Politics April 12, 2017
Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News golden boy whose reputation took a nose dive this past week in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, is now terrified the public will learn the sordid details of his 2011 divorce settlement (and subsequent custody battle), which he’s managed to keep secret for years.
On March 23, O’Reilly filed new court docs, obtained by ENTITY, with the New York Supreme Court demanding a judge keep the separation agreement, settlement and custody battle with ex-wife Maureen McPhilmy sealed.
The reason the documents are at risk of being unsealed is complicated to say the least (we’ll get into it later), but speaks to a much larger story: Bill O’Reilly’s double life.
On the one hand, O’Reilly has built a multi-million dollar brand based on right-wing family values. On the other hand, he’s a man who has spent the last decade secretly fighting women over sexual harassment claims (which, interestingly, were reported by the New York Times just days after O’Reilly filed his March 23 motion) and fending off accusations of domestic violence.
The March 23 filing only reinforces the fact that O’Reilly does not want his personal life public — especially not as advertisers flee from his show.
So here’s what you need to know.
Back in 2010 O’Reilly and McPhilmy decided to separate after more than 12 years of marriage. They divorced in 2011. However, the couple had two children and, for the next several years, an ugly custody battle raged on. Considering O’Reilly is famous and the children are minors the documents involved in the divorce agreement and the custody battle were sealed since the case could attract a lot of media attention.
For instance, in 2015 Gawker obtained partial transcripts of the proceedings in which a court-appointed forensic examiner testified that O’Reilly’s daughter witnessed O’Reilly “choking her mom” as he “dragged her down some stairs” by the neck. O’Reilly denied the domestic violence accusations, but a judge awarded McPhilmy sole residential custody of both children. The media attention was swift.
Then, in April 2016, the case took a weird turn. O’Reilly filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against McPhilmy for allegedly misleading him about the terms of their separation agreement. Specifically, O’Reilly claimed his ex tricked him into a divorce to “finance an existing extra-marital relationship.” However, the details remain unclear because O’Reilly convinced a judge to seal the docs. (It’s one thing to seal documents in Family Court, that’s standard, it’s another to seal civil lawsuits).
O’Reilly won that lawsuit in a default judgment — meaning his ex didn’t even show up to fight it — and was weirdly awarded $14.5 million, which is more than he was asking for.
In December 2016, O’Reilly decided to then go after his ex-wife’s lawyer, Michael Klar, who handled their divorce agreement, claiming he aided her alleged scheme. He filed another $10 million lawsuit.
Which brings us to the current situation. In order to fight O’Reilly’s charge, Klar has asked the court to unseal 1,000 pages of court documents related to O’Reilly’s divorce proceedings and custody battle. Klar says it’s pertinent to the case. O’Reilly says Klar can file the documents without unsealing them.
O’Reilly is fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the documents sealed (naturally), and so is his ex-wife.
In response to Klar’s request, McPhilmy also filed a motion, obtained by ENTITY, asking to keep the proceedings secret. Both parties, O’Reilly and McPhilmy, say the details in the case could damage their minor children. On several occasions both mention that the case contains details of the children’s medications as well as conversations with their therapists and teachers which could cause them harm.
“The proposed filing contains sensitive information about Plaintiff and Ms. O’Reilly’s minor children, including the children’s report cards, correspondence about the children’s medical treatment, and discussions with the children’s former therapist,” state the documents. “Because this Action touches upon an intrafamilial dispute, the media attention which comes along with Mr. O’Reilly’s notoriety will cause real harm to his minor children.”
It’s true, the media attention surrounding this case could be huge, and to air sensitive details about O’Reilly’s children would not only be unfair to them, but morally wrong.
On the other hand, O’Reilly is facing a mountain of scrutiny right now after it was revealed he and Fox doled out over $13 million to five women who accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment while working at Fox News. Advertisers are dropping from his show like flies and he’s decided to take a well-timed vacation.
In other words, his brand is suffering. And considering the fact that the only court transcripts the public has been able to see included accusations of domestic violence, it’s entirely possible that O’Reilly’s effort to keep all 1,000 pages sealed is to prevent more information from coming out which may paint O’Reilly (and Fox for standing by him) in a negative light.
It’s also possible that Klar is simply using the sealed documents as leverage to get O’Reilly to drop his lawsuit — recall he handled the case and therefore knows the nitty-gritty details which could emerge.
If anything, the sealed documents, the secret sexual harassment payouts, the civil lawsuits and seemingly never-ending legal battles with women only raise more questions about O’Reilly the man versus O’Reilly the brand than they answer. But still it’s important to ask.
We live in an age when men seem to get away with almost anything (sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence) before feeling professional repercussions. O’Reilly surely knows this.
At the end of the day, unless the documents are unsealed, none of us can know who Bill O’Reilly really is, and it seems he wants to keep it that way.
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