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Producer sues Fox News, alleging she's being set up for blame in $1.6 billion suit

The logos for Fox programs are displayed on the News Corp. building on January 25, 2023 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago
/
Getty Images
The logos for Fox programs are displayed on the News Corp. building on January 25, 2023 in New York City.

Updated March 21, 2023 at 5:48 PM ET

A senior producer for primetime star Tucker Carlson sued Fox News on Monday, alleging the network was setting her and other female colleagues up as scapegoats in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit.

Dominion Voting Systems, a voting technology company, is seeking to hold Fox News responsible for lies it broadcast following the 2020 presidential elections. A trial is scheduled for next month. The producer, Abby Grossberg, is a key witness.

Fox News initially had sought a restraining order against Grossberg to prevent her from publicly disclosing information linked to the Dominion suit. It dropped its case against her on Tuesday.

Alleging that Fox News is scapegoating female stars and staffers

Grossberg worked for another Fox News star, Maria Bartiromo, at the time of the November 2020 elections. Bartiromo has been a key figure in the Dominion case, as she repeatedly seemed to give a warm welcome to on-air guests who championed baseless claims that Dominion helped cheat then-President Donald Trump of victory.

Among those on-air guests was attorney Sidney Powell, a Trump ally. Powell used Bartiromo's weekend show to spread the claims. On air, Powell presented no evidence. Behind the scenes, she gave Bartiromo a lengthy and wild memo.

It had been written by a woman who said she spoke with the wind and accused Dominion of "voting irregularities." The writer admitted her own theories were "pretty wackadoodle." Bartiromo forwarded that memo to Grossberg, the producer who booked guests for the show.

On Sept. 14, 2022, Grossberg told Dominion's attorneys under oath that such a memo should not have been used as the basis of any such segments.

"This isn't something that I would use right now as reportable for air, no, it's not," said Grossberg in her deposition.

And when asked whether she thought it was important to correct a falsehood said on one of her shows, Grossberg answered, "No."

In her lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, Grossberg slams the Fox News attorneys who prepared her for that deposition. The lawsuit says Grossberg left prep sessions believing she should give evasive answers when questioned and avoid talking about what she felt was a lack of staffing and support on Bartiromo's show.

"Ms. Grossberg left the deposition preparation sessions without knowing that by giving such false/misleading and evasive answers like the ones Fox's legal team reacted to positively to during the prep sessions, she not only opened herself up to civil and criminal liability for perjury, but was subtly shifting all responsibility for the alleged defamation against Dominion onto her shoulders, and by implication, those of her trusted female colleague, Ms. Bartiromo, rather than the mostly male higher ups at Fox News who endorsed the repeated coverage of the lies against the Dominion," Grossberg's lawsuit filed in federal court states. (Grossberg also filed suit in state court in Delaware.)

Grossberg also alleges that male colleagues were permitted to review and correct the transcripts of their depositions shortly after being questioned, yet she was not given that opportunity until after Dominion had cited her in its legal briefs.

In a statement issued after Grossberg filed suit on Monday, Fox said, "FOX News Media engaged an independent outside counsel to immediately investigate the concerns raised by Ms. Grossberg, which were made following a critical performance review. Her allegations in connection with the Dominion case are baseless and we will vigorously defend Fox against all of her claims."

Before Grossberg filed suit, Fox News had filed one against her, in hopes that she would not reveal publicly what it asserts is confidential information related to the Dominion lawsuit.

"Ms. Grossberg has threatened to disclose Fox News Media's attorney-client privileged information and we have filed a temporary restraining order to protect our rights," the network said in a separate statement.

According to Grossberg's suit, the network has placed her on administrative leave.

Fox contends that it was merely reporting on inherently newsworthy claims of election fraud by inherently newsworthy people — a sitting president and his surrogates — in late 2020. The network says any loss to Dominion will be a loss of freedom to cover and explore political matters for the rest of the news media.

Producer accuses Tucker Carlson team of sexism and harassment

Grossberg's lawsuits also name Carlson and members of his show's staff as defendants. The suits are replete with examples of alleged sexism that permeate the workplace at Carlson's show. Images plastered around the workplace show former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in "a plunging bathing suit revealing her cleavage," Grossberg's lawsuit states. Grossberg alleges staffers were polled — on two separate occasions — on which of two female candidates for Michigan governor they would rather have sex with.

She alleges that her boss at the show, Justin Wells, conceded she was paid less than male counterparts. Grossberg also alleges male executives consistently belittled and demeaned Bartiromo and another female host, Jeanine Pirro.

Grossberg's lawsuit states that, in questioning by Dominion's lawyers under oath, she was asked to read aloud text messages written by Carlson. In them, he said Powell was lying and referred to her as a "c---," among other vile and derogatory terms. The Dominion lawyer asked Grossberg if those messages made her uncomfortable. She said no. But in her lawsuit, Grossberg says that was not true.

"In truth, Ms. Grossberg knew full well that Mr. Carlson was very capable of using such disgusting language about women. She also knew how terribly she had felt every time she had heard her prior male superiors and colleagues at Fox News spew misogynistic phrases at her (or within her earshot) on a constant basis," her lawsuit states. "Ms. Grossberg also knew, however, and was conditioned to constantly remember that she could not do anything to jeopardize her new position, such as becoming Dominion's 'star witness,' so she again kept quiet."

Fox News has spent years trying to shed the legacy of its late chairman, Roger Ailes, who was ousted after numerous women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault. (He denied each one before his death in 2017.) Fox paid tens of millions of dollars to settle many of those allegations; its ultimate cost, which included buying out Ailes, exceeded an estimated $200 million.

Fox News says its chief executive, Suzanne Scott, has dedicated herself to transforming the network into a model place to work. Grossberg's characterizations fundamentally challenge that transformation.

Mary Yang contributed to this report. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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