Bill O’Reilly tried to persuade a Fox News colleague to tattle on a woman who had accused him of sexual harassment, according to an ex-boyfriend of the woman who took the call.
Michael Panter, a former New Jersey assemblyman, told HuffPost Thursday that he was in his car with his then-girlfriend ― who would later accuse O’Reilly of harassment herself ― when the commentator telephoned her in late 2010 or early 2011. Panter said she turned the volume up on her phone so they could both hear.
O’Reilly “explained that a new accuser was suing him for sexual harassment,” Panter wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post, where he first described the exchange. “This latest victim was someone my ex knew, and lived in the same complex. He got to the point immediately: give me anything you have on this woman, which we ‘can use against her.’”
“He asked if anything was known about her sex life,” he wrote. “He asked if she used any illegal drugs. He also asked if anything was known about her financial situation and marriage.”
Panter, who did not disclose the identify his former partner in his Facebook item, told HuffPost she had already complained to him about sexual harassment by O’Reilly, but had not yet taken legal action against him.
Panter said that minutes before O’Reilly called his girlfriend, she received a phone call from a Fox News executive. He said he believed the caller was Dianne Brandi, then the chief corporate counsel at Fox News. Brandi went on voluntary leave from her job earlier this month amid allegations that she had refused to help sexual harassment and discrimination accusers at the network.
According to Panter, the executive said that she had recently met with O’Reilly and Bill Shine, then a co-president of the network, and that O’Reilly would be in touch about a “sensitive matter” shortly.
“It was evident to me that the [human relations] department and the legal department at Fox were the last places the victims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse would turn for help,” Panter told HuffPost.
“In a normal company, those should be the departments that support victims in those instances,” he said. “But I was witnessing firsthand that those departments were actually working on behalf of the person that had committed these acts.”
Panter said it appeared to him as though Fox News executives were colluding with O’Reilly to aid his efforts to “dig up dirt” on the other woman.
“It was just so hypocritical ― certainly devious of them ― to reach out to someone who was being harassed by Bill O’Reilly and try to make her give any information about another accuser,” he said.
Mark Fabiani, an O’Reilly spokesman, termed Panter’s post “completely contrived, false and defamatory,” and “aimed at hurting Bill O’Reilly and his family.”
O’Reilly “will be commencing legal action against Mr. Panter, and the ex-partner he quotes, for all damages he and his family have suffered from this improper conduct,” Fabiani said in an email to HuffPost.
A representative for Fox News declined to comment.
O’Reilly was ousted from Fox News in April amid backlash over sexual assault allegations against him. The New York Times first reported in January that he had settled a sexual harassment case with broadcast personality Juliet Huddy. Huddy, who was a Fox News employee at the time of the alleged harassment, said O’Reilly had pursued a sexual relationship with her in 2011.
It has since been reported that O’Reilly or Fox News’ parent company reached settlements with five other women who alleged sexual harassment by him.
Panter said he decided to speak out this week after reading O’Reilly’s recent claim that no complaints were ever filed against him during his 43 years in the broadcast business.
“In my opinion, he was positioning himself as someone who has been persecuted and really wasn’t guilty of wrongdoing,” Panter said. “It’s a bit like [Russian President] Vladimir Putin saying that, according to him, the KGB has gotten very few complaints about him.”
Panter, a Harvard Law School graduate and practicing attorney, told HuffPost prior to the statement by O’Reilly’s spokesman that he wasn’t concerned about his comments prompting legal action.
“I would think they would be a little smarter than that if they read a little bit about my background,” Panter said. “I actually know defamation law quite well. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that the absolute defense of defamation is that you’re speaking the truth.”
Read Panter’s Facebook post here: