Fox News Roger Ailes, network set up harassment campaign against Andrea TantarosNY Daily News
April 26, 2017
Ex-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and senior network executives "tortured" a female host who'd complained about his advances through an elaborate online harassment campaign, a new lawsuit charged Monday.
Andrea Tantaros, who was once a host of "The Five," alleged in Manhattan Federal Court that she was bombarded with insults, threats and creepy messages from fake social media accounts.
She also charges that Ailes - who resigned from his powerful post as Fox News CEO last year amid an ongoing sexual harassment scandal - and current co-President Bill Shine ordered henchmen to illegally spy on her using electronic surveillance. She says Fox flunkies hacked into her computer and planted spyware on it.
The lawsuit alleges that the online harassment continued after she was taken off the air in April 2016 - and is ongoing.
"This lawsuit focuses on the countless violations of federal criminal law engaged in by the defendants - much of it after Ms. Tantaros was fired by Fox News - to emotionally torture Ms. Tantaros into submission," the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit claims Ailes and O'Reilly were "supported by a cabal of senior executives," including Shine, top lawyer Dianne Brandi and EVP for Corporate Communications Irena Briganti, among others.
"The Murdochs' reaction to these revelations will show whether they are serious in reforming Fox News," said Judd Burstein, Tantaros' lawyer.
"The fact that they gave Ailes and O'Reilly $65 million in sexual predator bonuses makes me concerned that they were merely trying to cut out two tumors in the hope that the cancer had not metastasized. They need to realize that triage is no longer a realistic option," he added, referring to reported payments Fox gave O'Reilly and Ailes upon leaving the network.
Burstein called for a further management shakeup.
A Fox spokeswoman flatly denied the network ran an online smear campaign against Tantaros.
Susan Estrich, an attorney for Ailes, said the lawsuit was "an obvious attempt to get publicity. This suit has no merit."
A lawyer for O'Reilly did not respond to an email.
The lawsuit claims that Fox News hired six law partners from two different firms along with multiple junior partners to go after Tantaros.
She made her first complaints about Ailes in February 2015 and later complained about O'Reilly.
In April 2016, Fox ordered her off the air with pay. That's when she began noticing that some of the messages on her company issued Blackberry were disappearing, the lawsuit claims.
So she says she began carrying the phone and laptop in a so-called Faraday bag used to shield electronic devices from manipulation.
Tantaros' lawyer Judd Burstein, says a forensic analysis of the devices showed her laptop contained spyware not commonly available.
"A person working for Fox News was responsible for hacking Ms. Tantaros's computer so that she could be spied upon," the lawsuit claims.
Meanwhile, Tantaros says she started receiving tweets from strange accounts that seemed to be aware of goings-on in her personal life.
The messages from the so-called fake or "sock puppet" accounts, the lawsuit claims, appear to have been meant to embarrass and scare her.
One of the sketchy Twitter accounts posted a message that they were sending her a copy of her book to be signed.
That book showed up at her home address, which is not widely available, the lawsuit said.
After the third anniversary of the death of Tantaros' brother, a fake Twitter account sent her a message reading, "Purple Memorial .... For Daniel Tantaros, RIP Daniel."
"It was designed to upset Ms. Tantaros both about the death of her brother and the fact that she was being surveilled," the lawsuit claims.
In May and June of 2016 Tantaros regularly spoke on the phone with a male friend who called her "Baby Bunny," the suit says.
On June 2014 a Twitter user, Daniel Wayne Block, tweeted at her "Bunny rabbits…" along with an image of bouncing bunnies.
The complaint cites evidences that the owner of one of the accounts frequently tweeting at Tantaros is masking his or her true identity.
The lawsuit is only the latest salvo in Tantaros' battle against Fox.
In August, after rejecting a $1 million settlement offer, she sued Fox and Ailes for $30 million in Manhattan Supreme Court, charging the network honcho ran "a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult" in which sexual harassment was rampant.
That suit was put on hold in February during a hearing that featured the explosive revelation that federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York were pursuing a criminal investigation revolving around Fox's payments to staff who brought claims of sexual harassment.
"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," FOX News' outside counsel Dechert, LLP said in a statement. "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."