Former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros stepped up her fight with her ex-employer, claiming in a new lawsuit filed Monday that the cable network targeted both her and Newsmax Media's CEO.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, claims that Tantaros was a victim of so-called "sock puppet" attacks — a social media harassment campaign — as well as electronic surveillance that mirrored the plot of an episode of the Showtime TV hit espionage series "Homeland."
The suit claims that an outside political social media firm called Disruptor, headed by political operative Peter Snyder, was hired by Fox to engage in the sock-puppet smears. "Sock puppet" is an internet term for using an anonymous online identity to manipulate or deceive public opinion.
Tantaros seeks unspecified damages from the company, Fox News' former Chief Executive Officer Roger Ailes and other executives in the lawsuit.
Tantaros had previously sued Fox, claiming she was a victim of sexual harassment by Ailes and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. That case is still in litigation.
Tantaros' new suit also offers evidence that Newsmax Media and CEO Christopher Ruddy were also targeted by Fox and Disruptor.
Page 28 of the complaint describes an alleged email sent on March 26, 2014 from Bill Shine, then a Fox senior executive and now co-president of Fox News, to Snyder.
Shine's email included a Bloomberg Businessweek magazine article titled "The Next Ailes: Newsmax's Chris Ruddy Preps TV Rival to Fox News," and asks Snyder, "Got a sec?"
The Bloomberg Businessweek story profiled Ruddy and detailed his company's plans to launch a 24/7 cable news channel to compete with Fox News.
Snyder responded to Shine, suggesting an aggressive response against Newsmax and other competitive conservative media.
"As we discussed before there is a very serious, clear and present danger out there – a bunch of well-funded and motivated groups (Newsmax, Cox Communications, Salem and (Glenn) Beck who are out to win this battle and see FNC as highly vulnerable in digital and beyond....
"It's time to wake the bear, recognize and crush the competition…. (no more sugar coating or being timid)...."
Newsmax's executive editor Ken Chandler said that soon after the publication of the Bloomberg Businessweek story the company saw a "huge uptick" in negative tweets, online comments and blog posts against Ruddy and the new TV network.
"If these allegations are true, I am surprised and disappointed that Fox News, a news organization, would engage a political social media firm to attack myself and Newsmax," Ruddy said in a statement.
Tantaros' new lawsuit builds on her sexual-harassment claims, alleging that the company engaged in "bizarre and shocking" behavior designed to "emotionally torture" her into surrendering her legal claims.
Fox violated criminal laws by planting software on Tantaros' personal computer that allowed for monitoring of her communications, according to the complaint.
Fox "sock puppet" accounts on the Internet then posted "an endless stream of lewd, offensive and career-damaging social media posts, blog entries and commentary and high-profile 'fake' media sites." Sock puppets also specifically refer to fake online identities created by individuals or companies to promote opinions or causes, while appearing to act independently.
In June, one of her close friends was hospitalized for a scorpion bite, which she discussed with friends by telephone, according to the lawsuit.
Soon after, one of the claimed sockpuppet accounts tweeted an ad for the 1957 movie "The Black Scorpion." The same month, Tantaros and her mother had a phone conversation discussing the anniversary of her brother's 2013 death. Another sockpuppet account tweeted "PURPLE MEMORIAL ... FOR DANIEL TANTAROS, R.I.P. DANIEL."
Tantaros claims the social media postings were intended "to emotionally devastate her and make her concerned about her physical safety."
Fox claims the surveillance allegations made in the Tantaros suit are not true.
"Fox News and its executives flatly deny that they conducted any electronic surveillance of Ms. Tantaros," Fox News outside counsel, Dechert, LLP, said in an emailed statement to Newsmax. But Dechert did not outright deny Tantaros's claims of malicious online smears, saying "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," Dechert added.
Susan Estrich, Ailes' lawyer, said the case has no merit.
Tantaros claimed in her sexual harassment lawsuit last year that Fox operated like a "sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult."
Her lawsuit followed a similar claim against Ailes filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Other complaints from Fox News employees soon followed, leading to Ailes' firing.
Bill O'Reilly, the network's top-rated host, was fired last week after women complained he sexually harassed them. And Fox's top-rated female anchor, Megyn Kelly, bolted for NBC.
Carlson settled her lawsuit for $20 million. Tantaros' sexual-harassment claim was sent to private arbitration.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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