Fox News and the Joint Tortfeasors

As CNN and NBC have reported, Hunter Biden is threatening to sue Fox News.

The threatened complaints do not amount to a broad defamation claim. Rather, the letter sent by Geragos attorney Tina Glandian makes the following complaint:

  • Both before and after the Alexander Smirnov lawsuit, Fox News claimed that he and his father had accepted a bribe, recently doubling down on Smirnov’s claim.
  • For a fictionalized series called The Trial of Hunter Biden, Fox commercially exploited Hunter’s image.
  • For the same series, Fox News used revenge porn.
  • For the same series, Fox News violated Hunter’s copyright.

I’ve already seen lots of opinion about how wise or unwise this is, most ignoring the narrowness of the defamation claim. The entire claim about the fictionalized series is that Fox presented it as fiction, and therefore cannot be said to be reporting on the news.

Still, I’m agnostic, at this point, about the wisdom of this.

I’m interested, however, in another detail. It’s not just Fox News that Geragos is threatening to sue. They’re threatening to sue other tortfeasors — the people with whom Fox News worked to harm Hunter Biden. Here’s what the protective demand looks like.

As we anticipate that litigation against FOX, as well as its joint tortfeasors is imminent, we hereby formally demand that FOX and its predecessors, successors, parents, subsidiaries, divisions, affiliates, employees, hosts, anchors, commentators, columnists, reporters, journalists, officers, directors, partners, attorneys, accountants, and agents, including but not limited to Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Dana Perino, Miranda Devine, Laura Ingraham, and Maria Bartiromo, preserve all documents potentially relevant to the allegations in this letter including any documents which relate to the allegations in this letter in the broadest sense dating back to at least January 1, 2019. To be clear, such documents include but are not limited to all communications related to (i) strategy meetings at BLT Steak in Washington, D.C. and/or “BLT Team” meetings or communications; (ii) Skype interviews between Ukrainian officials and a Congressman Devin Nunes senior staff member; (iii) the meeting in a FOX News conference room in New York City on October 8, 2019 between and among Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani, John Solomon, Joseph diGenova, and/or Victoria Toensing; (iv) the procurement, use, and publication of images of Mr. Biden including the use of intimate images purporting to depict him; (v) the “Salacious Pics Package” and/or “Salacious Pics Package_EDITED” folder allegedly on the laptop obtained by Mr. Mac Isaac; (vi) the planned interview of former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin by Sean Hannity in Vienna, Austria in or around late October 2023; and (vii) Fox Nation’s six-part “mock trial” entitled “The Trial of Hunter Biden; (viii) the indictment returned against Alexander Smirnov on or about February 14, 2024.

This preservation demand includes internal communications regarding the foregoing subjects between and among FOX employees, hosts, anchors, commentators, columnists, reporters, journalists, officers, directors, partners, attorneys, accountants, and agents, as well as FOX’s communications with third parties including but not limited to John Paul Mac Isaac, Colonel Steve Mac Isaac, Rudy Giuliani, Robert Costello, Guo Wengui (and/or Ho Wan Kowk and/or Miles Guo), GTV, Vish Burra, Jack Maxey, Vincent Kaufman, John Solomon, Steve Bannon, Tim Murtaugh, and Igor Fruman, Lev Parnas, Dmitry Firtash, then-Congressman Devin Nunes, Senator Ron Johnson, Joseph diGenova, Victoria Toensing, Derek J. Harvey, then U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and other U.S. Department of Justice officials. [my emphasis]

There are a lot of other tortfeasors included in this list.

This discovery overlaps with what Hunter has already gotten from John Paul Mac Isaac (to say nothing if Robert Robinson allows Hunter’s countersuit to go forward), as well as the lawsuit of Rudy and Robert Costello.

But it fills in some of the most important bits — bits that have little to do with the two alleged complaints, per se, but bits that would be relevant in any dispute about whether Fox knew its claims of bribery were not just false, but a deliberate fabrication.

This discovery demand also asks for communications with a number of people, like Devin Nunes and Derek Harvey, who would be untouchable via direct suit. And if Hunter managed to get discovery at all — a very big if — it might threaten to expose ties between Sean Hannity, Dmitry Firtash, and Bill Barr, among others.

