The Fox News Channel has struck back at a lawyer representing former host Andrea Tantaros in her sexual harassment allegations against the network, belittling his claims Fox used online accounts to intimidate her and asking that he be punished by the court.
The network's volleys responded mockingly to a lawsuit filed by attorney Judd Burstein late last month alleging that Fox News executives arranged for Tantaros' private exchanges to be spied on as part of a campaign of intimidation relying on online sock puppets.
"The allegations are not just false, they are outrageously and flagrantly so," wrote Fox's outside lawyers, led by Andrew Levander of Dechert LLP. "This sensational allegation, broadcast in bold-faced type, was made solely to generate negative headlines for, and inflict maximum damage on, Fox News."
Levander's legal papers contended that Burstein failed to do his basic homework: he argued Twitter accounts Burstein had alleged were "sock puppets" — operated on behalf of Fox — were not fake but in fact run by actual people.
The attorney for Fox focused on a key Twitter account that corresponded with Tantaros and, Burstein alleged, tweeted out images closely linked to Tantaros' private correspondence and conversations.
Levander countered, "Mr. Block is a real person living in Gainesville, Florida who maintained the account in his own name. That fact could have been determined in minutes." Levander cited instances in which Block tweeted out images said to be part of the intimidation before the conversations invoked by Burstein had occurred. Fox's lawyers argued that timeline showed the tweets from Block's account did not hinge on any surveillance.
In his response, Burstein wrote Fox News' own filings provided support for his allegations. Among other elements, Burstein noted that Block said he wasn't aware of an account that his account exchanged tweets with. "If Mr. Block is telling the truth, then someone else is responsible for these tweets," Burstein wrote. He also says he did not allege Block was fictional, but that he either acted on Fox's behalf or allowed others access to his account.
Previously, Tantaros had sued Fox News for what she said was sexual harassment by its former chairman, the late Roger Ailes, and former star host Bill O'Reilly, naming both men and other Fox News executives as defendants. That suit was referred to binding and secret arbitration.
In some ways, Levander's legal argument seemed most driven by Burstein's filing of yet another lawsuit in federal court, placing Tantaros' dispute in the public eye once more in a move that circumvented the confidentiality of the arbitration process. In the April suit alleging intimidation, filed before Ailes' death, Burstein sued the Fox News chairman for Tantaros again, along with other defendants, including, among others, the network's former president, Bill Shine, and its public relations chief, Irena Briganti.
The network, its parent company and all the defendants have vigorously rejected the allegations.
Burstein's response Wednesday additionally stated that private investigator and former paid Fox News contributor Bo Dietl admitted this week that he was hired on behalf of Fox News last year to investigate Tantaros. Lawyers for Fox News pledged to report on that element.
NPR has also sought comment from Dietl. Dietl has previously acknowledged digging into the backgrounds of former Fox host Gretchen Carlson, whose sexual harassment suit last summer led to Ailes' departure, and former Fox News producer Andrea Mackris, whose sexual harassment lawsuit against O'Reilly led to a multi-million settlement to avert a jury verdict.
Multiple other women accused both Ailes and O'Reilly of sexual harassment, though both men denied all misconduct. Star host Megyn Kelly left the network for NBC News after saying that she was among those who Ailes harassed.
Though Burstein's allegations seem outlandish on their face, revelations at the network over the past 11 months have shocked many of the networks' critics and even some staffers, including the disclosure that Fox secretly paid more than $3 million in 2011 to a former employee who alleged Ailes had extorted sex from her for more than two decades. The structure of that hidden payment is the part of an ongoing federal investigation of Fox News, with which parent company 21st Century Fox has pledged full cooperation.
Since Ailes' departure last summer, corporate and network officials have effectively confirmed employees' fears that Ailes ordered that Fox's corridors and offices be bugged and that work devices and accounts were closely monitored. Lawyers say Fox was likely acting legally under employment law. Other Ailes advisers, since dismissed, worked in a back room at Fox devising strategies against his critics.
In Tantaros' case, Fox News outside counsel Levander argued this week that Burstein has failed in court and is instead trying to make his case in the press.
"Burstein's history of grandstanding and threatening a 'media event' betray his true intention: to pressure Fox News to accede to Tantaros' extorionate settlement demands," Levander wrote. Burstein has pledged to seek disciplinary action against the Fox News lawyer, too.