7:00pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Fox News Hosts Bill O'Reilly, Greta Van Susteren Sued for Defamation by New York Business Owner
Fox News, its commentators Bill O'Reilly and Greta Van Susteren and reporter Juliet Huddy are being sued for defamation and infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiff is Aviva Nash, who runs the New York-based business Drum Cafe. She's filed a lawsuit in Bronx Superior Court that alleges the Fox News personalities accused her of being a con artist who steals from U.S. taxpayers.
Nash's company decribes itself as "building teams, uniting companies and motivating staff through interactive drumming." The company's website name-drops an eclectic group of people including Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, Nicole Kidman and Paris Hilton.
According to the lawsuit, the alleged defamation came July 19 on On the Record With Greta Van Susteren and July 24 on The O'Reilly Factor.
That week, Fox News banged the drums over a report that the inspector general for the General Services Administration was probing the agency's $270,000 awards ceremony held in 2010, which included an expense of $21,000 for 4,000 drumsticks for attendees.
As the Fox News hosts spoke about the GSA report, drumming was shown. In Nash's lawsuit, she provides a transcript of each show and identifies the video clip as featuring her Drum Cafe. Neither O'Reilly and Van Susteren mentioned Nash explicitly by name, and it's unclear from the complaint whether the clip being played was meant to suggest that Nash's business provided the drums to the GSA or whether it was just stock footage.
Asked to clarify, Nash's attorney Richard Ancowitz would only say "the drums belonged to Drum Cafe." Ancowitz's most famous case to date was representing a female Rutgers basketball player against shock jock Don Imus for calling team members "nappy-headed hos." He's now going to war against Fox News, O'Reilly, Van Susteren and Huddy over comments he describes as "negligent, reckless, malicious and irresponsible behavior."
On The O'Reilly Factor, Huddy used some artistic license to describe the scene at the GSA awards ceremony: "The whole audience was given these, like, little things, they call them whackers. And they were supposed to play to the beat. They were ... following this little hippy-dippy chick -- yeah! Following the beat to the whackers. And all of a sudden. And half the audience was like really into it, and the other half was sorta sitting there. Can you imagine?"
Nash says she's no "hippy-dippy chick" and says the comment was humiliating and demeaning to her.
Later on the show, O'Reilly and Huddy discussed the expenses, including $41,000 for travel for 49 attendees. O'Reilly gave his comment that "It's the same con," an allusion to a prior show where he reported about a $823,000 Las Vegas junket by the GSA.
Nash believes that as the result of the show, she has been fingered for perpetrating a "con" -- that her business enterprise has been implicated in illegal activity.
As for Van Susteren, on her own show, the host said, "It is so unbelievably insane to take the taxpayer money to do something like that."
Nash says calling her insane is false. Also, Van Susteren allegedly responded to one of her guests by saying, "When you say blatant abuse, I say stealing."
Nash says the mention of "stealing" indicated that she was engaged in a criminal enterprise.
(UPDATE: Van Susteren has responded. See below.)
Fox News says it couldn't comment because it hasn't been served yet with the complaint. Silly stuff? You bet.
Here's a look at The O'Reilly Factor show that triggered this lawsuit:
Van Susteren, a former civil litigator, has now responded to other news outlets following up on this lawsuit:
"If the lawyer and his client simply send a letter apologizing for filing the lawsuit and if they dismiss the lawsuit against me, I won’t Rule 11 their case," Van Susteren wrote, referring her ability to seek sanctions against Nash's lawyer. "It is hard to figure out why [Nash] feels harmed having not been named or identified. We didn’t even know her. We had no reason to name her. This was not about her."
E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @eriqgardner