Thursday, November 15, 2007

Regan opens Fox's can of worms

Judith Regan's lawsuit against Fox sets up the possibility of some very interesting disclosures, says Richard Aregood

Thursday November 15, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

At first glance, the lawsuit by former book publisher Judith Regan against News Corporation, parent company of "fair and balanced" Fox News, has a certain similarity to the Iran-Iraq war: it's hard to work up a rooting interest in either side.

Regan, among other things, has shepherded the literary careers of celebrity authors such as Rush Limbaugh, OJ Simpson and porn star Jenna Jameson, eliciting surprise among some that her writers had read a book, let alone written one. Her most recent fame came from her role as the paramour of the former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, meeting him for assignations in a city apartment intended to provide respite for 9/11 rescue workers.

News Corporation owns, among other properties, the New York Post, the 20th Century Fox movie studio, DirecTV, the Fox Network, Fox News and the recently acquired Wall Street Journal.

The Fox News chief, Roger Ailes, is a long-time Republican activist dating back to the days of the Richard Nixon administration, and a close associate of former New York mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani.

Ailes managed Giuliani's first and unsuccessful race for mayor in 1989, and Giuliani later officiated at Ailes's wedding. When Fox News was a start-up, then-Mayor Giuliani pushed so hard to force cable networks such as Time-Warner to carry it that a federal judge hearing a subsequent lawsuit blocked the mayor's plan to put Fox on a city-owned channel, calling it "special advocacy" to "reward a friend and further a political viewpoint". Guiliani was a highly visible tablemate and guest of Ailes and Fox at the most recent White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Ailes had for years been caustically critical of Cable News Network, calling it the "Clinton News Network" because of the friendship between Bill Clinton and former CNN president Rick Kaplan, although his criticism seemed to be based on Kaplan's access to Clinton rather than anything that actually appeared on CNN.

Despite Ailes's old claims of outrage, his close personal and professional relationship with Giuliani, in which both parties have provided direct support to the other, is at the very least unusual. And it is beyond unusual for a former campaign manager to direct coverage of his old candidate.

That's what makes the suit interesting. Regan's 70-page filing, in spite of its frustrating lack of elaboration on its most spectacular allegations, paints a picture at considerable variance from the 24-hour news network's "fair and balanced" slogan.

Her central point, which might seem credible to anyone who has seen a Sean Hannity-Giuliani televised lovefest, is that Fox's coverage of the presidential race is determined by its desire to promote Giuliani. In fact, she alleges in court papers that "a senior executive" had advised Regan to "lie to, and withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik".

Indeed", it adds, "another News Corp. executive similarly advised Regan not to produce clearly relevant documents in connection with the government's investigation of Kerik".

That, Regan asserts, led to a concerted campaign to discredit her. "The smear campaign", she says, "was necessary to advance News Corp.'s political agenda, which has long centred on protecting Rudy Giuliani's presidential ambitions".

If that can be proven, it's contemptible. And if it emerges that one of those executives was Ailes, how much damage might that do to Fox News? We may never know who those executives were; Fox would appear to have a strong incentive to settle this matter before it gets anywhere near the courtroom. Even Regan might not really want to harm either Giuliani or Fox - she might just want lots of money.

If the suit does move forward and Regan can substantiate her claims, it will provide a critical boost for her lawsuit, which one employment lawyer called a "very well-drafted complaint". The lawyer, who asked not to be identified because she is not familiar with the details of Regan's contract, says an employer has to justify a firing for cause by showing that the employee did something fraudulent, illegal or in violation of company policy, particularly if damage to the company's reputation ensues. The misbehaviour has to be willful, deliberate, negligent or intentional.

But the most interesting stuff in the complaint is the part that she musters less dudgeon over. It calls into question whether Fox News has any relationship beyond its name with news.

This "senior executive", she says, tried to go beyond withholding facts from federal investigators that might hurt Guiliani or Kerik, his partner in the security consulting firm Giuliani Partners. "In fact", the suit says, "as is typically done when Fox News on-air talent and commentators receive their 'talking points', this executive attempted to influence any information that Regan might be asked to give regarding Kerik".

She also makes one final interesting about lawyers for News Corp. In discussions over an anti-Regan article in the New York Post that Regan says was totally fictional, her complaint alleges that the lawyers acknowledged that the article in question was per se defamatory, but they offered her a dubious reassurance: "No one believes what they read in the New York Post."


At 6:12 AM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

I think the Dems, after the herd is thinned, will go after Ghouliani, and he'll self destruct. First the scandals and secondly linking him with Bush.

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Here's hoping...


Post a Comment

<< Home