In less than a year, two of the most powerful figures at Fox News have been forced out of the company over allegations of sexual harassment. While it’s unclear what else may come of Bill O’Reilly, a new lawsuit has been filed against the network and former CEO Roger Ailes that alleges a female host’s communications and devices were hacked as part of an intimidation campaign to silence her.
In the suit filed Monday in federal court (NPR has the full document), suspended host Andrea Tantaros accuses Fox News executives of electronic eavesdropping on her digital devices and then publicly tweeting the gathered information in an effort to coerce Tantaros into dropping an already existing sexual harassment suit against the network that names Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly specifically as her harassers. That case is currently in private arbitration.
The case appears to piggyback off a recent Salon.com story that found evidence Ailes used phony social media accounts “to promote his private agendas” as well as supporting “the development of blogs that sexualized the network’s female hosts and anchors.” The news doesn’t arrive as much of a surprise, for reports last summer (that pre-date Ailes’ resignation) accuse him of using Fox News monies to conduct smear campaigns against his enemies within and outside the organization.
Tarantos’ suit documents several instances of cyberstalking that began shortly after first accusing Ailes of sexual harassment. While Fox has responded by saying that Tarantos is unreliable and merely attempting to build her own brand, this isn’t the first time that Fox News (owned by the Murdoch family, which has experience in media phone hacking) has been accused of similar digital misconduct. In 2016, several ex-employees claimed their phones had been hacked, citing strange clicking noises on the lines, and that rampant fear of communication monitoring ran throughout the organization. That Fox News has published several items about toxic workplaces and bosses recently is really just irony at this point.
UPDATE: Fox News outside Counsel Dechert, LLP issued the following statement in regards to Andrea Tantaros’ latest lawsuit: “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. 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.”