According to NPR’s David Folkenflik, Andrea Tantaros, former Fox News host and plaintiff in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the network and its former CEO Roger Ailes, has presented a new lawsuit against the network. The new lawsuit, according to Folkenflik, says the network arranged “to have her private communications spied on as part of a campaign of intimidation” that involved Twitter “sock puppet” accounts tweeting the contents of her private conversations after she reported sexual harassment incidents at Fox News.
As reported by NPR, Tantaros’ lawsuit says that “Fox News executives including co-President Bill Shine orchestrated the use of material gathered by electronic eavesdropping that was fed to Twitter accounts acting on the network's behalf.” According to multiple articles, Shine has reportedly participated in retaliation campaigns against women who have reported sexual harassment within the network and has “pushed women into confidential mediation, signing nondisclosure agreements in exchange for their contracts to be paid.”
This is not the first time Fox has been accused of spying on the women who report sexual harassment: in 2004, the network paid private investigator and former network contributor Bo Dietl “to dig up information” about former producer Andrea Mackris, who reported sexual harassment from now-ousted Fox host Bill O’Reilly. Other claims in the lawsuit seem to corroborate previous reporting, such as Folkenflik’s reporting on Fox’s past use of online “sock-puppet accounts” to spread misinformation and attack perceived rivals, as well as New York magazine’s reporting by Gabriel Sherman detailing the use of a “black room” used to “conduct PR and surveillance campaigns against people [Roger Ailes] targeted, both inside and outside the company."
It’s also not the first time a company owned by Murdoch has been accused of hacking or spying. Fox News allegedly sought through “legally questionable means” the private communications of Media Matters senior reporter Joe Strupp, who had written articles citing “anonymous Fox sources.”
The incidents are also consistent with the Murdochs’ -- whose company 21st Century Fox controls Fox News -- shoddy journalistic practices involving hacking. In 2011, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp was involved in a phone hacking scandal that had them face legal consequences. As explained by NPR’s Folkenflik, “a bribery and hacking scandal at their London tabloids led to the closing of a newspaper, the criminal conviction of a former editor in chief, millions of dollars in settlements and the loss of a potential $11 billion takeover of a big British broadcaster called Sky.” In yet another example, News America Marketing, a division of News Corp., “illicitly accessed its competitor’s password-protected website,” while the two companies were reportedly “at war.” Tantaros’ lawsuit is just the latest allegation of misdeeds against Fox News. From David Folkenflik’s April 24 NPR article:
A new lawsuit filed Monday by a suspended Fox News host accuses the network and senior executives of arranging to have her private communications spied on as part of a campaign of intimidation.
The host, Andrea Tantaros, alleged in a previous lawsuit that she had been sexually harassed by former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and former top-rated Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. That suit has been stayed while her complaints against the network are being heard in binding private arbitration. All defendants, through their own representatives or through Fox's parent company, 21st Century Fox, vehemently denied Tantaros' initial allegations.
In Monday's federal lawsuit, Tantaros alleges that Fox News executives including co-President Bill Shine orchestrated the use of material gathered by electronic eavesdropping that was fed to Twitter accounts acting on the network's behalf. Ensuing tweets, she says, reflected knowledge of details of intimate conversations and exchanges with family members and friends. Tantaros alleges this was done to try to undermine her resolve in challenging the network on sexual harassment.
The case appears to build on a recent report by Salon's Matthew Sheffield. He reported that Fox News under Ailes allegedly paid for “sock puppet” accounts online to promote his private agendas, and also covertly supported the development of blogs that sexualized the network's female hosts and anchors. Tantaros' new suit names, among others, the head of a digital media consulting company who had a prominent role in Sheffield's account.
The suit alleges a rise in offensive material on social media accounts directed toward Tantaros in early 2015, when she says she first notified Shine and other Fox News executives that Ailes had harassed her. Then in May 2016, according to the complaint, several Twitter accounts started to post material suggesting direct knowledge of her conversations.
The phrase “hacking” carries particular resonance for the Murdoch family, which controls Fox News. In 2011, a bribery and hacking scandal at their London tabloids led to the closing of a newspaper, the criminal conviction of a former editor in chief, millions of dollars in settlements and the loss of a potential $11 billion takeover of a big British broadcaster called Sky. The Murdochs are now back in front of a British regulator, once again attempting to take over the 60 percent of Sky they do not already control.