Andrea Tantaros, once a long-time fixture at the Fox News Channel, filed a suit on Monday alleging that the cable news network spied on her private communications and utilized information it gleaned via surveillance in an intimidation campaign after she began having disputes with network management.
This is Tantaros' second lawsuit against the network. Her first was launched last August alleging sexual harassment from Fox News' former chairman Roger Ailes and its former top host Bill O'Reilly. That suit has been suspended and both parties have been ordered by a New York judge into confidential arbitration in line with her employment contract. Both men have since left the network amidst a series of other public sexual harassment claims.
In her most recent filing, Tantaros also targets Ailes, current Fox News co-president Bill Shine, the network's PR director Irena Briganti, and Pete Snyder, a Republican political operative.
Snyder's former company, New Media Strategies, was the focus of an earlier Salon investigation into pseudonymous blogs and social media accounts that were used to promote Fox News employees and attack the network's critics.
Tantaros's most recent suit claims that Snyder and his current firm, Disruptor Capital, continued operating these fake "sock puppet" accounts on Fox News' behalf and began using them to repeat snippets of what she had thought were confidential conversations in order to intimidate her.
According to the complaint, Fox News, primarily at the instigation of Ailes and others who formerly worked in his secret "black room" operation, snooped inside of Tantaros' email and recorded her telephone conversations. They then allegedly provided the information back to Snyder and others who repeated it back to Tantators via anonymous social media accounts in order to dissuade her from taking legal action against the network.
The former co-host of "The Five" claims that in June of 2016, she became aware via several telephone calls from a friend of hers that the friend had been bitten by a black scorpion. Following Tantaros' conversations with her associate, she received an anonymous tweet which referenced a 1957 movie called "The Black Scorpion." In another alleged incident of harassment, Tantaros claims that she spoke with her mother about commemorating the third anniversary of the death of her brother, Daniel, and the subsequently received a tweet from a sock puppet which read "PURPLE MEMORIAL ... FOR DANIEL TANTAROS, R.I.P. DANIEL."
The network strongly disputed Tantaros' allegations in a statement issued through its attorney, Dechert, LLP to Salon:
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.
Tantaros' filing acknowledged the almost unbelievable nature of her allegations, including her claim that someone operating at the behest of the network installed keystroke-logging software on her personal laptop.
"The outlandish merges with reality in the world of Fox News," her attorney, Judd Burnstein noted, comparing her alleged experience to an episode of the popular Showtime program "Homeland" which recently featured sock puppet accounts.
“This is not just cyberstalking,” Burstein said to NPR. “This is cyberstalking on steroids, because, as alleged in the complaint, they harassed her through sock-puppet social media accounts which conveyed the illegal fruits of their electronic surveillance of her. It was in essence two crimes committed at the same time.”
Burstein also noted in the lawsuit that the alleged harassment campaign is similar to others described by NPR reporter David Folkenflik and New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman, both of whom have extensively covered Ailes and Fox News.
Randy Mastro, an attorney for Snyder emphatically denied Tantaros' assertions in a statement provided to Salon:
Andrea Tantaros' lawsuit against Pete Snyder is a sham and a shakedown. It will be thrown out of court because it is meritless, time-barred, and subject to arbitration in any event. As Ms. Tantaros and her lawyer are well aware, Pete Snyder and his company ceased doing any social media-related work for Fox News in 2012;
Snyder sold his social media company long ago, and has had nothing whatsoever to do with what she is now alleging supposedly occurred to her over the past year.
Pete and his wife have been nothing but friends to Ms. Tantaros over the years. In fact, the emails that Ms. Tantaros includes as exhibits in her claim are exchanges in which Mr. Snyder, upon Ms. Tantaros’ request, was promoting her with Fox News executives to expand her role. That she would stoop to dragging him into her fight with Fox News is therefore both shocking and disappointing.
At her request, he helped her secure her position at Fox News and provided her professional advice throughout her career. Yet, now, Ms. Tantaros seems intent on using Mr. Snyder as a foil to try to make public allegations against Fox News in court, when a New York judge already ruled she is contractually barred from doing so and has to arbitrate her claims under strict confidentiality by contract. So whatever Ms. Tantaros’ claims against Fox News, she should leave Pete Snyder out of it.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Snyder's attorney.