Bill Shine Settles Lawsuit Alleging Fox News Smeared Man Via Media "Sock Puppets"

Silas Pierce was to star on a reality show until Fox News executives learned something about him.
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Bill Shine

White House Communications Director Bill Shine has gotten himself out of a sticky but obscure lawsuit by settling allegations that when he was a top executive at Fox News, he and Roger Ailes dug up dirt on a man and later used "sock puppet" media outlets to out the guy as homosexual. 

The lawsuit relates to an abandoned Fox Business reality show about a family-owned business conducting lucrative estate sales in Florida. The show was to star Silas Pierce. After Fox News walked away from the series, producer Leftfield Pictures filed a $4.5 million lawsuit in New York court alleging breach of contract. Fox News then responded with a fraud counterclaim. The cable news giant explained that it dropped the series after learning that the gay castmember didn't have a legal relationship with supposedly adopted children. That was supposedly a problem for a family-oriented show.

The case was then settled, but it wasn't the end of the legal mess.

That's because last December, Pierce would file his own lawsuit against Fox News Network, Ailes and Shine alleging tortious publication of true but private facts as well as interference with his relationship with Leftfield.

According to the complaint, Fox ceased development of the series after learning that Pierce was a homosexual man with a non-traditional family. 

"This revelation caused concerns among FNN’s executive team that depictions of a gay man and his family on their Fox Business Channel might not fit with the Fox News brand’s politically conservative image," states the complaint.

Once Leftfield sued, continues Pierce in his lawsuit, Ailes and Shine initiated a scheme to discredit and vilify him in an effort to bolster its settlement position and justify its breach with Leftfield. Not just by what was filed in New York, but also by "dispatch[ing] lawyers and investigators to Florida in an attempt to dig up damaging information about Pierce and the Business, often harassing or badgering Pierce’s neighbors, friends, family, and current and former customers for information about Pierce, his family, and the Business."

Shine, allegedly acting on direction of (now deceased) Ailes, "then communicated those private facts about Pierce to various 'sock puppet' media outlets and encouraged those outlets to run stories critical of Leftfield, Pierce, his Business and his family," adds the complaint.

Pierce says that until this time, only his closest family and friends were aware of his sexuality and legal relationship with his sons.

Fox News and Ailes' widow have submitted papers in a Florida court in an attempt to dismiss the claims. But Shine, who was just tapped a month ago to head public relations for Donald Trump's White House, appears to want no business with this lawsuit. An Aug. 3 filing, which just became public, allows Shine to escape the case. It's noted that Shine has "resolved" claims. Neither side would make public comment about the resolution likely because confidentiality is one of the settlement terms.

As for the lingering lawsuit, Fox News argues it has been released from claims because it is a third-party beneficiary to a deal between Leftfield and Pierce. The cable newscaster is also contending that Pierce's privacy hardly could have been invaded since his agreement for the show required him to undergo a background check and agree to give the network full access to film all aspects of his life.

If the release argument doesn't work, Fox News contends that if "the information was obtained from Pierce’s neighbors, friends, family and current and former customers... [such information] could not possibly be private."

Finally, Fox News submits that Pierce hasn't met the elements of the asserted tort for an additional reason.

Pointing to the Supreme Court's 2013 decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, lawyers for the conservative outlet tell the judge, "There may have been a time when truthfully saying a person was a homosexual was 'highly offensive to a reasonable person,' but thankfully, those days have long passed."