Eric Bolling, suspended by Fox News, sues over lewd-photo article

Alex Wong | Getty Images

Eric Bolling, the suspended Fox News host, initiated a $50 million defamation lawsuit on Wednesday against the author of a HuffPost report that said Mr. Bolling had sent lewd photographs to three female colleagues.

The article, by Yashar Ali, cited a dozen unidentified people who said that Mr. Bolling had "sent an unsolicited photo of male genitalia via text message to at least two colleagues at Fox Business and one colleague at Fox News." On Saturday, a day after the article was published, Fox News said it had suspended Mr. Bolling pending an investigation into the accusations. The network said it had learned about the allegations following an inquiry from HuffPost.

More from The New York Times:
Fox News Suspends Eric Bolling After Report of Lewd Text Messages
Bill O'Reilly Is Forced Out at Fox News
Fox Is Said to Have Declined to Settle Suits for $60 Million

Mr. Bolling is seeking at least $50 million in reputational, monetary and punitive damages and other costs, according to a summons filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The summons cites what it calls Mr. Ali's "efforts to injure the plaintiff's reputation through the intentional and/or highly reckless publication of actionable false and misleading statements about the plaintiff's conduct and character."

Mr. Bolling, who was most recently a host of "The Fox News Specialists," is represented by Michael J. Bowe of the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres. Marc E. Kasowitz, one of the firm's partners, is a longtime personal lawyer for President Trump who has also represented Bill O'Reilly, the former Fox News host who was ousted in April amid allegations of sexual harassment.

"This anonymously sourced and uncorroborated story is false, defamatory, and obviously intended to destroy this good man's career and family," Mr. Bowe said in a statement. "We will defend Eric aggressively in court, where actual facts, based on evidence, testimony and cross-examination, will belie these anonymous accusations."

Mr. Ali, in a series of messages posted on Twitter on Wednesday, said he stood by his reporting and would protect his sources.

"Not going to stop reporting on Eric Bolling or anyone else," he said in one post. "I've had family members killed/jailed in Iran, a lawsuit isn't going to scare me."

Mr. Ali is a freelance writer whose work has been published by New York magazine and Mother Jones in addition to HuffPost.

Lydia Polgreen, HuffPost's editor in chief, said the news organization stood by the story. "Yashar Ali is a careful and meticulous reporter," she said in a statement.

HuffPost is not named in the summons; Mr. Ali said he was indemnified by the news organization.

Fox News said its investigation into Mr. Bolling was continuing.

Word of the pending lawsuit came as the parent company of Fox News, 21st Century Fox, reported mixed quarterly earnings. Even as scandal has engulfed Fox News over the past year, the network has continued to fuel growth at the company.

For the quarter that ended June 30, 21st Century Fox beat analysts' expectations for profit but fell just short of revenue targets. The company reported net income of $476 million, or 26 cents a share, down from $567 million, or 30 cents a share in the same period a year earlier, which included a $60 million tax benefit.

Total revenue for the quarter was $6.75 billion, up 1.5 percent from the same period last year. Fueling that growth was a 10.4 percent increase in revenue at the company's cable network group, which includes Fox News, FX Networks and its FS1 sports network.

"In news, the Fox News Channel was the most-watched cable network for the last 12 months, during which it achieved its highest-rated quarter ever in 24-hour viewership," Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, said during a call with analysts.

"We believe that as time-shifted, on-demand and ad-free viewing continue to grow in popularity, our strengths in live news and sports globally is a great advantage," he added. "News and sports, the least likely programming to be watched delayed, comprised more than half of our advertising revenues."

Results in the company's broadcast division and film divisions, however, were lackluster. Revenue in the broadcast television group slipped 3.6 percent to $1 billion, reflecting a decline in advertising sales. Revenue in the company's film group dropped 11.5 percent from the same period last year, when it was bolstered by the strong performance of the "Deadpool" movie.

On Wednesday, 21st Century Fox executives said they remained optimistic about the company's $15 billion bid for Sky, the European satellite giant. The company is awaiting regulatory approval on the deal, which was announced in December.

This week, the British Culture Ministry said that it had contacted the Office of Communications, or Ofcom, seeking clarification on its earlier review of whether the company had met British broadcasting standards. In June, Ofcom ruled that Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, and other company executives were "fit and proper" to hold broadcasting licenses in Britain, even as it concluded that the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News had amounted to "significant corporate failures."

James Murdoch, chief executive of 21st Century Fox, said during the call that the company was "confident our transaction will be approved but more likely in the first half of 2018 than before the end of this calendar year."