Fox News back in firing line as host is sued for $60m

LONDON - The host of Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, is filing a lawsuit against his associate producer, claiming that she is trying to extort $60m in 'blood money' over charges of sexual harassment, including phone sex.

Andrea Mackris, an associate producer of 'The O'Reilly Factor' on the Fox News Channel, has accused the conservative talkshow host of making "disgusting" calls to her and threatening to ruin her career if she complained.

Mackris has countered with another lawsuit claiming that O'Reilly repeatedly pressured her to engage in phone sex and harassed her for over two years. Mackris' suit, led by lawyer Benedict Morelli, says O'Reilly talked about sex with her numerous times after he learned that she had split with a boyfriend.

O'Reilly allegedly encouraged Mackris to buy a vibrator and give it a name. When she objected, O'Reilly offered to "coach her through it," her court papers say.

O'Reilly has denied the allegations, claiming that this is "the most evil thing I have ever experienced". The Fox presenter's lawyers claim that lawyer Morelli offered his client's silence for the huge settlement.

On his programme last night, O'Reilly said: "In the end, this is all about hurting me and the Fox News Channel."

Mackris has worked on 'The O'Reilly Factor" since April 2000. She left in January for a higher-paid job at CNN, only to ask O'Reilly for her job back in June. He rehired her.

Fox's lawyers claim that the attack is politically motivated, with Morelli being a major Democratic Party donor. "The O'Reilly Factor" is especially popular with Republican voters, as is the Fox channel.

The latest move adds to a list of scandals for O'Reilly and the right-wing Murdoch-owned channel.

Last year Fox News sued satirist and author Al Franken, who made comments about Fox and O'Reilly in his book 'Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right' . He also embarrassed O'Reilly at a book fair over supposed fictional elements of his resume.

Fox said that Franken's use of the words "fair and balanced" in the books title infringed against its trademark. A Federal district court dismissed the claim , saying that that Franken's use of the words was fair use and parody, and strongly suggested that the case was frivolous.

Earlier this year, 'Outfoxed', a controversial documentary by Robert Greenwald accused Fox executives of ordering its TV news anchors, reporters and producers to slant the news in favour of George W Bush. The film takes interviews with former Fox employees and uses memos written by Fox executives to portray a pro-Bush and pro-Republican news channel.

Fox was also found in breach of three sections of the Ofcom programme code this year when it described the BBC as "obsessive, irrational and dishonest" on the day that the Hutton Report was published.

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