7:40am PT by Eriq Gardner
Fox News Seeks Sanctions for "Hoax" Lawsuit as Andrea Tantaros' Lawyer Renews Spying Claim
Fox News has filed a blistering response to a lawsuit that accuses the cable network of having "tortured" former anchor Andrea Tantaros by feeding nasty stuff about her to social media "sock-puppet" accounts. In a demand for sanctions lodged on Wednesday, Tantaros' allegations are characterized as an "outright hoax." Fox News is demanding sanctions for Tantaros and her lawyer, Judd Burstein, and wants the matter referred to disciplinary authorities.
In turn, Burstein tells The Hollywood Reporter that Wednesday's motion is "smoking gun" evidence that Fox News is continuing to surveil his client and listening in on privileged conversations between him and Tantaros.
Wednesday's sanctions motion comes in Tantaros' second lawsuit against Fox News.
She initially brought a lawsuit in New York state court in August 2016, around the time that the late Roger Ailes resigned in the wake of Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit. 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. In February, the judge ruled that Tantaros' claims were covered under the arbitration clause of her employment contract and accepted a motion to compel arbitration.
As Tantaros appeals that decision, she has filed a second lawsuit in federal court. This time, she is suing Fox News, Ailes, Shine, Irena Briganti and others. She claims being the victim of electronic surveillance and social media harassment.
Among the tweets that Tantaros cites in the complaint as proof of harassment were those made by an individual identified as Daniel Wayne Block. On May 21, 2016, Block sent a message to @AndreaTantaros, stating, "Dear Andrea — I just recently bought one of your HC copies of 'Tied Up in Knots' & mailed a bookplate to you to sign, pls confirm[.]"
Tantaros alleges in the lawsuit that there is no way Block could have known her home address. Nonetheless, the book came, and Tantaros says she became concerned for her physical safety. Her complaint then makes a fuss over how the above tweet disappeared shortly before the lawsuit was filed.
Fox News in its sanctions motion (read here) seizes on all of this and offers a declaration from Block himself.
Before doing so, it states that the allegations "read like the plot of a television drama" (Burstein himself suggested Homeland) and that "pleadings in federal court are not supposed to be works of fiction; they must be grounded in fact. The allegations in the Complaint are not just false, they are outrageously and flagrantly so."
As for sock-puppet accounts on Twitter, Fox News writes, "But the 'Daniel Wayne Block' Twitter account does not 'operate under a fictitious identity' and does not tweet on anyone else's behalf. Mr. Block is a real person living in Gainesville, Florida, who maintains the account in his own name. That fact could have been determined in minutes by looking at an on-line directory. Moreover, a review of other contemporaneous tweets in Mr. Block’s Twitter account — something that could have been done in a few hours — would have shown that the bunny, lion, elk and other images that Tantaros believed to be targeted at her were images and themes that Mr. Block tweeted repeatedly, including before Tantaros purportedly had the telephone conversations that she fears were monitored. Had Burstein bothered to pick up his own telephone to call Mr. Block, he would have learned that Mr. Block was not paid to tweet by Fox News or anyone else; he tweeted about images and themes that were 'meaningful' to him."
Block's declaration (read here) goes into more detail and attempts to explain the innocent basis for some of his tweets, including a "scorpion" message (when Tantaros' close friend was hospitalized from a bite) and a "Disney Land" message (when Tantaros says her relatives were at the theme park).
The network also addresses three other alleged "sock-puppet" accounts, saying even if they were fictitious, "the tweets from these accounts ... do not imply access to any of Tantaros' private information ... nor do these plain vanilla tweets from these other accounts represent an 'uptick in overtly sexual and offensive posts,' as the Complaint alleges."
Further, Fox News discusses the allegation that Tantaros' computer was infected with surveillance viruses, attacking the complaint for not identifying any particular virus, explaining how it operated, what made it "unique" and "critically, how it could be linked to the Fox News Defendants."
Fox News is now looking to have the case dismissed with prejudice and to punish Burstein for allegedly signing a complaint with what it says is bogus evidentiary support. The network adds that he has "spent his entire career wielding publicity as a weapon against his litigation adversaries."
Reached for reaction, Burstein says it is shocking what the defendants are doing. He says this is a case of self-immolation and pledges that it will be Fox News actually sanctioned because he didn't have proper notice of what was coming. (The attorney did get a long letter on May 2 detailing the forthcoming sanctions motion, although Burstein says it left out pertinent information.)
"I could not be more happy that they filed this motion because they have handed me the smoking gun," he adds. "We alleged in the complaint that Andrea Tantaros became concerned about Mr. Block when she received a tweet from him. We alleged in the complaint that the tweet had disappeared from his Twitter account. He has now confirmed that he did send the tweet. The only way that anyone would have known that I was filing a complaint that would focus on the Block twitter account is if someone had been listening in on my privileged conversations."
Andrew Levander at Dechert LLP, representing Fox, provides a comment.
"Mr. Burstein, who has already been chastised by the state court in this dispute, simply seeks to divert attention from his baseless federal complaint by misstating the facts," he says. "Our motion for sanctions, supported by indisputable sworn statements and documentary evidence as well as overwhelming judicial authority, speaks for itself."