside Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. That is, until his record of sexual misconduct and multimillion-dollar payouts to his victims finally caught up with him in a New York Times investigation that forced a reluctant Rupert Murdoch to cut O’Reilly loose with a statement praising him as “one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news,” plus a $25 million golden parachute.
Gus Mackris had encouraged his daughter’s childhood passion for writing and journalism. “I announced at the dinner table, all of these people—one end from Greece, one end my parents, the middle was the five of us—‘Hey, when I grow up I’m going to be a journalist for Time-Life magazine!’” Mackris recalled. “I thought it was the coolest magazine on planet Earth, and my dad said, ‘Write a book. That’s what really lasts. After you’re gone, books stay, the rest of it goes away.’ I thought, OK, I’ll do both then.”
It came as no surprise to her family when Mackris pursued the profession in earnest, editing her high school newspaper, winning various writing competitions and even attending a journalism summer camp before entering the highly regarded journalism program at the University of Missouri. After a summer internship in Washington, where she wrote press releases and the occasional speech for Republican Rep. Jack Buechner of suburban St. Louis, Mackris moved to New York to get her master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School.
“She’s always been driven by a keen sense of curiosity,” her older brother Lou told The Daily Beast. “As a kid that meant she was always asking 500 questions, and as an adult, she still is. Andie is driven. She’s ambitious and confident…And ever since she was a kid, her dream was to move to New York City. So, getting into Columbia’s graduate school of journalism and moving to the Big Apple was her dream come true.”
Without any connections to news outlets in New York, she managed to obtain an internship on the MSNBC show of John Hockenberry—himself accused of sexual misconduct years later. The posting led to a full-time job on the foreign news desk at MSNBC for three years from 1997 to 2000.
“I was really focused. I was really driven. This was all I ever wanted,” Mackris said.
When she heard that Fox News was in the market for producers, she snagged a job interview with top executive Bill Shine, who hired her to work on The O’Reilly Factor well before it began to surge in the Nielsens. Mackris recalled that O’Reilly himself soon began to value her skills in booking and shaping exciting segments, once pointing at her during a commercial break to declare: “Mackris, that was good. More of that.”
“Bill Shine treated me awesome,” Mackris said. “I remember Shine would check on me every so often and smile and say, ‘You’re doing so great.’” Her relationship with O’Reilly was also positive at first. “We worked so well together,” she recalled. “I would serve him the ball and he would knock it out of the park. He trusted me. He would call down sometimes, screaming bloody murder at me, and I understood it wasn’t personal. I did not take that as being mistreated. It didn’t feel like an issue. This was his name, his reputation, this was his show, and the stakes were this high—so get it done, and I responded to it. I got it done.”
O’Reilly demonstrated his appreciation of Mackris, then 29, by bringing her to the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, where he asked her to accompany him to the sort of de rigueur political convention cocktail parties combining business and social interactions with politicians and fellow celebrities.
“He hated going to those things,” Mackris recalled. “He was like, ‘I just want to be in the corner, so if I go with you, you’re an unknown female, they won’t know who you are, and people largely leave me alone, so just come with me.’ …One night we went to dinner and he asked, ‘Do you come from money? What do your parents do? What’s your story?’ I saw what a picky eater he was. He didn’t eat anything, and we joked about that and we got to know each other.”
Dinners involving O’Reilly and women on his staff were common, Mackris said. “It was never untoward initially, especially in Philly.” She said she didn’t consider the possibility that O’Reilly had been grooming her for something less innocent. “There were 500 reasons for me not to think that way… I’d met his family. I’d been to his house. It just wasn’t part of my thinking.”
Things changed, however, when Mackris broke up with her live-in boyfriend of eight years, her then-fiancé, a lawyer with whom she shared a pricey apartment on the Upper West Side. The breakup was devastating enough. But when he moved out, she was earning $56,000 a year and couldn’t make the rent.