Update: The six-part fictional series is in the process of being deleted (click through for links).

Fox News appears to be taking Hunter Biden’s lawsuit threat quite seriously.

The network has quietly pulled down its six-part “mock trial” series from its digital streaming service Fox Nation after lawyers for the presidential scion warned the network of their intention to sue for defamation.

Besides quietly taking down The Trial of Hunter Biden from its streamer, the network also deleted a promotional video promising Fox News viewers an “inside look” at the “mock trial,” which was presided over by former reality-TV star Judge Joe Brown.

This would dramatically limit the surface area that Hunter would have for lawsuit as, without the fictional narrative, only the post-Smirnov claims of bribery would be actionable.

70 replies
  1. Fancy Chicken says:

    You lay out one important reason for the intention of a lawsuit, that of possibly gaining through discovery communications with folks not otherwise possible to show intentionally brewing a known false story.

    I think though that attempting to hold Faux News accountable for their continued practice of knowingly putting out false stories and acting as a propaganda wing of the GOP is important just in itself as critical pushback just as Dominion did though of course HB’s lawsuit wouldn’t hit their bottom line like the Dominion case did. But if it proceeds and has traction maybe it could have the effect of causing Faux to fire some of the folks involved as the Dominion case did or have some producers or staff expose the inner workings as also happened.

    I hope it works out for him.

        • TooLoose LeTruck says:

          Just curious, Bmaz, if you know Michael Drebeen?

          I’ve been reading Pete Strzok’s book, ‘Compromised’, and came across the name when Mueller was staffing up as special counsel.

        • Mutaman111 says:

          Did Strzok ever explain how he could send out a zillion tweets and emails every day and still do a job, conduct an illicit affair, and , I assume, pay lip service to his family. How was this effort physically and emotionally possible? What drugs did he use, what was his workout regime, how did he organize his life?
          Just writing this post makes me need to go lay on the couch.

        • Rayne says:

          Reading your comment makes me question why you felt you needed to publish it since it amplifies marital cheater Trump’s attacks on Stzok and Page, though millions of married persons have had affairs which have gone undiscovered from hours to decades.

        • Out of Nowhere says:

          For Hunter’s sake, I hope this one fares better than the case MG brought against the LA Times.

  2. Harry Eagar says:

    Compare that shopping list with the British system, as depicted in itv”s Mr Bates vs. the Post Office, which was concluded on PBS last night. It makes the US system look good.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      If you’re referring to the UK’s more than decade-long Post Office scandal, that’s not a high bar to get over. It’s one of the worst scandals since the Profumo Affair.

      The PO paid exorbitantly for faulty accounting s/w from a large Japanese vendor. It used its incorrect data to conclude that nearly a thousand local postal heads had committed fraud and embezzlement, an improbable statistic from the get go.

      Not satisfied with their denials, the PO launched its own private investigations and prosecutions, rare events which involve inescapable conflicts of interest, which have left hundreds of managers paupers or in prison.

      Rather than admit its and its vendors gross failings, the PO and its vendor, to whom it still gives large contracts, continue to fight reality. A thirteen-year long Tory govt putzes around, trying to imagine a solution that’s probably one parliamentary vote away. Harmful idiots all.

      • Harry Eagar says:

        That’s the one, but my point is that the British system constricted the universe of evidence severely, limited discovery, left Fujitsu off the hook, and almost guaranteed that he who spent more won.

        Not news to me — the Commie journalist Claud Cockburn raised the same complaints 90 years ago — but I had not realized how very constricted the British ways are.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Are you talking about the legal system or the Old Boy Net that worked hard to immunize the GPO and Fujitsu from liability?

          As with Wilfred Burchett, John Pilger, and Izzy Stone’s, I’ll take Claud Cockburn’s reporting over a great deal of crap from the Times and Torygraph of his era. He was right about appeasement, right about the Cliveden set’s pro-Nazi sympathies, and right about Henry Kissinger.

      • posaune says:

        One of the more offensive elements is that the PO managers job titles were “sub-masters.” How British!

