MANHATTAN (CN) — In the sexual-harassment saga underway at Fox News, the lawsuit lobbed last month by ex-host Andrea Tantaros stood out as one of the more bizarre turns.
Accused by Tantaros of using a “highly complex and extremely high-tech” campaign to torment its enemies, Fox News called these allegations so outlandish that her lawyers should face sanctions and professional discipline.
“The allegations of the complaint read like the plot of a television drama: plaintiff Andrea Tantaros claims that her then-employer, Fox News Network … hacked her laptop computer, tapped her telephone, and then tortured her with the information gathered from those acts by sending her coded messages through a ‘sockpuppet’ social media account,” Andrew Levander, an attorney for Fox, wrote in a 25-page memorandum on Wednesday.
“But pleadings in federal court are not supposed to be works of fiction; they must be grounded in fact,” added Levander, a partner with the New York office of Dechert LLP. “The allegations in the complaint are not just false, they are outrageously and flagrantly so.”
Levander’s motion for sanctions comes exactly one month after Tantaros accused Fox News of conspiring with a social-media marketing company to engage in “digital character-assassination” that involved “criminal conduct,” a phrase that attorney Judd Burstein emphasized with bold letters in the complaint.
The 34-page filing accused Fox News of having used “illegal electronic surveillance and computer hacking” to obtain information that network-controlled fake accounts later used to “intimidate, terrorize, and crush [Tantaros’] career through an endless stream of lewd, offensive, and career-damaging social media posts, blog entries and commentary.”
But Fox News says the allegations crumble under the barest scrutiny, hinging on a Twitter account credited to Daniel Wayne Block.
“Mr. Block is a real person living in Gainesville, Florida, who maintains the account in his own name,” Fox’s memo states. “That fact could have been determined in minutes by looking at an online directory.”
Though the Block account was active for just four months in 2016, it posted 6,729 tweets in that short window. Patriotic memes and inspirational quotes account for the bulk of the messages, but photographs of Tantaros, sometimes multiple per day, also dot the timeline.
Tantaros saw a threat, however, even in the benign nature tweets: She claimed that the picture of a Colorado elk that Block posted in June was a veiled reference to a personal conversation she had with her mother about possibly relocating to Aspen.
“But Mr. Block tweeted many pictures of elk, including the exact same image with precisely the same message on May 22, 2016, a month before Tantaros’ alleged June 17 conversation,” Fox's memo states.