Hollywood is closing in on the third anniversary of the massive Sony hack, but The Hollywood Reporter and its former owner have just been hit by a new $5 million defamation lawsuit over its coverage of the attack that could draw fresh blood.
“Callously indifferent to the devastation its Article would visit upon Ms. Basile, Prometheus published with negligence and with knowledge of falsity and reckless disregard for truth or falsity in order to reap the benefits of publishing a sensational story,” read the action filed this week in Illinois court by freelance accountant Nicole Basile. The article in question was written by THR staffers Gregg Kilday and Tatiana Siegel and printed in December 2014, which the suit says falsely branded Basile as one of the hackers.
Not long after the THR article was published, the FBI determined groups engaged by the North Korean government made the November 2014 attack on the studio. The suspicion was that the hack was a reaction to the fictional assassination of Kim Jong Un depicted in the then-upcoming Sony comedy The Interview starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.
“With a callous wink and nod to readers, Prometheus couched its article with the stock qualifiers, while deliberately signaling to readers that it had identified the real culprit and the culprit was Ms. Basile,” adds the jury-seeking filing (read it here). The suit, filed September 20, seeks “presumed, general and special damages of $5 million dollars.” It also desires findings that the “offending Article was false and defamatory” and “that the defendant acted willfully, with actual malice or gross negligence.”
THR is now owned by Eldridge Industries, led by Todd Boehly, the former president of previous owner Guggenheim Partners.
If some of this lawsuit seems vaguely familiar it is because Basile filed a similar suit in federal court in November 2015 seeking $1.4 million, claiming THR’s article has destroyed her “reputation, rendering her an untouchable within the industry.” On appeal, that action was dismissed in August due to lack of jurisdiction when it emerged that “one of the indirect members” of parent company Prometheus was actually a resident of Illinois, where Basile also lives. Under Illinois’ Savings Statute, Basile is allowed to pursue the suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
While her name did pop up in the vast correspondence and internal documents that were leaked online during the hack, Basile actually never worked at Sony or even directly for the company — which is part of her dispute with THR’s reporting. What Basile did do, among various accounting jobs over the years, was work on Sony’s 2012 pic The Amazing Spider-Man via a production company.
Still, when her name started appearing on the false emails sent out following the gutting attack, that nuance seemed to get lost, according to Basile.
As she said in her 2015 suit, Basile claims in the new action that THR “intentionally lied to readers and threw Ms. Basil under the bus, singling out only Ms. Basile as the insider hacker responsible for the Sony attack.” To the issue of the hacker swarming the media at the time with emails under an alias including to THR staffers and Moneyball author Michael Lewis, Basile singles out the reporting as having “negligently, recklessly, and intentionally hid these critical facts from readers, never disclosing that other alias were being used.”
Probably thinking this had all gone away in the courts and having cited Basile directly in a later article, Prometheus did not respond today to request for comment on the matter.
Despite dealing with subsequent health issues and more, Basile was able to get a gig in 2016 at the pay level she was at before being spotlighted in the THR article. However, clearly her quarrel with the publication hasn’t gone away.
Gregory Bedell of Chicago’s Knabe Kroning & Bedell, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs of Beverly Hills’ Rufus-Isaacs Acland & Grantham LLP, and Wilmington, DE’s Rodney Smolla are representing Basile in the case. The latter two defamation specialists were Basile’s lawyers in her initial case.