  3. Twaspawarednot says:

    IANAL but I have to wonder if, regardless of the fact Fox calls it fiction, Hunter and Joe Biden are real people doesn’t negate the Fox disclaimer that it is fiction. Otherwise they are claiming it has only value as fiction drama apart from political effect. It’s not believable.

    • P J Evans says:

      Something like how they escaped consequences in one suit by claiming they’re entertainment, even when they’re claiming to be news.

      • ChrisInVancouver says:

        If Fox labeled it fiction, then I’m not sure it matters that the Bidens are real people. This made me recall Olivia de Havilland’s lawsuit against FX for how a character of her was depicted in a docudrama called “Feud: Betty & Joan.” She claimed she was being presented in a false light and infringement on her right of publicity. Ultimately, de Havilland lost on first amendment grounds, and the Supreme Court refused to reconsider the case. But at that point of appeal, she was claiming actual malice.

        On the other hand, Fox used genuine images of Hunter, and that seems like it could be an issue?

  4. zscoreUSA says:

    Hmmm interesting.

    Devine, I suspect was sheep-dipped (or “parachuted into” to borrow her words) to Hunter/Ukraine reporting. Originally intended to report out the Hunter material, or at least to fill Solomon’s role as he blew up in mid 2019. And then got cold feet along the way as Rudy’s sources more and more suspicious. And that her communications were swept up by the deep state because of communication with Rudy.

    She claims a long relationship and admiration for Rudy, going back to the 90’s. Rudy eventually reaches out to her in Aug/Sept 2020 about the laptop because of her recent reporting on Trump and his treatment received for COVID. Good COVID reporting is what she claims caused Rudy to trust her with the laptop. She describes herself as instrumental to the NY Post printing the original reports but confusingly left her name off the bylines.

    But she really only reported on the laptop after it was already out there, giving her cover. Her name was not on the original reports even though people are left with that impression, that she is the Laptop from Hell lady.

    Also, I’m curious what “diaries” of Hunter’s she has. AFAIK, nobody else has reported on Hunter’s diaries. I don’t know if those are digital or notebooks (which were left behind at Ablow’s), or if they are Apple Notes, but she calls “diaries”.

    • Shadowalker says:

      I wouldn’t trust anything coming from that crew. Anything could be tampered with if not a total fabrication.

      • zscoreUSA says:

        I find it interesting, the narratives that are being told. If truthful, will be backed up by other data. If false, it can shed light on something being covered up.

        She claims she was brought to the NY Post in July 2019 specifically to cover the 2020 election. But looking through her articles, that would not be obvious. She deletes years of her tweets for a time period that includes Trump retweeting her and the entire Impeachment.

        Claims that her communications with Rudy were swept up in Rudy’s iCloud which the feds have access to. We know the time frame for Rudy’s warrants, and that it includes a time period that overlaps the Impeachment.

        Her story that she’s just a reporter who was brought in to cover an election then randomly ended up being instrumental in the biggest report relevant to the election, but was unwilling to put her name on the actual report.

        I believe there’s a bigger story there.

  5. Matt Foley says:

    The problem is that Fox viewers don’t know and/or don’t care if it’s fiction. Murdochs have learned well from Pecker.

  6. Spencer Dawkins says:

    I know you folks hear from a bunch of lawyers in comments. I’m not even close to being a lawyer, but I recognized almost every name listed (in significant part, thanks to Dr. Marcy). I did have to google “tortfeasor”, but now I’ve filled in another gap in my knowledge.

    Thank you for continuing to help me with my education. I’m sure I’m not the only non-lawyer who is blessed to be here.

    • dpa3.14159 says:

      Also had to google “tortfeasor” and that’s the second time I’ve run into that word today! The first was reading Judge Kaplan’s opinion in Carroll v. Trump. What are the odds?

    • ShallMustMay08 says:

      Interesting post and link, thank you. I was completely out of the news loop at the time and the post you linked here is pretty much the story Lev told to Denver Riggleman a few days ago on his podcast*. Normally I don’t catch them but this was just an off chance and filled in details I had missed.

