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Fox News pulls down series as Hunter Biden threatens lawsuit

Fox has removed a series on its streaming network that imagines a trial of Hunter Biden, the president's son, on hypothetical criminal charges. Here, Biden is seen on Capitol Hill in January.
Kent Nishimura
Getty Images
Fox has removed a series on its streaming network that imagines a trial of Hunter Biden, the president's son, on hypothetical criminal charges. Here, Biden is seen on Capitol Hill in January.

Fox News has pulled down a six-part series in which it staged a mock trial of hypothetical criminal charges against Hunter Biden after the president's son threatened to sue the network.

The series, which was first posted on the cable network's right-wing streaming service back in October 2022, was removed only a day after Biden's legal team publicly made its threat. Biden says the network defamed him, among other accusations.

"We are reviewing the concerns that have just been raised and — out of an abundance of caution in the interim — have taken it down," Fox News Media said in acknowledging the decision Tuesday afternoon.

The media giant's move came just hours after it released a statement denouncing Biden's accusations, describing its coverage of him as within its constitutional rights.

Fox News paid $787.5 million a year ago to settle a mammoth defamation suit stemming from its amplification of false claims that Dominion Voting Systems, an election tech company, had helped rig the 2020 election in favor of President Biden. It is facing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit from a second voting tech company, though the network says it expects to prevail.

In 2020, Fox paid millions to the parents of Seth Rich, a slain Democratic party staffer. The network falsely had claimed Rich leaked thousands of emails from party leaders during the 2016 election cycle. Formal inquiries, including the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee and the Mueller Report, found the hack was committed by people acting on behalf of the Russian government.

Hunter Biden does face federal charges over tax and gun violations. He has pleaded not guilty to both, with trials expected to begin this summer.

On Monday, his legal team revealed it had been privately pressuring Fox to retract stories and segments amplifying unsubstantiated claims that Biden helped funnel millions of dollars in bribes to the president from Ukrainian interests. Those allegations were featured hundreds of times by such Fox stars as Maria Bartiromo and Jesse Watters, according to figures from the liberal watchdog group Media Matters that were cited by Biden's attorneys.

A key source of those claims about Hunter Biden now faces federal charges of lying to the FBI about those very allegations. The indictment stated that the source, Alexander Smirnov, had admitted that "officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved" in circulating the claims.

Fox stood by its past handling of the allegations against Hunter Biden in its initial response to his letter demanding removal of the mock-trial series and corrections to other segments.

"Hunter Biden's lawyers have belatedly chosen to publicly attack Fox News' constitutionally protected coverage regarding their client," Fox News said in a statement emailed Tuesday morning to NPR and other news outlets. "Mr. Biden is a public figure who has been the subject of investigations by both the Department of Justice and Congress, has been indicted by two different US Attorney's Offices in California and Delaware, and has admitted to multiple incidents of wrongdoing."

The statement continued: "Consistent with the First Amendment, Fox News has accurately covered these highly publicized events as well as the subsequent indictment of an FBI informant who was the source of certain claims made about Mr. Biden."

U.S. law makes it harder for people considered public figures to win defamation lawsuits. If Biden were to make good on his threat to sue Fox News, he would have to show that the network knew that what it was airing was untrue, or that it had acted with such reckless disregard for the facts that it should have known.

"The Trial of Hunter Biden" on Fox Nation offered a fictionalized version of what a trial against the younger Biden might look like. The television personality overseeing it, Judge Joe Brown, warned viewers that what they were seeing was not a real trial and that Hunter Biden was not facing charges.

Biden's attorneys include Mark Geragos, Bryan Freedman, and Tina Glandian, who have a reputation for aggressive tactics.

In the letter to Fox, they argued that it had engaged in "revenge porn" by airing scandalous material taken from Biden's now-infamous laptop, which included footage and images of him consuming crack cocaine and cavorting with prostitutes.

They issued a fresh statement late Tuesday afternoon accusing Fox of continuing to mislead the public:

"In its statement, Fox falsely states that Hunter Biden was the subject of an investigation by Congress, which mischaracterizes the plain facts of his litigation, and intentionally avoids telling their audience that their attacks on Hunter were 'based' on an informant who lied," Biden's legal team stated. "We demand that Fox immediately retract and correct today's statement, which is the latest example of its relentless attack on Hunter Biden in complete disregard for the truth."

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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.