When Fox News president Roger Ailes fired his close advisor Brian Lewis last year, the channel claimed—via a series of coordinated leaks to Fox-friendly outlets—that Lewis was terminated over “financial irregularities” and unspecified “breaches of his employment contract.” Lewis fired back, and eventually settled with Fox for $8 million in November.
Now, nearly a year later, Fox says those claims about its former P.R. undertaker were untrue. Fox’s admission appeared in an unusual document recently entered by the network’s attorney at the Supreme Court of New York in Lower Manhattan, during the final stages of an age discrimination lawsuit filed by former network executive Roger Domal. Last week, Dornal and Fox reached a confidential settlement agreement, which the plaintiff’s attorney, Christopher Chang, confirmed on Monday.
Fox had initially responded to Domal’s complaint by accusing the plaintiff of conspiring with Lewis to generate bogus expense reports. Lewis took this as a breach of his own settlement with Fox, and he filed an arbitration claim accusing the network of disparagement.
So last week, Fox quietly relented. In a 2-page filing dated June 3 and submitted by Fox attorney Barry Asen, the network formally withdrew its allegations of fraud against Lewis:
IT IS HEREBY STIPULATED AND AGREED, by and between counsel for the respective parties, that Defendants’ affirmative defense set forth in Paragraph 48 of their Answer to the Complaint, which alleged, inter alia, that Brian Lewis, with Plaintiff’s assistance, had made fraudulent requests to Fox News Network LLC for expense reimbursement, is hereby withdrawn with prejudice.
Compare this with Fox’s initial statement on Lewis’s firing to The Hollywood Reporter:
“After an extensive internal investigation of Brian Lewis’ conduct by Fox News, it was determined that he should be terminated for cause, specifically for issues relating to financial irregularities, as well as for multiple, material and significant breaches of his employment contract,” a company spokesperson said Tuesday. “He was terminated for cause on July 25.”
As we reported in August, the “financial irregularities” referred to internal allegations that Lewis had submitted phony expense reports for reimbursement—i.e., that very same allegations that Fox has now withdrawn, for the public record. The channel now appears to be saying, instead, that Lewis never actually submitted fraudulent expense reports.
Fox’s original accusations of financial fraud had served as a distraction from the real story of Lewis’s firing, which was that Fox News executives were suspicious of Lewis’s cooperation with Roger Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman. This aggressive P.R. strategy spectacularly backfired after Lewis’s attorney, Judd Burstein, accused Fox of lying about his client, threatened to reveal the channel’s dark secrets, and went on to extract a multimillion-dollar settlement.
So Fox was, in fact, lying about Lewis. It’s good to know that Fox itself agrees.
(Barry Asen did not acknowledge a request for comment. Judd Burstein declined to comment. Christopher Chang confirmed his client’s settlement but declined to discuss its details.)
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