When the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly was recently slapped with a sexual harassment law suit by one of his producers, were you: a) pleased that the bullying right wing television talk-show host might finally be getting his; b) surprised by reports of the breadth of O'Reilly's sexual fantasies; c) trying to figure out whether it would sink his career; d) wondering how the master of the so-called no-spin zone would wiggle his way out of the mess; e) concerned that O'Reilly's wife and two children might be drawn into the controversy; and/or, f) a little bit of all of the above?
In mid-October, when the story broke that Bill O'Reilly was accused of sexual harassment by Andrea Mackris, a producer for the Fox News Channel, Jim Gilliam quickly sprang into action. While researching for and co-producing Director Robert Greenwald's documentary "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism", he realized that O'Reilly appeared "to have an obsession with obscure stories involving lewd sexual behavior," Gilliam told WorkingForChange in a recent e-mail interview.
"When we finished 'Outfoxed,' I began digging through the material in my spare time for a possible follow-up film," says Gilliam. "That was when I came up with 'The O'Sexxxy Factor.' When Andrea Mackris' sexual harassment allegations came out, I felt people had to see the film immediately, and I rushed it out the door."
In "The O'Sexxxy Factor", O'Reilly plays the overgrown but ever curious Catholic schoolboy who feigns outrage at news about teenagers practicing oral sex on school buses, and prattles on about other sexually-charged issues.
Jim Gilliam's background is in technology and the Internet: "I worked on the search engine at Lycos in the early days, and was the chief technology officer at Business.com," he said. Although he's always been interested in politics, Gilliam only became active over the past few years. "I've been apathetic for a long time, figuring nothing I could do would make much of a difference, so why bother. But we're living in very historic times now, and I realized that even if I couldn't make a difference, I had to try just so I could sleep well at night."
"The O'Sexxxy Factor" is not Gilliam's first foray into filmmaking. In addition to "Outfoxed," a film that systematically hacks away at the cable news channel's phony "fair and balanced" credo, he co-produced Greenwald's "Uncovered: The War on Iraq", a documentary unraveling the weapons of mass deception used by the Bush Administration to bludgeon the American people into supporting the War against Iraq.
Why take on Bill O'Reilly with "The O'Sexxxy Factor"?
"O'Reilly is a bully drunk on power and control," said Gilliam. "In 'Outfoxed,' we documented how he treats his guests, frequently interrupting them, pointing his finger, and telling them to shut up." Going through hundreds of hours of O'Reilly clips led Gilliam to a strange discovery: O'Reilly seemed pre-occupied with" lewd sexual behavior." On the face of it says Gilliam that "seemed pretty strange coming from someone who claims to be a straight traditional family values guy." When "Outfoxed" was finished, Gilliam "kept digging through the O'Reilly archives" and came up with the makings of "The O'Sexxxy Factor."
"The O'Sexxxy Factor" makes brilliant use of overlays -- disturbing quotes gleaned from Andrea Mackris' 22-page complaint (for the salacious details of the suit see The Smoking Gun website.) Although the language in the overlays could make broadcasting "The O'Sexxxy Factor" on the other cable news networks practically impossible, Gilliam says that he "wanted the film to convey all the twisted emotions embodied in those 22 pages. It's funny, sensational, gross and creepy all at the same time. The idea that a cable network would want to air it never even entered my mind until Access Hollywood called. I gave them a version without the overlays."
Nothing that appears on "The O'Sexxxy Factor" should surprise regular viewers of "The O'Reilly Factor," writes the New York Times' Frank Rich. In a recent column Rich noted that O'Reilly had unashamedly blasted pop star Janet Jackson over her Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction," criticized rapper Ludacris for his "explicit" lyrics, capped on former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for advocating masturbation, and condemned the televised Madonna-Britney kiss.
Ludacris, being a bit more charitable than O'Reilly was to him, told ALLHIPHOP.com that he "always give[s] somebody the benefit of the doubt. He's just being accused. It's innocent until proven guilty. It's just bad press for him now." Noting the ludicrousness of the situation he added: "The fact that there [might be] proof that he said 'certain words' is really killing me. I'd be lying if I didn't say it brings a smile to my face. These are words that I say and this motherf**ker is saying the same words that I say and is criticizing me?"
Frank Rich also pointed out that in O'Reilly's "new moralistic children's advice book," titled ""The O'Reilly Factor for Kids," the no-spin-zone hotshot presciently writes: "And guys, if you exploit a girl, it will come back to get you. That's called 'karma.'"
Slate's Michael Hastings also noted recently that regular viewers probably weren't "so surprised by the lurid details" in Mackris' sexual harassment suit. The suit "alleges, among other things, that the host 'babbled perversely' to her over the phone while enjoying an X-rated video. On air, O'Reilly has long demonstrated a fascination with pornography that borders on an unhealthy obsession."
When you think about it, no one should be surprised by O'Reilly's current travails. The Fox News Channel's ratings leader is following in the well-worn footsteps of a number of other self-declared morality-mavens that have passed through the culture over the past two dozen years. Who can forget the tearful televised confession and apology by the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart after being caught hooking up with prostitutes, or revelations that America's self-appointed morality guru, William Bennett, had a gambling problem. Then there was the Rev. Jim Bakker's cocky combination of sexual peccadilloes and a financial scam that bilked thousands of his faithful Christian audience out of their life savings, or the number of other GOP moralists that have been forced to resign from political office due to one sex scandal or another.
It's likely that just as right wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh managed to survive his pill-popping escapades, O'Reilly will weather this sexual-harassment storm. It appears that in the first few days following the filing of the suit and its attendant publicity, his ratings went up. Was it evidence of audience loyalty, or were people tuning in out of curiosity or with hopes that O'Reilly's ship would go down?
Will "The O'Sexxy Factor" receive the media attention it merits? Will the Sinclair Broadcast Group -- looking to purge itself of the bad publicity it engendered from its showing of clips from the viciously anti-Kerry film "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal" -- run the unexpurgated version "The O'Sexxxy Factor?"
In the past week Gilliam has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times and Access Hollywood. "Access aired two different segments depending on which market you were in," says Gilliam. People in Los Angeles saw Ron Green, O'Reilly's lawyer, defending his client vociferously, while people in Florida saw me." But thus far he hasn't received any invitations from CNN, MSNBC, or CNBC. (Keith Olberman, the host of MSNBC's "Countdown," has fashioned a regular feature tracking daily developments in the O'Reilly scandal).
Since the suit was filed, Andrea Mackris has been subject to all sorts of rumors and innuendo about her private life. And while O'Reilly claimed that he wanted to settle the matter in court, and his lawyers maintained that there would be no settlement, Jim Gilliam pointed out on his "Jimlog" that on Friday, October 22, the New York Daily News reported that "Mackris' lawyer, Benedict Morelli, made a back-channel overture to O'Reilly's team... according to a source close to O'Reilly."
In the Andrea Mackris document, she claimed that O'Reilly told her that anyone crossing Fox would pay the price and would be dealt with by Roger Ailes, the network's well-connected top dog. Is Gilliam concerned that Ailes will go after him? "I'm on the look-out for Ailes' henchmen to come knocking on my door. After all, according to O'Reilly, that's how Ailes is going to take care of Al Franken, and I hope to be included."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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