Mackris recounted: “I went to Bill Shine and I said to him, ‘Listen, I don’t know how to do this, but I have to ask for a raise… I don’t make enough to pay a basic rent in Manhattan and my student loans. I don’t want to have to leave to get the six figures I would get at CNN. I would really rather stay here, and that’s not a threat, I would really rather stay here.’”
Shine responded that he would speak to O’Reilly, who promptly invited her to dinner. It was May 2002.
At the restaurant, “he started to hit on me,” Mackris recalled.
“He was talking about vibrators and masturbating and he needed a younger lover. It came out of left field. He had never spoken to me like that. I’m raised by a very conservative Christian family. We didn’t really talk about the birds and the bees—kind of ‘we were dropped by the stork.’ Nobody talked like this. I certainly never had conversations like this with any guys I had known. I barely dated growing up. Daniel [her former fiancé] was my first real boyfriend. We’re pretty conservative people when it comes to sex and stuff.”
O’Reilly’s shocking sexual talk “wasn’t in my wheelhouse and it was like, what the hell is going on in front of me? And my body was on fire. I’m sure I was turning bright red. I remember walking out and he said, ‘Stick with me and you’ll go far.’…
“I remember thinking this person had my entire life in his hands. I’m alone in New York now. I didn’t have my ex—the love of my life, the man I thought I was going to marry, and all of this was blowing up. And here’s my boss who’s turning a really weird corner with me. He never ever had been talking sexually, and then all of the sudden he was getting pretty explicit, and then he’s like ‘I’ve got your back,’ and it was financial.”
Mackris went on: “Those dinners continued. They were never my idea. They were always his idea. When these young millennial women say, ‘Well, I just say no.’ I’m like ‘Well, that’s fucking fantastic for you. I’d love for you to do that to Bill O’Reilly.’”
For a miserable six months from January to July of 2004, Mackris did leave Fox News for CNN, where she was assigned to work for Ailes nemesis Paula Zahn, who had enraged the Fox News chairman by jumping to the rival network. On the phone, she complained to her former boss, “Bill, I hate it here. This place is a mess. I really want to come back,” and O’Reilly persuaded Ailes to allow it, and sweetened her salary by hiring her for his radio show in addition to her Fox News employment.
But by August, as she worked on O’Reilly’s broadcasts from the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden, the sexual harassment had resumed: “It was the last night of the convention and we’d been working really hard all week, it was a real grind, and it was late at night. I’d gone on the subway and when I got out, I already had a message from him, so I figured immediately it was work-related. It was not. He was almost immediately masturbating, talking about all kinds of stuff, and a dildo up the butt.”
Mackris said she frequently tried to get O’Reilly to stop. “Because I was a confident, ambitious, smart, young lady and I said no, and no, and no, and no. I really thought I had been clear. I thought it had been more than obvious where I was coming from with him, and it did not matter. When you’re dealing with a malignant narcissist, who is a sexual predator, you saying no is really not the point. He’s not listening. So, it didn’t matter what I did. It wasn’t about me.
“Somehow Bill confused my brightness and my ability to pull it out for him in a breaking-news moment—he confused that with his own D-I-C-K. That’s not my fault. That’s not my problem. That was happening in real time. How did I know? Was there a guide book, a rule book, a woman I could turn to and say ‘What did you do and when?’ In the moment what I did was deflect and demur.”
At one of their dinners, Mackris brought an out-of-town female friend “and he was asking us to have a threesome. And I said, ‘Bill, what have I told you before? You don’t talk to us like that. We can go out to dinners. We can hang and talk about career stuff.’ I would say ‘quit being saucy.’ I would try to diminish it, and make it like ‘we’re not going to talk saucy. Stay focused.’ I thought I was being kind and gentle as well as letting him know where I stood.”
Mackris added: “This was on one of the tape recordings. I had two tape recordings. On one of them, I said to him, ‘Bill, I always tell you no. You’ve been doing this for years. Every single time I never engage. I always tell you no.’”
