7:48am PT by Eriq Gardner
Fox News Alleged to Have Paid "Astronomical" Sum to Launch Cyberattacks
As former Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros fights to save her cyberstalking lawsuit, her attorney Judd Burstein has now lobbed a new bomb in the litigation.
According to new court documents, during settlement negotiations in the legal fight, Burstein learned from the other side that Pete Snyder has been paid $15,000 per month, or $180,000 per year, since 2012 to be an on-air commentator for Fox News and Fox Business Network.
Snyder is a politically connected technology investor who founded New Media Strategies before selling it about five years ago and losing a bid to become Virginia's lieutenant governor. In Tantaros' lawsuit, he is accused of helping Fox News with "sock puppet" social media accounts that terrorized her. He's now demanding dismissal, or at least, arbitration of the complaint.
On Thursday, Tantaros filed her opposition brief with accompanying declarations.
A paralegal at Burstein's firm is said to have compiled a list of Snyder's appearances from 2014 to 2016 on Fox News and counted 47 appearances. Doing the math, the plaintiff says this sets Snyder's per-appearance compensation at $11,489.
"Those sums would be astronomical standing alone," states Burstein. "However, perspective is gained by comparing them with the fees reportedly paid to Bo Dietl, another on-air contributor for Fox News, and one who is far better known than Mr. Snyder. In June of this year, The New York Times reported that Mr. Dietl is paid only $700 for each appearance. In other words, Mr. Snyder's average appearance fee for the years 2014-2016 is more than 16 times greater than the fee paid to Mr. Dietl."
So what does this mean?
Snyder has said that he hasn't done any social media work for Fox News since selling his company.
But the opposition brief says the huge compensation "gives rise to a fair inference that the Snyder Defendants were compensated for their cyberattacks on behalf of Fox News through padded paychecks ostensibly for Snyder's limited on-air contributions."
"Additionally," Burstein adds, "There are numerous media reports about slush funds maintained by [Roger] Ailes and Fox News for just the type of nefarious purposes alleged herein. It could easily be technically accurate that the Snyder Defendants were not compensated directly by Fox News, but substantively dishonest in that they were paid indirectly out of a slush fund that could not be readily traced to Fox News."
Burstein seems to have a habit of smuggling in factual allegations at late stages. For example, he was the one who blabbed during a court hearing in February that the federal government was investigating Fox News for how it structured settlement payments with various Ailes accusers. An opposition brief is typically not where new allegations are supposed to be lodged. Tantaros could always attempt to amend her complaint if she wished. (Update: Burstein emails us to take exception to a suggestion he behaved inappropriately. The attorney believes he had to establish the bona fides of the claims to rebut a sanctions demand. We only meant that new factual allegations in motion papers and argumentative hearings rather than in pleadings tend to set off more controversy in the practice of litigation.)
Nevertheless, the allegation was made in the midst of attempting to fend off a Fox News counter-attack that the so-called "sock puppet" accounts were indeed real and reasons to move the case to arbitration. Tantaros argues that she never agreed to arbitrate claims over social media harassment and how Fox News allegedly broke into her personal computer and planted key-logging and other surveillance software on it.
Fox News had no comment.
Randy Mastro, Snyder's attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, responded, "This case brought by Andrea Tantaros and her attorney is ludicrous and sanctionable. Months after trying to shake down Pete Snyder for a massive payout with the threat of litigation smears, Ms. Tantaros has yet to provide an ounce of evidence supporting any of her outrageous claims. In fact, she predicated her case on reckless accusations that a fictitious twitter account was used to target her when, in fact, the real, live account holder has come forward, belying her false claims. And now, she has doubled-down on her conspiracy theories, claiming Mr. Snyder must have been doing more for Fox News for the money he received per appearance on Fox cable shows, based on what even her counsel admits is incomplete information. In reality, Mr. Snyder was a well respected and frequent on-air contributor for Fox News and Fox Business Channel over 15 years and paid a monthly retainer to be 'on call' to make appearances at Fox's request. But this is the game Ms. Tantaros and her lawyer are playing, smearing a good person like Pete Snyder who has nothing to do with their blood feud with Fox News. We are 100% confident that we will prevail in a court of law and get her and her counsel sanctioned for what they have done to Pete Snyder."
And Burstein's response to that?
"Randy Mastro’s defense of his client is akin to that of the cheating husband who, when caught by his wife in flagrante delicto, asks her: 'Who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?'" he says.
Continuing, Burstein adds, "The claim that Pete Snyder is paid $180,000 to be 'on call' for Fox is absurd. So here is something to ask Mr. Mastro: Plainly Fox was not a huge fan of Mr. Snyder as an on-air commentator because he was asked to appear only 11 times in 2014 (a fact which Mr. Mastro does not deny). Why, then, did Fox News continue to pay Mr. Snyder $180,000 a year in 2015 to be 'on call?' This was the equivalent of paying a bench player more money than an All-Star. And why, after he only appeared 13 times in 2015, did they continue paying him the same $180,000 in 2016? And here is question for Fox: Who else is there who has been paid so much to do so little as an on-air commentator? This continued assault by Fox and Mr. Mastro is sad. Moreover, their desperate attacks only make it more clear to me that I have the truth on my side. I offered Randy Mastro a chance to clear his client through an independent investigation, but he would not permit any inquiry into the exorbitant monies paid to Mr. Snyder. An innocent person would have jumped at that opportunity to clear his name. Plainly, Mr. Mastro refused my because the only credible explanation for these payments is that they are a cover for the clandestine, disgraceful services performed by Mr. Snyder and Disruptor for Fox."