April 13, 2012 3:15 PM
Fox News Taps Epstein Becker for ‘Mole’ Dispute with Gawker
Posted by Brian Baxter
Media news and gossip Web site Gawker made its way into the news this week by publishing a series of posts by Joe Muto, a former associate producer for Fox News Channel turned network mole, earning it the legal wrath of Rupert Murdochâ€™s empire.
The Fox News Network, a subsidiary of Murdochâ€™s News Corporation, sent a letter to Gawker publisher Nick Denton on Thursday, which was published on Gawkerâ€™s site, threatening legal action against Gawker should it not â€œimmediately stop publishing information and videos that have been unlawfully obtained by or from Joe Muto, and return them to Fox News.â€�
Muto, who publicly revealed himself as the mole late Wednesday, was apparently sniffed out by Fox News employees and terminated later that same day. Among Mutoâ€™s posts during his short-lived period of anonymity were an update on the state of Fox Newsâ€™s bathrooms and news personality Sean Hannityâ€™s obsession with teleprompters.
The letter sent by Epstein Becker Green to Gawker and published on the companyâ€™s site, reveals that name partner Ronald Green and Barry Asen, cochair of the firmâ€™s employment class action practice, are advising Fox News. Dianne Brandi, executive vice president of legal and business affairs at Fox News, is handling matters in-house.
Another letter from Epstein Becker to Muto states that by admitting his role as the so-called Fox Mole, he had also likely admitted to â€œcriminal and civil wrongdoing on both your and Gawkerâ€™s part, which will be the subject of further extensive investigation. Fox News will pursue its rights and remedies in the appropriate legal forums.â€�
Forbes reported Thursday that Gawker had paid Muto only about $5,000 for his â€œFox Moleâ€� posts. Muto has said publicly his career in cable television is likely over, also calling Fox’s legal threats “baseless.”
An Epstein Becker spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the firm has represented Fox News or News Corp before, as well as the possibility of future litigation against Gawker. The firm does note on its site, however, that it previously represented Fox News in getting an age discrimination suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of news personality Catherine Herridge dismissed last year on summary judgment.
Gawkerâ€™s chief operating officer and general counsel Gaby Darbyshire, whom the New York Observer once called â€œNick Dentonâ€™s Secret Weapon,â€� said in an e-mail to The Am Law Daily that “it would be laughably hypocritical of a News Corp company to sue us over the release of some pretty innocuous information from inside Fox. But if they want to see us in court, we’ll be ready for them.”
The Muto-the-mole affair is another unwelcome legal sideshow for Fox News’s parent News Corp, which has for much of the past year has kept legions of outside lawyers busy advising the media giant on allegations of phone-hacking and bribery by current and former employees.
Once confined to the United Kingdom, the phone-hacking mess appears ready to cross the pond as a high-profile British lawyer is poised to file a suit against News Corp in the U.S., according to reports this week by The New York Times and U.K. publication Legal Week.
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Epstein Becker also represented Fox News when Bill O’Reilly was sued for sex harrassment.