Mackris’ lawsuit described several instances of harassment, including the following account: “On or about September 21, 2004, Defendant BILL O’REILLY telephoned Plaintiff ANDREA MACKRIS and, once again, without invitation or solicitation, launched into yet another disgusting, lewd and disturbing monologue concerning his sexual fantasies with her, until he climaxed. During the course of this call, O’REILLY said to Plaintiff: ‘Next time you’ll come up to my hotel room and we’ll make this happen.’ Plaintiff felt frightened and threatened.”
In an email to The Daily Beast, Mackris elaborated: “That’s all public. But the part that no one knows because I’ve never shared it with anyone is the most chilling moment of all of Bill’s multiple counts of harassment that happened in that phone call. It’s why I went to lawyers. I had to find protection. I wasn’t safe at work.
“He was describing what I could expect next. That once we were alone in his hotel room I would get naked and he would get naked. He said I would sit in a chair facing the edge of the bed. He said I would spread my right leg over the right arm of a chair and my left leg over the left arm of the chair. He said I would masturbate facing him as he sat on the edge of the bed, naked and masturbating.
“He said that it wouldn’t be sex because we wouldn’t be touching. He said I needed to suspend the fact that he was my boss. He characterized this ‘little fantasy outlet’ as ‘healthy’ for me and simply ‘blowing off steam.’ He said it would keep me in traction for the next guy I dated. He made it sound as if he would be doing me a favor.
“He always wanted me to join him in masturbating on the phone. I never did. He mocked my lack of participation as ‘hibernation’ and ‘celibacy.’ Once again, like every other time, I asked him why he continued to do this when I only ever said ‘No’ and ‘Please stop’ and ‘You’re my boss.’ I was trying to snap him out of it, I was thinking that it would click for him one of these times how wrong this was. I wanted very badly for him to stop and I made that abundantly clear.
“Instead, he said, ‘I know, but I’m going to make you play.’ Here was my boss, a man who held my career and future in his hands, acknowledging that he knew I’d never consented but he didn’t care. And he said it with a low, dark growl, ‘I know, but I’m going to make you play,’ like a voice that comes from under the ground, a place that’s red hot and full of hurt. That’s what his words felt like as they landed in my body. The voice of the Devil, pacing and hungry for more of what is not his to take.
“I went to lawyers after that phone call. I stood up to Bill O’Reilly’s sexual abuse in the workplace alone. And for that I lost everything I ever was and ever hoped to be.”
After her tabloid-ready ordeal, Mackris moved back to St. Louis, where she said she’s been writing a book—working title: Untold—that is part-personal memoir, part-heroic World War II chronicle of a Romanian Jewish woman named Elena Lupescu.
“I miss journalism,” Mackris said, “and I’m curious if I could be hired again.”
But Mackris remains shell-shocked by her battles with O’Reilly, Fox News, their high-powered attorneys and fellow members of the news media, like Richard Cohen and Michael Smerconish, who treated her claims with withering skepticism.
“My own profession reprinted the lies. They reprinted them around the world so they have been a part of the problem,” she said. “My profession has not wanted to look at their role in this. I’m a journalist and a writer. It’s who I am, so to ask me to be something else is like really impossible. I never wanted to leave. I never thought that my career was going to end. I really thought they would hear the tapes.”
It was only 16 days from the time Mackris filed her lawsuit until her signature was on the settlement agreement. “By the end of it, I felt that my ass had been so thoroughly handed to me as a fat, unattractive, liar, opportunist slut and my profession had printed that everywhere.”
And yet, she said she has no regrets. “If I could go back in time and do it all again, I would do it 100 percent. It’s the truth. I didn’t do it to be called brave or to win an award. Some people never get to live this. Some people never get to see the truth come out for them.”Mackris said she only gradually—and painfully—came to her decision to go public now.
“It’s taken time for it to be safe for me to speak the truth,” she said. “It’s taken time to comprehend that this is the next prong of #MeToo, for me. It’s taken time to face the fact that there isn’t any ‘moving on’ while I am still bound to lie for Bill. It’s taken time for me to face my fear of annihilation. My silence is my annihilation. What more can attorneys and henchmen and a corporation’s continued denial do to me that they haven’t already done?”
Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.
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