      As far as how this all ties in with the news today is that Lev said he planned to drip, drip, drip out some recording he has. The interview was about his book but he is still holding out and it sounds to me like something the HB legals teams may be interested in?

      I know in the past Lev has not always been an absolute for information here so I am not going to direct link to the video/podcast (2 sessions on YouTube) but I found it elsewhere and added 3 spaces after the 2nd forward slash.


      *I hope that link works out and is fine to post.

  7. Chris Bellomy says:

    This feels to me more like a political brushback pitch than an opening salvo of a serious lawsuit. “Back off. We can make your lives very unpleasant.”

    I’m all for shedding light on the ties between the Kremlin and the American right-wing media/political complex, though. The people should be told who is really pulling the strings that upset their lives.

    • Peterr says:

      I’m not so sure about that.

      Given how court-shy Fox is, post-Dominion judgement and pre-Smartmatic judgement, this could be an invitation to conversations about things going forward. Your imagined quote is, I think, spot on, and would be followed by “On the other hand, we can come to an arrangement.”

      We have learned that Fox is not above apologizing, if it can save them a couple hundred million. We have also learned that Fox is hurting for money, and bleeding viewers to the right.

      Hunter’s team would love to shift the media narrative, by getting Fox to admit to less-than-truthful coverage. They would also love to get Fox’s cooperation in breaking down the litigation about the alleged Biden laptop.

      The various named folks (Watters, Hannity, Pirro, et al.) also have to be worried. They have already cost their bosses a lot of money, and the prospect of costing their bosses even more is not something that helps them sleep well at night. They might consider how they might be able to save their own necks. “Perhaps with a little conversation, I can keep myself off the hook here.”

      To me, this reads as an opening bid for settlement talks. “You apologize, publicly and loudly, and you turn over some information we could use in our other legal battles (like the laptop stuff), and perhaps make a donation to Hunter’s favorite charity, and we’ll call it good. Take some time to think it over, and then let’s get together and chat.”

      Fox is living a nightmare right now, between losing their viewers to OANN and others to the far right on the one hand, and losing large amounts of money through lawsuits on the other. Four years ago, they would have laughed at a letter like this — even would have published it themselves and publicly mocked it on show after show. Today, though, they are living in a much different world.

      • Peterr says:

        Re Waters, Hannity, et al. . . .

        The Ghost of Bill O’Reilly is probably haunting them right now. Fox backed Bill, until he cost them too much money. Today, he can be found . . . well, somewhere.

        Then there’s the ghost of Tucker Carlson, who likewise was the network darling until he wasn’t. Like Bill, Tucker can be found . . . somewhere. But it will take some work to find him.

        Hannity et al. have no desire to be the next Bill or Tucker. But the threat of a lawsuit like this, so soon after Dominion, has to make them very very nervous. “Nice time slot you have here, Sean. Be a pity if something were to happen to it . . .”

        • PieIsDamnGood says:

          Tucker’s subsequent “show” proves it’s the time slot, not the host that really matters.

        • timbozone says:

          Sadly, some of these liars on Fox will not mind just retiring at this point. They’ve already extracted millions of dollars themselves from Fox and related grifts so many of them won’t be hurting unless they’re sued as individuals.

      • Ithaqua0 says:

        Fox viewership hurting? Not so much. February 2024 top 10 cable shows –

        Among Total Viewers

        The Five – Fox News ( 3,109,000)
        Jesse Watters Primetime – Fox News -( 2,806,000)
        Hannity – Fox News – (2,362,000)
        The Ingraham Angle – Fox News – (2,294,000)
        Special Report with Bret Baier – Fox News – (2,292,000)
        Gutfeld! – Fox News – (2,241,000)
        Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell – MSNBC – (1,742,000)
        Outnumbered – Fox News – (1,719,000)
        The Faulkner Focus – Fox News – ( 1,647,000)
        America’s Newsroom – Fox News – (1,647,000)

        All of the top 10 shows for the 25-54 demographic were Fox.

