NEW YORK — When the Police Athletic League two weeks ago announced Bill O’Reilly as the speaker for its monthly business luncheon, organizers hoped the conservative writer and former Fox News host would be a big draw and raise a significant amount of money.
But the invitation led one board member to resign and drew criticism from the National Organization for Women. Then, Monday evening, after The New York Times inquired about O’Reilly’s appearance, the organization abruptly withdrew from Tuesday’s event and said it would not accept money raised from it, Executive Director Frederick Watts said.
“We want speakers to bring light and good will to PAL,” Watts said. “This speaker was distracting, and it seemed inconsistent with that goal. It’s not much more complicated than that.”
O’Reilly was pushed out of his job with Fox in 2017 after The Times reported he had been accused of sexual harassment by five women. His accusers agreed not to pursue litigation or speak out about the accusations in return for payouts that totaled about $13 million from the network or O’Reilly.
O’Reilly’s departure helped usher in the #MeToo movement, and since then more than 200 powerful men in several industries have lost their positions as a result of sexual harassment allegations.
The Police Athletic League is a century-old organization closely linked to the New York Police Department that runs after-school and recreational events for children. Its motto is “The Best Friend a Kid Can Have,” and the police commissioner is an honorary president of the board. The league also lists a number of city agencies and law enforcement offices as partners. In 2016, it reported more than $28 million in total revenue.
Sonia Ossorio, president of National Organization for Women in New York City and a commissioner on the city’s Commission for Gender Equity, said inviting O’Reilly to speak at the athletic league’s fundraising luncheon sent the wrong message to the city’s youth.
“It’s grotesque,” Ossorio said. “Of course as a role model for positive manhood, few could fail the test as clearly as Bill O’Reilly.”
O’Reilly did not respond to an email seeking comment. This past week, he told a gossip columnist, “The Police Athletic League is dear to me.”
Since 2017, O’Reilly has struck out on his own, continuing to write a string of best-selling books and speaking to his nearly 5 million followers on Twitter and Facebook as well as through his own website. Currently, O’Reilly is working on a book about President Donald Trump.
Before PAL withdrew from the event, the police commissioner and the Manhattan district attorney decided not to attend, citing scheduling conflicts, spokesmen for the two officials said. They declined to comment on whether O’Reilly’s presence at the event was a factor in their decisions.
Two of the league’s board members have also recently resigned, and one of them cited O’Reilly’s speech as a reason, according to PAL co-Vice Chairman John Catsimatidis. He declined to name that board member.
Catsimatidis, a Republican who is a major donor to political campaigns and was instrumental in inviting O’Reilly, defended the decision, brushing aside concerns about past accusations of sexual harassment. His motive, he said, was simply to sell tickets.
“Me and my staff decide who are best and easiest sellers, to sell out the crowds,” he said. “It’s all about the kids.”
Catsimatidis said O’Reilly had informed him that he had “never been convicted” of abusing the women and had agreed to pay the settlements as a matter of convenience. “He never pleaded guilty, and we still live in America where you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Catsimatidis said.
PAL received a donation from O’Reilly on Monday morning, a rarity for a person already donating their time and star power to sell tickets to the luncheon, Catsimatidis said.
He also suggested the complaints about the speech may have been part of an orchestrated effort by outside agitators to stir discontent, but provided no details or evidence.
“Who is paying these people to stir the pot?” he asked.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.