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.

And…

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:

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.

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Comments on “Fox News Host Files SLAPP Suit Against Reporter Who Exposed His Sexting”

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41 Comments
LineReadLine says:

You say this is a SLAPP suit – have you considered the possibility that the original report might actually BE slander? Or is this another “guilty by reason of conservative” situation? Notice that the twitter account says HuffPo “spoke to 14 sources” but not that “14 sources confirmed” anything.

You automatically believe the reporter and discount the accused in the article above – how about waiting until the facts come out?

Maybe the original report is just another step in the progressive agenda to take apart Fox News. If you can’t counter the message, take out the messengers.

LineReadLine says:

Re: Re: Re:

14 anonymous sources who he will protect from disclosure, while providing no proof of the accusations they make, or even confirming what they actually said.

In other words, trust me, I’m a reporter. And THAT’S never been a problem with media stories recently, right?

How about some proof? Copy of the message/picture? Date they were sent? The number they were sent from? Whose penis was in the picture even? Did Bolling just forward pictures of Anthony Weiner’s junk maybe?

Or is the expectation of reporting excellence fallen to the point of “someone said this, so it must be true”.

Come on, I could find 14 “anonymous sources” to back up my story about how the earth is shaped like a burrito – it doesn’t make the story true or accurate tho…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, clearly someone is lying, right? So, three possibilities:

1) Yashar Ali faked an entire report with 14 fake sources and got it past his editors to destroy one Fox News host for… reasons
2) Fourteen people either intentionally or by coincidence colluded to tell lies to a reporter take down one Fox News host
3) A man got caught sending unsolicited dick pics and is now denying it

You are absolutely right that we can’t know for certain which is the case without more hard facts. Presumably if Bolling is telling the truth, the lawsuit will move forward and we’ll start to get those facts. In the mean time, as far as forming my own opinions about what is likely to be the truth, I’m going to apply Occam’s Razor — and it’s pointing square at option #3.

Radix says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Let’s not also forget that he was suspended for something.

All he has to do is tell the world why he was suspended, and then Fox could confirm, and the story would be over…assuming it wasn’t actually sexting. Since he hasn’t taken these steps, we can conclude one of two things:

1) The whole story is true, and he’s lying.

2) The actual reason for his suspension is even worse, and admitting it is less desirable than being accused of sexual harassment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Let us add to that the observation that it is now common knowledge that Fox encourages, supports, and conceals misogyny and inappropriate behavior toward women.

See: Roger Ailes
See: Bill O’Reilly
See: Bill Cunningham
See: Sean Hannity
See: whoever the next one is, and there WILL be more

So while it’s of course unfair to conclude that all men at Fox are misogynist predatory assholes, we should not be in the least bit surprised that some of them are. Surely nobody thinks that the last one’s been fired, do they?

I look forward to discovery, if it gets that far.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sadly, here you are almost certainly talking into the wind. You make fair points, and the rush by others to call this a definite SLAP suit is an indication of the far too typical rush to judgement that permeates the site.

Definitely need many more objective facts before taking any position other than an article was published and the subject of the article is challenging it’s truthfulness.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The simplest conclusion is the 14 sources have provided enough proof and corroboration that only an idiot would not believe the totality of the evidence. Apparently Anthony ‘Carlos Danger’ Wiener’s problems did not resonate with the fool. Many fine sexting disgusting and if enough people are sexted it will leak to someone.

IAmNotYourLawyer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Since Bolling is probably considered a public figure, he’d have to show actual malice by Ali.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Times_Co._v._Sullivan

Ali doesn’t have to prove the story was accurate; Bolling needs to show (among other things) that Ali wrote the story “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

It’s a pretty high standard in order to shield reporting on matters of public interest.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Notice that the twitter account says HuffPo "spoke to 14 sources" but not that "14 sources confirmed" anything.

Perhaps you should go beyond the Twitter account, and read the actual article being sued over, which explains the nature of the sources and what they said in much greater detail.