        Also, from

        “NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–FOX News Channel (FNC) remained cable television’s most-watched network for the eighth consecutive year in 2023, according to data from Nielsen Media Research. Through the continued dominance of the hit program The Five, the launch of FNC’s new primetime lineup, coupled with the success of its daytime programming, the network maintained its number one spot in cable news. Additionally, the network had the largest share of the audience in total day (46%) and primetime (48%), capturing nearly half of the cable news landscape. In primetime, FNC delivered nearly 2 million viewers and 214,000 in 25-54 demo, topping CNN and MSNBC combined in total viewership. On a 24-hour total day basis, FNC averaged over 1.2 million viewers and 150,000 in 25-54, with a 153% advantage over CNN in viewers. FNC continued to sweep the competition, winning every hour in the 25-54 demo, as CNN marked the network’s lowest-rated year of all time, the second year in a row with a historic low. Additionally, MSNBC delivered its least-watched year in the primetime demo since 1999.”

        • wa_rickf says:

          That’s the thing about cable news – not a lot of viewers (3.1m) vs 331m potential viewers. It’s the amplification of the Fox News message by media outfits such as Mediaite or Drudge Report, under the guise of ‘what they said’ is where the real value to Fox is. It’s a constant feedback loop for Fox.

          Yes Fox News lawyers consider Fox News to be entertainment (Fox lawyer: No reasonable person takes Tucker Carlson seriously.) but the facade of being ‘real news’ wins over Fox’s less than stellar thinking audience every time.

  8. Henry the Horse says:

    I agree, if nothing else make these bastards sweat!!!

    When you read the names of all of the prospective tortfeasors.( boy those Amherst ladies have a way with words) I like to imagine Jesse Waters running around in circles bumping into things imagining his time on the stand. When you read all of the names it certainly looks like the near complete list of conspirators writ large.

    BTW my spell check didn’t even attempt tortfeasors. Great again as usual empty!!!

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Admire Marcy for many reasons, including her exceptional skill with words. But “tortfeasor” is Torts 101 vocabulary. It’s just not a word establishment media would attempt to use; probably not even Benji Wittes.

      • emptywheel says:

        Not even for a bandname?

        Because this is my new band name: Sean Hannity and the tortfeasors, maybe.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I did list your “exceptional skill with words,” but should have added your sense of humor, too. Seems to me there’s room for an entire back-up band of I was a lawyer once inmates.

        • Clare Kelly says:

          Didn’t they open for Five Aggrieved White Men, colloquially known as FAC’M, the Screamo Supremes cover band?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Meh, a person found to be in contempt of court. Not as fun at 1L movie parties as jurismydiction.

        • Alan Charbonneau says:

          Phonetically, it brings to my mind the job title a senior dominatrix would have in a dungeon. If only I had Rudy’s email…

  9. Savage Librarian says:

    You can never tell how saber rattling might end up. I had a circumstance where it exceeded my expectations, causing a surprising turn of events to my benefit initially. But never underestimate how others might react and how covert they can be.

    In my case, it led to protracted complications that took years to unwind. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end. So, I guess it depends on how you measure the stakes, what you hope to accomplish, and how determined you are.

    Had I been strong enough to persist longer, I can see now that I might have had access to some eye-popping discovery. But I’m satisfied that it ended when it did. It will be interesting to see what happens with Hunter, especially if he actually does attain discovery.

  10. NYsportsfanSufferer says:

    This isn’t really shocking. Even the White House sent Fox a cease and desist letter earlier this year.

    It’s also being reported that Lowell isn’t involved in this because of a conflict of interest. Why would that be? Is he a witness?

    • SonofaWW2Marine says:

      Off-topic, but on-terminology: Years back, the late Jerry Buchmeyer, a U.S. District Judge, had a regular “truth is stranger than fiction” Texas Bar Journal humor column. Once, his featured contributor was an Air Force lawyer who’d drafted a cease & desist letter for her commander to give a misbehaving airman. It came back from the typing pool with misspellings, but when she corrected those, the typist changed its key phrase to “cease to desist.” The lawyer may have put too much oomph into her request that the typist understand that the letter was supposed to tell the misbehaving knucklehead to stop, though: It came back as “cease to exist.”

