Soon after Bill O’Reilly was fired, a number of executives at Fox News Channel have feared that there may be a lot more trouble ahead. Well, their fears may be coming true far sooner than expected. On Monday, one of Roger Ailes’ victims accused the fair and balanced network of orchestrating a staggering campaign of criminal harassment and cyberstalking.
Last summer, Andrea Tantaros, best known for her appearances on “The Five” and “Outnumbered,” detonated a bombshell–she’d been taken off the air in April after complaining that Ailes had harassed her on numerous occasions between 2014 and 2016. Tantaros says that she lodged a number of complaints with senior management, only to be taken off “The Five” panel in February 2015 and yanked off the air altogether a year later.
Fox claims that she was effectively suspended with pay for not allowing the network to vet her new book, “Tied Up In Knots.” One problem–Tantaros promoted the book on the February 29, 2016 edition of “Outnumbered,” and that clip is still available on Fox News’ video archive more than a year later.
A few weeks later, Tantaros sued Fox, contending that she had been the target of “demeaning conduct” ever since she joined the network in 2010–including harassment by Ailes and O’Reilly. She also contended that Fox illegally leaked word that it was about to go into arbitration with Tantaros–thus voiding the portion of her contract calling for binding arbitration and clearing the way for her to sue.
For now, that dispute is back in arbitration after a Manhattan judge sided with Fox. However, on Monday, Tantaros filed a federal lawsuit against Fox News, Ailes, network co-president Bill Shine, and media relations chief Irena Briganti, alleging that they crossed the line from trying to defeat her in court to what her lawyer, Judd Bernstein, calls “cyberstalking on steroids.”
Read the complaint here. Tantaros contends that after she rejected Fox’ offer for a million-dollar settlement, Shine–who was senior executive vice president and the number-two man at the network before Ailes’ ouster–and other executives fed material to a number of “sockpuppet” Twitter accounts that were created to troll her.
According to Tantaros, the harassment began in February 2015, when she complained to Shine about Ailes’ behavior. From then onward, she claims to have been targeted with numerous offensive posts to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This ramped up considerably when Tantaros was taken off the air in April 2016. On the day of her suspension, she discovered that a number of messages were being deleted from her BlackBerry in real time. Later, an analysis of her laptop revealed “unique surveillance viruses that are not found in any mass malware.” Tantaros believes that someone hacked that laptop on orders from Fox.
From then onward, Tantaros was the target of a number of tweets that showed the bottom-feeders knew details about her conversations with family and friends. In one of the most chilling tweets of all, someone sent her a tweet memorializing her brother, Daniel, less than 24 hours after she and her mother discussed it on the phone. Later, while she was talking to Daniel’s children on a visit to Disneyland, someone tweeted her a picture of Mickey Mouse hugging two children.
In an equally unnerving moment, one of Tantatros’ friends was bitten by a scorpion in June 2016, and Tantaros spent a lot of time on the phone talking about it. Out of nowhere, someone tweeted her an ad for a 1957 movie, “The Black Scorpion.” In July, just moments after Tantaros hung up with a friend of hers whose Army unit had just adopted a dog named “Egypt,” someone tweeted her a picture for a tour company named “Egypt Tours and Travel.”
Tantaros believes that Fox employed social media consultant Bill Snyder in its harassment campaign against her. She further contends that in the days after her lawyers notified Snyder that she was going to sue him, several incriminating tweets disappeared.
Predictably, Fox News denies any wrongdoing. The network dismissed her claims as “a flimsy pretext” to attract attention now that her harassment case is in arbitration. But Tantaros’ suit seems to echo a report from Salon last week about Ailes’ ham-handed and borderline criminal approach to defending Fox News from critics. Ailes employed an extensive surveillance operation that obtained the credit reports and phone records of reporters that were in Ailes’ doghouse. Under his watch, Fox frequently created sockpuppet accounts and anonymous Websites to attack critics.
Last summer, Bernstein hinted that he was on the verge of piercing “the veil of secrecy surrounding the 14th floor” of 1211 Avenue of the Americas, where this operation–popularly known as the “Black Room“–was based. This suit seems to be the fruit of that review.
From the looks of it, Fox News’ only way out of this is if it has a really good explanation for how those viruses got on Tantaros’ computer. Otherwise, Tantaros could really draw blood.
(featured image courtesy Tantaros’ Facebook)