Fox News Host Files SLAPP Suit Against Reporter Who Exposed His Sexting
from the never-a-dull-moment dept
Another day, another SLAPP suit — but, unfortunately, not much in the way of an anti-SLAPP law to protect against it. As you may have heard recently, Fox News host Eric Bolling was recently suspended by the channel after Yashar Ali reported in the Huffington Post that Bolling had sent “lewd” texts to colleagues at the station, including the ever popular
dick pic “unsolicited photo of male genitalia via text message.” Earlier this week, Bolling announced that he looked forward to clearing his name and apparently he’s decided to do that by… suing the reporter Yashar Ali for $50 million.
We don’t have the full complaint, but Ali has received a summons, which gives us some information. The notice part reads:
The nature of this action is for damages and injunctive relief based on defamation arising from the defendant’s efforts to injure plaintiff’s reputation through the intentional and/or highly reckless publication of actionable false and misleading statements about the plaintiff’s conduct and character. As a result of the defendant’s action, the plaintiff has been substantially harmed.
The relief sought includes, but is not limited to, reputational damages, monetary damages, special damages, punitive damages, costs, fees, injunctive relief and such other relief as is just and proper, in an amount not less than $50 million.
A few important things here. The lawsuit is filed in New York state court, not federal court, and it may stay there as both Bolling and Ali appear to be in the state. As we’ve noted many times in the past, New York has an embarrassingly weak anti-SLAPP law, something it should really work on fixing (being the “media capital of the world” and all…). Also of note: Bolling is targeting Ali directly and not the Huffington Post, which published his article, or any of the layers of parent companies for HuffPo: AOL and Verizon. It is likely Ali does not have $50 million, though I’m pretty sure that those other companies do. Not that they should or would pay — but if Bolling is truly seeking $50 million, you’d think he’d target the companies with the actual money, rather than the lowly reporter. The targeting of the reporter alone certainly adds weight to the idea that this is a pure SLAPP suit, targeting a reporter and trying to silence him.
Ali, for his part, stands by his reporting and promises not to be intimidated:
Just received a summons. Eric Bolling is suing me for defamation – $50 million in damages. I stand by my reporting + will protect my sources
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 9, 2017
Not going to stop reporting on Eric Bolling or anyone else. I've had family members killed/jailed in Iran, a lawsuit isn't going to scare me https://t.co/nvludsIV87
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 9, 2017
Huffington Post has said it also stands by Ali’s reporting, and has “no hesitation” about standing by him financially in the lawsuit, further pointing out that he had a fairly astounding 14 sources for his story. It is true that if the claims were entirely made up they likely would qualify as defamatory, but with that many sources, proving they were made up is not going to be easy. Of course, if the point of the lawsuit is just to create a massive hardship for Ali, that part doesn’t matter. And without an anti-SLAPP law to make the plaintiff pay the legal fees, such cases can be overwhelming.
One other element of this is that Bolling’s lawsuit might serve another purpose: scaring anyone else (beyond the 14 who have already spoken) from speaking out about potential misdeeds for fear of having that info come out in a lawsuit. That’s a separate form of chilling effects created by these kinds of lawsuits, and a problem in and of itself.
It seems quite likely that Ali will seek to have the case tossed out as early as possible, but if it actually goes to discovery, well… I’m not sure Bolling will enjoy opening himself up to that. When people get angry over coverage, filing a defamation lawsuit often is their instinctual reaction — but it can certainly backfire.