  11. Narpington says:

    Coming soon to MSNBC, a gripping 6 part dramatization exposing the sordid depths to which a group of desperate and amoral fanatics will go to frame an innocent man and his aged father, and the whirlwind he unleashed upon them.

    Fox News and the Joint Tortfeasors: Hunter’s Revenge

  12. Booksellerb4 says:

    TY for all you do Dr. Wheeler, and love the discourse here. So maybe Fox will re-brand? (ha ha)

    To change ourselves, says Yeats, requires an act of imagination. “Active virtue as distinguished from the passive acceptance of a current code is therefore theatrical, consciously dramatic, the wearing of a mask” (1909; Autobiographies, p. 347; also quoted in Per Amica Silentia Lunae). Only in this way can we impose discipline on ourselves.” Yeats suggests active natures tend to pose and cites Oscar Wilde as an example. [heh]
    (see Irish wilde about yeats (sorry will learn linkage)

    . . . and to round out the comment, I suggest a listen of some Dylan u pick, and (I’m still working out how to know which weatherman knows which way the wind blows, BTW) that’s it for now.

    • timbozone says:

      Thanks for the reminder that I need to read Yeats again when I have the wherewithal.

  13. PensionDan says:

    I’m a tortfeasor, I’m a tortfeasor
    Watching lies go by, my my my
    I’m a tortfeasor, I’m a tortfeasor
    Here comes one now

    I bet you didn’t know that they lie on their TV show
    Can you lie a little deeper
    Big guy bribe tales fly, every day, on The Five
    Can you lie a little creepier

    I’m a tortfeasor I’m a tortfeasor
    Watching lies go by, my my my
    I’m a tortfeasor, I’m a tortfeasor
    Here comes one now, mm mm mm

    I’m a girl watcher by the O’Kaysians

    • harpie says:

      I think it is…there was mention of it during the trial when Farro was introduced…I’ll look for that.

        • dopefish says:

          It appears to be here, on page 1530 of the transcript.

          Q Where did you work in banking?
          A I started off working for a bank which was called First Union Bank. They later became Wachovia Bank. Then, when they were purchased by Wells Fargo Bank, I left and went to First Republic. I spent 15 years at First Republic, until last year’s demise. And then, last year, went to Flagstar Bank.

        • Peterr says:

          Reminds me of a Russian joke from the early 1980s:

          There was an old man who wanted to travel, but needed a travel permit. He went to the appropriate office, approached the right communist bureaucrat, and after giving his name, was asked a series of questions.

          Q: Where were your born?
          A: St. Petersburg.
          Q: Where did you graduate from school?
          A: Petrograd.
          Q: Where do you live now?
          A: Leningrad.
          Q: Where do you want to travel to?
          A: St. Petersburg.

          For those not up on Russian history, all those names refer to the same place

  14. Sussex Trafalgar says:

    I hope this anticipated lawsuit can publicly expose the relationships between Dmytro Firtash, Oleg Deripaska, Semion Mogilevich and other Putin controlled oligarchs and the US attorneys and politicians who have helped each oligarch and Putin achieve their legal, financial and political objectives in the US and elsewhere around the world.

    Pete Sessions and his late father, William Sessions, Lanny Davis, Victoria Toensing, Joe diGenova and several others seem quite dirty to me.

  15. ItTollsForYou says:

    Whether or not this case is likely to succeed, I’m more interested in the shorter-term effects. Would this case backfire on HB by keeping him even more in the news? Or would it have the effect of silencing Fox News somewhat on this topic while the legal matter is pending?

  16. Surfer2099 says:

    IANAL, but can someone answer this for me: There has been testimony in Trump Hush Money trial that AMI intentionally smeared Clinton, Bush and Cruz to help Trump in 2016 election.

    Does this admission in court open AMI up to defamation lawsuits from the aforementioned persons? (Thanks in advance)

    • The Old Redneck says:

      This is complicated as hell if you want to take a deep dive. The short answer is that the statute of limitations would bar such claims. Even that is not without exceptions though. Different jurisdictions have different SOLs, and there are scenarios where the SOL deadlines can be suspended. Those depend on the particular facts of the case and again, can get pretty complicated.

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