O'Reilly unleashes Fox lawyers in attempt to sink critic's career
Host tries to get aggressive liberal blogger booted from law school
For Bill O'Reilly, ambushing your political enemies with a video camera is just fine, as long as the camera is pointed in the opposite direction.
Blogger Mike Stark has a history of haranguing O'Reilly during his call-in radio show, and he once visited the Fox host's house to mock him over sexual harassment allegations. And now Stark, 39, has become the target of a network executive working on behalf of the combative Fox News pundit. Fox VP Dianne Brandi has written to the dean of the Univeristy of Virginia's law school, where Stark is in his second year, urging an investigation of his conduct.
Stark told RAW STORY his dean has shown him a copy of the letter but would not allow it to be distributed to others. The letter accuses Stark of violating the university's codes of conduct, and it warns that he would have trouble passing the fitness review required for admission to the bar.
The showdown began with Stark's calls to O'Reilly's radio show -- "telling the truth when he didn't want to talk about the truth," as Stark characterizes it -- and escalated to a videotaped confrontation in O'Reilly's driveway.
Brandi claimed the visit amounted to harassment, but Stark said he sees it as a reasonable response after O'Reilly sent a producer to the home of Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman when the airline sponsored this summer's YearlyKos conference of progressive bloggers and activists.
O'Reilly made YearlyKos one of his favorite targets in August, when he smeared the conference's namesake blog, Daily Kos, with a few offensive comments dredged from the thousands posted by readers every day. Stark accosted O'Reilly at his Manhasset, NY, home and implored him to "stop lying" about the blog. He also distributed copies of a 3-year-old sexual harassment lawsuit filed against O'Reilly to his neighbors and displayed signs branding the host a pervert -- actions some say cross ethical boundaries.
"Nobody's going to convince me that what I did is wrong," Stark said in a recent interview.
O'Reilly is no stranger to ambushing his political enemies and shoving cameras in their faces. Just two weeks ago, an "O'Reilly Factor" producer showed up at a public book signing to ask former "View" co-host Rosie O'Donnell about her speculating that 9/11 was an inside job.
In Stark's eyes, his actions are no different than those authorized by the Fox host, especially the Jet Blue visit.
That's not how O'Reilly or Fox News sees things, and the bombastic host's latest assault mirrors earlier incidents when Fox's legal beagles have been unleashed against critics.
O'Reilly's most famous legal troubles came in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former coworker. Before that lawsuit was even filed, O'Reilly and the Fox News legal team hit the host's accuser -- Andrea Mackris, a former Fox News producer -- with a countersuit claiming she was trying to extort $60 million from O'Reilly.
The top-rated cable news host eventually settled for several million dollars and dropped the extortion suit against Mackris, who claimed O'Reilly had accosted her with sexually harassing phone calls. O'Reilly would ask his then-producer about masturbation, encourage her to purchase vibrators and appeared to be pleasuring himself during the phone calls, Mackris alleged.
O'Reilly's legal troubles provided plenty of giggles for his critics when the story broke in October 2004. Stark, who runs the blog Calling All Wingnuts and is a regular commentor at Daily Kos, latched on to the most amusing allegation in the suit, taken from O'Reilly's description of his shower fantasies in a phone call with Mackris.
"Then I would take the other hand with the falafel (sic) thing and I'd put it on your p---y but you'd have to do it really light, just kind of a tease business," O'Reilly told Mackris.
Stark was confused as to how the Middle Eastern dish of chickpeas and vegetables would fare in the scene O'Reilly outlined.
"How'd you keep the falafel together in the shower," Stark asked O'Reilly in the video as the host, wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt emerges from his house to fetch the morning paper.
The antagonism directed O'Reilly's way is not limited to the driveway confrontation. Stark also distributed copies of the sexual harassment lawsuit to O'Reilly's neighbors in official-looking envelopes, and he displayed signs in the neighborhood branding O'Reilly a "pervert" and saying he "can't be trusted with your daughters."
The letter to Stark's dean claims his actions "may constitute criminal harassment" under New York law, and it warns that a civil lawsuit could be headed Stark's way, he told RAW STORY.
While he acknowledges that some may take issue with his tactics, Stark said the letter was more about damaging his personal reputation than raising any serious legal concerns. He has followed up with a letter to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes requesting an apology "for the attempt to harass and intimidate me at my school place," but he's received no response from Fox.
"Ms. Brandi’s false and malicious assertions have the potential to redound to Fox’s negative benefit," Stark wrote to the network chief, "and Mr. O’Reilly’s bizarre abuse of the legal process reflects poorly upon the Fox News brand."
Brandi, the Fox lawyer, also told the law school dean that Stark recently threatened to post O'Reilly's home address online, a claim the activist disputes. Her letter is not limited to defending O'Reilly; it alleges Stark has harassed his guests as well.
Widely quoted political analyst Larry Sabato appeared on The O'Reilly Factor in late July, and that prompted an e-mail and phone call from Stark to Sabato "to inform guests that appear on O'Reilly's programs of his irresponsible rhetoric and behaviors."
Brandi claimed Stark's letter and phone call interfered with the ability of Sabato -- one of the most prolific experts on elections -- to express his views on talk shows. The letter encouraged an investigation into whether Stark violated the university's code of conduct.
"I have no public comment whatsoever," Sabato told RAW STORY via e-mail when contacted for this article.
Stark said his dean does not plan to follow-up on the allegations in the letter. Calls and e-mails to the University of Virginia law school seeking comment were not returned. Brandi and a Fox News spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.
Despite the letter, Stark said he does not plan to curtail his criticism of O'Reilly, who he calls a "propagandist" whose methods deserve to be challenged.
"This guy's going to other people's houses," Stark said, "and I had to impress the gravity of that on him by going to his house."
Stark posted the following video online in August, after O'Reilly began targeting sponsors of the Yearly Kos conference.