The No Skin Zone
Bill O'Reilly's obsession with porn.
If you're a regular viewer of Bill O'Reilly's show, you probably weren't so surprised by the lurid details in Andrea Mackris'sexual harassment suit, which 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.
Whether interviewing X-rated actress and author Jenna Jameson (does she feel any responsibility, he asked, if a girl decides to go have "sex with three guys at one time?") or commenting on a Paris Hilton video (he said she "romped around in front of the camera" appearing "sober and compliant"), O'Reilly rarely misses a chance for a sleazy riff. Here's the money passage from his interview with Jameson two years ago.
Jameson: You know, they automatically think, you're a porn star, you're nothing, you know?
O'Reilly: They think that you're a slut.
O'Reilly: But doesn't it hurt your feelings when people judge you and call you "whore," "slut," things like that?
Jameson: No, I've never had anybody call me a whore or a slut to my face.
O'Reilly: To your face.
Jameson: To my face.
O'Reilly: You know they say it behind your back.
When O'Reilly gets to talking dirty like this on the air, it's usually in the name of protecting America's youth from "corrupting influences." He says he wants to make sure American parents know how to defend against smut. Yet the topic of porn is a regular tease for his 8 p.m. audience—and kids don't go to bed that early, Bill. By my count, O'Reilly has vastly out-porned the hardly prudish Keith Olbermann and easily beats out Paula Zahn. As the folks over at Adult Video News Online, a porn industry site, astutely noted last year, "He sells sex, even as he condemns it."
Bill O'Reilly's hypocrisy isn't exactly news. What's impressive is the depth of it on this subject. O'Reilly has ragged on Howard Stern for having a show that "traffics in sex." But the only difference between them is that Stern is honest enough to admit having smut on the brain.
A brief examination of O'Reilly's work documents his fixation (and reveals numerous parallels to his alleged recent troubles.) He began an online column for the Republican National Convention with the line: "Covering a political convention is kind of like watching a porn film. ... " (That column, dated Aug. 26, happens to coincide with Mackris' assignment at the convention, also cited in the suit.) On Aug. 2, O'Reilly interviewed Vivid Entertainment performers Sunrise Adams and Savanna Samson about their new book, How to Have a XXX Sex Life. (The complaint alleges that O'Reilly said he was "excited" after interviewing two porn stars "on or about" Aug. 2.) Early in the interview he says, "Now, I haven't seen any of your movies, and I will try to watch one." To the transcript:
O'Reilly: I'm a very busy guy. But anyway, I'd imagine that the movies have a lot of suggestions [about what a couple can do together]. Do you have more suggestions in the books than in the movies?
O'Reilly: See my dilemma is this. I've got my $25. Okay and I—this is hypothetical, because I haven't seen any of your movies either. But I promise I'll try to go. I've got to get through Shrek 2, then I'm right onto you.
O'Reilly: With all due respect Ms. Samson, I believe you know how to do pretty much everything. ...
O'Reilly: Oh, I know I'm adorable. You should, Vivid should hire me to just kind of be narrator over these films. But I understand it's self help, people want to get a little excitement into whatever they're doing, this book is for them. Hey, ladies, I appreciate you guys coming on. Thank you very much.
Last December, the show re-aired a Naomi Wolf interview from earlier in the year during which O'Reilly asked the author about porn's effect on college-age relationships. "Do they watch the porn movie and then have sex? Is that what it is—foreplay?" he asked her. On a Nov. 3, 2003, program, O'Reilly investigated the deeper meaning behind a Nielsen study that claimed one-third of the people viewing porn sites are women. In an episode aired on April 29, 2003, he attacked a class at the University of Kansas where a professor of human sexuality was reportedly "doing inappropriate things in the classroom." He asked his first guest, a student named Jessica Zahn, if the professor was "show[ing] you hardcore porn videos." Jessica wasn't doing a good enough job of explaining the class to the viewers, so O'Reilly turned to Kansas Sen. Susan Wagle to set the scene.
Wagle: This professor is actually picking women out in the classroom and saying things to them, like maybe there's five of you in the first three rows I'm very attracted to. Or, you know, if somebody gets up to walk out—he actually accused one girl of leaving because she had to go masturbate. I mean what's going on in this classroom. ...
O'Reilly: Yes, that's—I mean that could. …
Wagle: ... is ridiculous. It is obscene.
O'Reilly: Sure. You could have—you could file charges against somebody saying—you know, harassment charges against them.
On May 14, 2003, O'Reilly followed up with another student from the class, demanding: "Let's get a little bit more specific. You're watching a sex film. You see two people having sex, OK? Now you know, as a young woman, what that is. Did you have to see it? How did that help you?" That same night, he exposed Western Washington University's "Porno and Popcorn," held during a week-long sex-awareness festival. College campuses have always been a favorite target. In 2002 he bragged on air about breaking a sex story nationally. His scoop: An adult production company had shot in the dorms at Indiana University, using students as performers. He did two segments on the topic and returned to IU once again in 2004 to interview a girl who had set up a porno Webcam in her dorm.
In February 2003, he returned to the topic of Jenna Jameson after Pony hired her to sell sneakers. The vibe of the first encounter—the thrill of humiliating her—took an even racier twist. Note again his (joking?) admission to watching porn:
O'Reilly: Our pal, porn star Jenna Jamison, is mad at me for criticizing the Pony sneaker company for hiring her as a pitchwoman. Jenna e-mailed us today and said, in part, "I hope Bill understands the difference between a porn star and a hooker. I assume he has done some research on the subject because he requested some of my videos after we finished taping my appearance. I imagine he wanted them for professional reasons."
Of course I did, Jenna. Having any other motivation would be ridiculous. Enjoy your sneakers.
On Jan. 22, 2003, O'Reilly quizzed Diane Sawyer on an ABC report about corporations like AOL Time Warner and GM profiting from porn. He talked about the same subject on Nov. 1, 2002, with Jan LaRue, chief counsel for the conservative group Concerned Women for America. LaRue caught on to his pattern of titillation and damnation; she posted an open letter saying she felt betrayed by the way he used the issue as a setup "to attract viewers." She also wondered if he knew "the depravity of the material these corporations are offering."
My hunch is that O'Reilly had some idea; after all, he's dabbled in soft-core depravity himself. The final scene in his novel Those Who Trespass describes the characters making love at a Caribbean resort, a setting which now evokes another of Mackris' allegations. On the second-to-last page, he describes the hero's tryst with the heroine after a long day on the beach. O'Reilly writes: "Tommy O'Malley was naked and at attention. 'Drowning is not an option,' he said, 'unless, of course, you beg me to perform unnatural acts right here in the shower.' " He has hawked the novel on his show in the slot he now uses to sells his handbook, The O'Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America's Families.
O'Reilly has frequently said that what adults do in private is their own business. But he adds a fatal caveat—unless that person is a public figure. "Some of the most influential people in our society—like Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., and Darryl Strawberry—provide a dismal example to our nation's youth," he writes in his book The No-Spin Zone. So why is Fox News' biggest star exempt from role-modeling responsibilities?
Michael Hastings is a reporter for Newsweek International.
Photograph of Bill O'Reilly by Lisa Miller/Reuters.