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Fox News sued by family of Ukrainian journalist killed while covering war over ‘reckless and negligent conduct’

Editor’s Note: Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here. CNN  —  Fox News is the subject of yet another explosive lawsuit. On the two-year anniversary of the attack in Ukraine that claimed the lives of Fox News photojournalist Pierre Zakrzewski and contractor Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, the network was accused Thursday of being culpable for the fatal incident by engaging in “reckless and negligent conduct” that put the crew in harm’s way. The network was also accused of launching “a campaign of material misrepresentations and omissions to hide its own accountability for the disaster and shift blame” to then-security contractor Shane Thomson, who allegedly warned against the crew entering the dangerous zone near Kyiv where they were killed. The lawsuit, filed by Kuvshynova’s parents and Thomson in New York State court, not only named Fox News as a defendant, but also Fox Corporation Chairman Emeritus Rupert Murdoch, Fox News Chief Executive Suzanne Scott, and correspondent Benjamin Hall, who was severely injured in the attack, but survived. Both deaths were announced at the time by Scott, who said the team’s vehicle came under fire as they were reporting. Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian interior minister, blamed artillery shelling by Russian forces. But the circumstances that led to the 2022 tragedy, the lawsuit stated, were uncovered as part of a sweeping investigation conducted by lawyers for Thomson and Kuvshynova’s parents to get to the bottom of what happened on March 14, 2022. Their probe found that the circumstances that led to the attack were set into motion when the Fox News team disregarded warnings to avoid the Irpin-Hostomel area near Kyiv. The mayor of Irpin had barred journalists from the city and Thomson, the security contractor, had vetoed the idea of reporting from the area, according to the lawsuit. Heading to the area was considered so dangerous, the lawsuit said, that the Ukrainian driver who had been working with the Fox News team “refused” to take them there, forcing the crew to “find a different driver.” Eventually, when the crew arrived in the region, they rendezvoused with a few Ukrainian soldiers, who had previously escorted The New York Times reporters into the area. That’s when they realized the vehicle the soldiers were driving was “not large enough to carry all” of them, the lawsuit said. The team decided to leave their security consultant behind, the lawsuit explained. “The absence of the security contractor was vital, as the crew made fatal mistakes,” the lawsuit said. The Fox News crew ultimately stopped at an abandoned checkpoint where they were attacked. According to the lawsuit, the “car caught fire and Sasha was burned to ashes inside it, causing her death.” Zakrzewski, the lawsuit said, “managed to escape the car but bled to death at the side of the road from a small puncture wound in his leg.” The lawsuit alleged that “the bleeding could easily have been stemmed to save his life if the security contractor trained in battlefield first aid had been present.” Hall survived the attack and was “later found grievously injured” before being taken for emergency medical care. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the lawsuit alleged that Fox News has tried to cover up its failures and hide them from the public. Fox News took “all electronic gear … that survived the attack” and “withheld any record of any evaluation or re-evaluation of the crew’s assignment,” the lawsuit said. The account of the attack that Hall later recounted in his book published by HarperCollins, the lawsuit added, was “misleading.” And, the lawsuit said, Fox News “has attempted to impose non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements on all the surviving family members.” The lawsuit also alleged that after the fatal incident, Fox News tasked Thomson with transporting Zakrzewski’s body across the Polish border to his widow. The lawsuit said that Thomson objected to the assignment, but was told he had to complete it, and was later “let go from his employment without explanation.” “He was severely traumatized by the combined experience of his colleagues being killed, transporting the dead body of his friend, and then being dismissed,” the lawsuit said. “Shane reached out to Fox repeatedly for assistance with the trauma. Fox never responded, even after Shane attempted suicide by hanging.” The lawsuit alleged that Thomson has had trouble finding work because he is “frequently associated with the Fox News disaster of being security advisor for the crew that was killed in Irpin the day after journalists were banned from the area.” The lawsuit also alleged that Fox News employees spread a bogus story that he had a “drinking problem in Kyiv at the time of the fatal incident, insinuating that this was the cause of the disastrous assignment in which Pierre and Sasha were killed.” Kuvshynova’s parents and Thomson are seeking unspecified punitive damages. “Sasha Kuvshynova’s final text message — responding to her parents, who were highly alarmed by the dangerousness of the situation unfolding on March 14, with Russian forces closing in on Kyiv — was not to worry,” the lawsuit said, “because Fox was a professional news organization that knew what it was doing and would not expose her to unnecessary danger.”