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Andrea Tantaros, the former Fox News anchor whose lawsuit against Fox News and its ex-chief Roger Ailes was rejected by a New York judge in February, is giving it a second shot. In a new complaint filed on Monday, she charges that senior executives emotionally tortured her by doing things like hacking into her digital devices and feeding nasty stuff about her to social media “sock-puppet” accounts.
Tantaros first came forward in court in August 2016, around the time that Ailes resigned in the wake of Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit and a subsequent investigation. She alleged being sexually harassed by both Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, and subjected to retaliation from Ailes‘ replacement Bill Shine and others at the network. Her original lawsuit stated that Fox News “operated like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny.”
On Feb. 15, New York Supreme Court Justice David B. Cohen ruled that Tantaros‘ claims were covered under the arbitration clause of her employment contract. At the hearing, Tantaros‘ lawyer Judd Burstein revealed that the federal government was investigating how Fox News had structured settlements with various Ailes accusers. Burstein also spoke about adding claims over electronic surveillance of his client, even hinting at a class action suit, but he wasn’t able to overcome what the judge deemed to be a “valid, broad and unambiguous” arbitration clause that required that any controversy arising out of or related to employment should be put to a three-member arbitration panel.
Tantaros is now appealing, but instead of waiting for the outcome, she’s once again trying in open court. This time, she’s taking to federal court instead of New York state court. Listed as defendants are Fox News, Ailes, Shine, executive vp corporate communications Irena Briganti, Peter A. Snyder (identified as the leader of a company, New Media Strategies, who manages social media accounts against Ailes enemies) and Disruptor, Inc.
The former co-host of The Five states in court papers (read in full here), “The criminal conduct described in this Complaint is both highly complex and extremely high-tech — utilizing digital tools and computer/telephony ‘hacking,’ allied media, social media and surreptitious surveillance as replacements for and enhancements to traditional work-place retaliation, extortion, physical threats, and professional/career assassination. Interestingly, this type of professional digital character-assassination … is portrayed in a recent episode of the highly popular Showtime Network series, Homeland.”
The lawsuit states that after Tantaros was taken off the air in April 2015, messages on her company-issued Blackberry began disappearing. Upon advice from a friend, she says, she placed her Blackberry and her laptop in a “Faraday bag,” which the complaint says shielded the digital devices from any more data deletion or manipulation.
“Subsequently, a forensic analysis of Ms. Tantaros’s computer revealed that it contained unique surveillance viruses that are not found in any mass malware,” continues the complaint. “On information and belief … a person working for Fox News was responsible for hacking Ms. Tantaros’s computer so that she could be spied upon,” alleges the suit.
As for the “sock puppet” social media accounts, Tantaros says that starting in early 2015, she noticed a “very large uptick in overtly sexual and offensive posts from purported followers of her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” and that in retrospect, she realized that “someone was trying to emotionally manipulate her and damage her reputation on Twitter.”
She gives some examples.
One fake Twitter feed, Tantaros states in the complaint, sent her an advertisement for a DVD of a 1957 movie titled The Black Scorpion, when one of her close friends was hospitalized following a bit from a poisonous scorpion. In another instance, she says she got a message about “Mickey Mouse and ‘new friends'” as she was talking to relatives at Disney Land. Then, there’s what happened on the third anniversary of her brother’s death. She says a fake account sent her a message, “Purple Memorial … for Daniel Tantaros, RIP Daniel.”
In the complaint, Tantaros claims that “it was designed to upset Ms. Tantaros both about the death of her brother and the fact that she was being surveilled.”
Burstein also writes in the lawsuit that the harassment campaign is consistent with others including NPR reporter David Folkenflik and New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman have written about personal surveillance campaigns against Fox News enemies.
The lawsuit also brings up O’Reilly, whom Fox News recently cut ties with after allegations of sexual harassment by several women. Last August, Tantaros herself had claimed that the highly rated cable host had propositioned her by inviting her out to a “very private” area on Long Island, although she didn’t directly sue him. The new lawsuit mentions how Fox News attempted to portray her allegations as “false” and had carefully navigated around the complaint Tantaros says she first made about O’Reilly as early as Feb. 19, 2016.
However, that doesn’t form the core of Monday’s complaint, which undoubtedly will trigger arbitration demands from the defendants.
Dechert, LLP, outside counsel to Fox News, responds to Tantaros’ lawsuit: “Fox News and its executives flatly deny that they conducted any electronic surveillance of Ms. Tantaros. They have no knowledge of the anonymous or pseudonymous tweets described in her complaint. This lawsuit is a flimsy pretext to keep Ms. Tantaros and her sexual harassment claims in the public eye after the State Supreme Court directed her to bring them in arbitration.”
Additionally, Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro, on behalf of Pete Snyder, calls Tantaros’ lawsuit a sham and a shakedown. He adds, “It will be thrown out of court because it is meritless, time-barred, and subject to arbitration in any event. As Ms. Tantaros and her lawyer are well aware, Pete Snyder and his company ceased doing any social media-related work for Fox News in 2012.”
A judge will soon have to decide whether Tantaros’ employment agreement covers such claims as wiretapping, unlawful access to stored communications and cyber-stalking. She is demanding compensatory damages, punitive damages and her fees and costs.
Also, Homeland — it should be noted — is a production of Fox 21 Studios, a sister company of Fox News and a division of 21st Century Fox.
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