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Family of slain Ukrainian journalist sues Fox News, alleging a cover-up

A priest prays over the coffin of Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova, a Ukrainian journalist killed while working for Fox News in March 2022. Her parents have sued Fox News alleging wrongful death, fraud and defamation.
Efrem Lukatsky
/
AP
A priest prays over the coffin of Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova, a Ukrainian journalist killed while working for Fox News in March 2022. Her parents have sued Fox News alleging wrongful death, fraud and defamation.

On the second anniversary of a young journalist's killing in Ukraine, her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Fox News, the broadcaster that sent her on a dangerous assignment, and accused it of a cover-up.

The suit, filed in a New York City courthouse, is steeped in the tragic nature of the incident at its core.

Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova, who was 24, accompanied Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall and veteran videographer Pierre Zakrzewski on a reporting trip outside Kyiv, just weeks after Russia's invasion in March 2022.

In the suit, her parents say Fox did not take adequate care to protect its reporting team, pressuring them to venture into hazardous terrain despite a series of warnings from local residents and its security contractors. The lawsuit, filed jointly with a security consultant, alleges wrongful death, fraud and defamation.

The three journalists ventured into the Kyiv suburbs during fierce fighting. Kuvshynova and Zakrzewski were killed by Russian shelling; Hall was seriously injured but survived. The Kuvshynovas claim Fox masked its actions and lied in subsequent statements to deceive the journalists' families and the public.

'It's time for Fox to come clean'

"It's time for Fox to come clean for her, for better or worse, and deal with the consequences," Stephen Humphreys, the family's attorney, told NPR in an interview. "The thing that's most important for the Kuvshynovas, when they think about their daughter, is that this doesn't ever happen to anybody else again."

After her death, her parents say Fox offered her father compensation that covered Kuvshynova's back pay, life insurance coverage and funeral expenses, but made him sign a document waiving all claims against the company. The suit said he had no idea of the contractual concessions he was entering into.

Their lawsuit also accuses Fox of perpetuating false accounts through Hall's recounting in his memoir Saved: A War Reporter's Mission to Make It Home, published last year by HarperCollins, a corporate cousin of Fox. Hall is named as a defendant, too.

"The actual circumstances of Sasha's death — which contradict the official accounts given by Fox, Ben Hall, and HarperCollins — were only uncovered through investigation by their counsel almost two years later. New information, and new contradictions, are still being uncovered to this day," the lawsuit states.

In a statement to NPR, Fox News Media said specific alleged elements were wrong, without offering more detail. It rejected the broader sweep of the suit.

'The safety of our journalists has always been our number one priority'

"While we understand the grief and continue to mourn the loss of both Pierre Zakrzewski and Sasha Kuvshynova, we will respectfully defend against the inaccurate claims within this lawsuit," the statement from Fox News reads. "The safety of our journalists has always been our number one priority and we are immensely grateful to the FOX News reporters who have covered the war in Ukraine and we remain committed to reporting from the region."

Hall recently traveled back to Ukraine and interviewed the country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In an appearance Thursday morning on the network's Fox & Friends on the second anniversary of the attacks, Hall said he felt optimistic about life after his near-death experience, but sought to honor his slain colleagues.

"The most important part of today is remembering those who didn't come back," Hall said. "We have to remember the work they were doing, the things they were passionate about. They were going around the world to bring the news and the images to our viewers because they thought it was so important."

Along with the network and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, the lawsuit names Fox's parent company, Fox Corp., and Fox founder Rupert Murdoch. Through a spokesperson, the company and the corporate titan deferred comment to Fox News. Efforts to seek comment from officials at HarperCollins, the publisher of Hall's book, through its parent company, News Corp., were unsuccessful. Like Fox, both are ultimately controlled by Murdoch and his son Lachlan.

The suit is joined by a former security adviser who worked for a consulting firm that Fox News hired to protect its reporting teams in Ukraine. Shane Thomson, a former British security consultant, acted as one of two security advisers in the country for the network under the consulting firm SEPAR International, according to the suit. NPR's inquiry to SEPAR was not returned.

A series of desperate warnings, the lawsuit alleges

The lawsuit alleges that Fox did not take adequate care to protect its reporting team, pressuring them to venture into hazardous terrain despite a series of warnings, from a local mayor, from a former military colleague of Thomson and from Thomson himself. A U.S. journalist, the documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud, had been killed just 24 hours earlier in the vicinity of the attack that killed the Fox reporters.

It further alleges that Thomson was shattered by the killings and Fox's directive to drive Zakrzewski's body in a hearse to Poland for his family.

The suit alleges that Fox staffers defamed him by spreading rumors he had abused alcohol in an effort to "shift blame" from the network to him. Thomson later attempted to take his own life, according to his legal team.

"That task of carrying Pierre out of Ukraine really weighed on him in a very bad way," says Humphreys, the family's attorney.

The lawsuit states that Zakrzewski's widow, Michelle Ross-Stanton, agreed to a wrongful death settlement agreement with Fox — additionally receiving insurance coverage and funeral expenses reserved for employees killed on duty.

In an interview with the Washington Post's Jeremy Barr in November 2022, she said she had investigated the incident herself, detailing her concerns about the lack of clarity surrounding it. And, she told the Post that the team of security consultants hired by Fox to work with its journalists in Ukraine was not traveling with them at the time of the attack.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Folkenflik
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.