Fox News is threatening to sue a prominent evangelical minister in the ex-homosexual movement who engaged in a volatile exchange over biblical morality on the top-rated television program “The O’Reilly Factor” in September.
Stephen Bennett, who says he left his homosexual lifestyle nearly 11 years ago, has distributed a 60-minute audio tape program called the “The O’Reilly Shocker,” in which he responds to host Bill O’Reilly’s characterization of people who take the Bible literally as “religious fanatics.”
Fox claims Bennett’s use of clips from the interview is a copyright infringement.
On the Sept. 3, 2002 program, O’Reilly, a Roman Catholic, called Bennett a “religious fanatic” who wants to “deny people rights” and suggested the minister wanted “all gays to go to hell.”
Bennett said he has received hundreds of e-mails from viewers of the segment who said they were outraged at O’Reilly’s “anger and verbal abuse.”
O’Reilly is coming on like a “bully,” charged Bennett, who still counts himself as a fan of the Fox News nightly show.
“He’s a libertarian who relishes the fact that he doesn’t care what you talk about, but we have to have that right of free speech,” Bennett said of O’Reilly. “Yet when it comes to me now speaking out – never saying anything nasty about anybody but just addressing the issues – he does everything possible to silence me.”
Bennett said he has nothing against O’Reilly personally.
“This is just an issue the two of us do not agree on,” he said.
A recording artist and national speaker, Bennett’s Huntington, Conn.-based group, Stephen Bennett Ministries, says that it offers help to people who want to “come out” of the homosexual lifestyle.
Bennett, who is married with two children, also is a spokesman for the lobby group Concerned Women for America, which just prior to the Sept. 3 interview criticized O’Reilly for telling the homosexual magazine The Advocate that he favored homosexual rights.
Bennett received a letter yesterday from a New York City law firm representing Fox which charged him with copyright infringement for sale of a product that uses “almost all, if not all” of O’Reilly’s four-minute interview with Bennett.
In the letter, Dori Ann Hanswirth of Hogan and Hartson warned Bennett that if he does not stop distributing the tape and does not turn over all remaining copies, Fox will file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief.
However, Bennett’s legal defense, the American Family Association, maintains that the tape is legal because it uses excerpts from the interview for the purpose of commentary.
WorldNetDaily sought further clarification from Hanswirth, but after conferring with her client, she replied that Fox News does not comment on pending legal matters.
Michael DePrimo, senior litigation counsel for the AFA’s Center for Law and Policy, told WND that his reading of Hanswirth’s letter is that Bennett cannot use any of Fox’s material.
Bennett’s tape, part of his group’s regular tape-of-the-month series, is legal under copyright law’s allowance of fair use and comment, DePrimo said.
“Certainly Mr. O’Reilly put it at issue when he called Mr. Bennett a religious fanatic and did not give him a chance to respond,” he said.
DePrimo, who vowed to “vigorously defend” Bennett if Fox proceeds with a lawsuit, noted that it would not be legal “if somebody puts effort into a particular product and another person tries to appropriate it and sell it as his own.”
That is not the case in this situation, he insists, charging that Fox simply “does not like the fact that Bill O’Reilly has been exposed as a homosexualist.”
Bennett called Fox’s demand’s “ridiculous.”
“Of course I can comment on that interview,” he told WND. “If the heart of the interview was on cats and dogs, that means I can’t talk about cats and dogs?”
After reviewing his tape again yesterday, Bennett said he has a total of about three minutes of audio clips from the Sept. 3 “O’Reilly Factor” interview and 57 minutes of original commentary.
Bennett described his response to the interview in a column published by WorldNetDaily in September.
He said that in “pre-interviews,” hours before the Sept. 3 show, producers called to discuss probable questions related to his Aug. 27 commentary in the Washington Times about promotion of homosexuality in the U.S. media and its effects on children, titled “The Gay Spin Zone.” O’Reilly’s comments in support of the homosexual rights agenda published in The Advocate also were added to the mix.
But Bennett says the “O’Reilly Factor” interview turned out instead to be “about Bill O’Reilly’s theology.”
After numerous exchanges in which O’Reilly tried to press Bennett on whether he thought practicing homosexuals would go to hell, O’Reilly said, according to a transcript, “We live in a secular society. You’re a religious fanatic, with all due respect.”
Earlier in the day on Sept. 3, O’Reilly referred to Bennett as “an idiot” and “religious fanatic” on his radio program, “The Radio Factor.”
Bennett notes that one day later, O’Reilly compared his brand of religious belief to that of the Sept. 11 terrorists in a conversation with a liberal Baptist preacher.
Just a few days before the Sept. 3 program, O’Reilly responded on his show to Concerned Women For America’s reaction to his Advocate interview.
O’Reilly opened his Aug. 29 program with this introduction:
In the “Personal Story” tonight, more attacks on your humble correspondent on the Internet. Now, I’ve gotten used to being pounded by both the left and the right, and very rarely do I see anything even remotely accurate on these websites. This time, a conservative group believes I am patronizing gays. Fine. My stance is simple. We’re all Americans here. Nobody should be discriminated against. I’ll leave it to God to figure out who’s going to hell and who isn’t. I’m not qualified, and nobody else on earth is either.
John Aravosis of About.com published a defense of O’Reilly in which he said, “What’s troubling about this confrontation isn’t that militant fundamentalists are angry about what O’Reilly said, but that they chose to respond to a political difference of opinion by questioning the faith of their opponent.”
Calling Bennett a “self-proclaimed ‘ex-gay,” Aravosis quotes the minister commenting on behalf of CWA, “For a man to come right out and say that he does not believe in the Old Testament … I think that many Catholics across this nation as well as the world are offended by Bill O’Reilly claiming he’s an Irish Catholic.”
Bennett said that his tape includes Rev. John F. Harvey, a Roman Catholic priest who asserts that O’Reilly is not speaking for the Catholic Church, which views homosexuality as “intrinsically evil.”
Harvey, who runs Courage, a spiritual support group in Manhattan for homosexuals, says O’Reilly is abusing his public celebrity platform and promoting a heresy against the Catholic Church. The priest calls O’Reilly “confused” and “filled with pride – putting himself above the Catholic Church.”
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