He’s suing the reporter — but not HuffPost itself. Or not yet, anyway.
Just received a summons. Eric Bolling is suing me for defamation – $50 million in damages. I stand by my reporting + will protect my sources
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 9, 2017
It's important to note that Bolling's summons does not include HuffPost – he is coming after me personally. I'm a big boy…but very telling https://t.co/nvludsIV87
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 9, 2017
The reporter’s not worth $50 million but HuffPost surely is. I’ll defer to litigators on why you might want to sue the former but not the latter. It feels like an attempt to squeeze a defendant of little means into a quick apology to try to make this go away, but Ali can’t risk throwing away his professional credibility that way. And he’ll have HuffPost lawyers (or an outside lawyer paid by HuffPost) defending him anyway, I assume. It would be something else if a major website left one of its own writers on the hook legally for a story it deemed fit for publication.
Here’s the story, which ran five days ago. It claims that at least two women at Fox Business and one at Fox News received an unsolicited photo of “male genitalia” via text several years ago from a number that had been previously used by Bolling to communicate with them. HuffPost claims 14 sources(!) — the women themselves, several people who saw the photo at the time, and several more who heard about it from the recipients contemporaneously, Bolling’s lawyer told Ali his client doesn’t remember sending any such texts and doesn’t believe that he ever did. Bolling must be awfully confident of his innocence to risk discovery when the other side’s claiming 14 sources and presumably one or more of them still has the digital evidence. Either that or he’s hoping Ali will cave quickly and plans to drop the suit if he doesn’t.
There’s more. Caroline Heldman, a professor at Occidental College who’s done segments on Fox News with Bolling, claimed in a Facebook post the day after the HuffPost story appeared that she’d been sexually harassed by him (and Bill O’Reilly and Woody Fraser). Fox News promptly suspended him after the HuffPost piece appeared and referred the matter to the law firm Paul Weiss for investigation, leaving Bolling without the option of ignoring all this and hoping it goes away. Fox doesn’t want to fire him, I’m sure, as he’s a versatile player on the network — he’s hosted “Cashin’ In” for years, co-hosted “The Five” and now “The Specialists,” and guest-hosted for O’Reilly for ages. I assume he’d be their go-to guy at 10 p.m. if Hannity ended up walking for whatever reason, as he’s a strong Trump supporter in the Hannity mold and would be an easy fit for that audience. But after the Ailes and O’Reilly sagas, Fox probably feels it has no choice but to take a zero-tolerance approach to harassment.
That may explain Bolling’s aggressive approach to Ali. If he can get Ali to back down, maybe the Paul Weiss thing disappears. And if Ali doesn’t back down, defending his reputation vigorously might create enough skepticism about the accusations among Fox viewers that the network will think twice about letting Bolling go unless the evidence of guilt is overwhelming. Lots of Fox fans are annoyed that Ailes and then O’Reilly were shoved out the door under pressure from Fox’s critics. Pushing Bolling out too when he’s fighting to clear his name might be the last straw. He chimed in this afternoon on Twitter:
I will continue to fight against these false smear attacks! THANK YOU FOR CONTINUED SUPPORT
— Eric Bolling (@ericbolling) August 9, 2017
Here’s Pat Robertson wondering if maybe the whole sexual-harassment saga at Fox News is a giant conspiracy or something.
Update: Bear in mind that the constitutional standard to prove defamation if you’re a public figure (as Bolling obviously is) is “actual malice,” i.e. that the author published a false statement of fact either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false. That would be exceptionally hard to prove in this case if Ali’s telling the truth about having 14 different sources. Even if every last one of them was secretly lying to him, the fact that he chased down more than a dozen people to try to confirm the allegations would be a powerful argument against “reckless disregard” for the truth. The story could turn out to be inaccurate but it’s hard to see how Bolling would recover damages under any circumstances.
Update (8/10): HuffPost says it stands by Ali:
Here’s our statement from EIC Lydia Polgreen on Yashar’s story: “Yashar Ali is a careful and meticulous reporter. We stand by his reporting.”
In regards to paying his legal fees, here’s our comment: “Ali is a paid freelancer under contract with HuffPost. We have no hesitation about standing by him financially in this case.”