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/eric-bolling-fox-news-text-messages_us_5984d2bbe4b0cb15b1be6d65

LineReadLine says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The women, who are Bolling’s current and former Fox colleagues, concluded the message was from him because they recognized his number from previous work-related and informal interactions.”

Easy proof then – what was the number? A simple check of who the number belongs to would be, you know, a simple matter of journalistic investigation. Or you could rely on people’s recollections instead…

Imagine what a better story it would be with facts associated with it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I wonder what the number of dollars his PR firms pays you to badly troll tech forums. I’m wondering if you regret not getting that amount in advance. You could of course prove me wrong by showing a years worth of W-2 forms from a reputable employer. Imagine how much more credence your garbage posts would have if it had some facts associated with it.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In addition to HuffPost’s 14 sources, other news services are finding their own, and other women are coming forward.

Two current and former Fox News personalities told Philly.com on the condition of anonymity that Bolling never sent lewd messages to them, but that they’ve heard stories about other staffers who has similar interactions with the Fox News host.

Hours after Fox News announced it was suspending Bolling, Caroline Heldman, a politics professor at Occidental College and frequent guest on the network from 2008 to 2011, claimed the Fox News host made an unspecified number of unsolicited sexual advances to her.

Nice try though.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

_but not that “14 sources confirmed” anything._

No, those would be the 14 sources that gave the information in the first place. How often do you ask someone, “hey, can you confirm saying that thing you just said?”

You realize that the targets of his behavior are also conservative, as is the network that suspended him over said behavior? Of course these are allegations, but clearly not a story invented from whole cloth.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

You say this is a SLAPP suit – have you considered the possibility that the original report might actually BE slander? Or is this another "guilty by reason of conservative" situation?

If you’d read the article, you would know the reasons for the assumption that it’s a SLAPP suit. (Hint: they’re in the big paragraph in the middle.)

Scote (profile) says:

“Bolling’s lawsuit might serve another purpose: scaring anyone else (beyond the 14 who have already spoken) from speaking out about potential misdeeds”

This seems pretty clear from the fact that Bolling almost certainly can’t win this case on the merits. He’s a public figure and has to prove a higher standard of defamation than regular people, so he not actually has to prove that the claims are false, but that Ali **knew** they were false. And there is absolutely no evidence I’m aware of to even suggest that Ali thought the claims were false, let alone prove such a thing.

So, I’d say this is definately a SLAP suit where Bolling hopes to intimidate Ali and others based on the huge cash demand in the suit. This strikes me as the natural outcome of thin-skinned billionaire Peter Thiel’s campaign against freedom of the press.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Going for discovery?

You’re joking, but your premise may be sound. He sued the REPORTER and NOT the newspaper. Why? Because he figured the reporter would have less resources to fight, so he’d probably at least make it to discovery and (he thinks) find out who ratted him out in the crew so he can then make THEIR lives miserable… maybe add them to the lawsuit.

But that begs the question – has he sent sooooooo many texts out that he can’t figure out who the 14 source were? Especially since as noted above, more are coming forward on their own to make similar claims. How many women (and men?) did he send messages/pics to?

Robert Freetard (profile) says:

What SHOULD happen...

<defendant>

Your honor I suggest we proceed straight to dickscovery, I would like to submit as evidence 15 pictures of the plaintiffs penis from my sources, anonymised for their pleasure but with date and time stamps intact.

A simple subpoena to his (3rd party, no expectation of privacy) phone provider will confirm his sending these pictures at the dates and times indicated.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: What SHOULD happen...

“A simple subpoena to his (3rd party, no expectation of privacy) phone provider will confirm his sending these pictures at the dates and times indicated.”

and his position every 15 minutes from the past seven years, all other text messages he has sent, all calls made and their duration, what kind of phone he has been using, all of the web site URL’s he has visited, the apps he has installed, what banking he has been doing…

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