The parents of a Democratic National Committee staffer murdered in 2016 have said they will sue Fox News for a retracted story they say fueled conspiracy theories about his death.
Joel and Mary Rich filed suit in federal court in New York, seeking unspecified damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and other claims.
On May 16, 2017, Fox News published a story on its website asserting that their son Seth had leaked thousands of emails to Wikileaks before he was shot and killed in Washington D.C.
No arrests have been made in the shooting of Seth Rich (above) but Washington police and his family have said they think he was killed in a random robbery attempt
Rich was on the phone to his girlfriend (above with Rich) at the time of his murder
The story stated, falsely, that investigators had evidence showing Rich leaked thousands of Democratic National Committee emails to WikiLeaks throughout the 2016 presidential election, just weeks before he was shot.
That story line is popular among conspiracy theorists and alt-right online groups -some Trump supporters have even suggested a supposed WikiLeaks connection to counter stories about Russian involvement in the last election.
But the theory directly contradicts U.S. intelligence that Russia was behind the WikiLeaks email dump that so damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The Fox network retracted the story a week later, confessing that it did not meet its editorial standards.
It was forced to do so after the FBI pointed out that a ‘federal investigator’ and ‘FBI report’ refereed to in the story as sources did not exist.
The second core source in the story, private investigator and Fox contributor Rod Wheeler, claimed the Fox reporter fabricated his quote saying he had evidence of emails between Rich and WikiLeaks.
He has since sued the network for defamation – last year he dropped another claim for racial discrimination. Fox News has denied all his allegations and has filed a motion to dismiss the outstanding defamation case.
The suit filed by Mr and Mrs Rich alleges that the story fueled a conspiracy theory that continues to cause them harm.
Fox News alleged that Seth Rich (above) had leaked thousands of emails to Wikileaks before he was shot and killed – it retracted the report after six days
Seth Rich, 27, was fatally shot in the back while walking home alone in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of D.C. in the early hours of July 10 2016 At the time of his death, he was working as a data analyst for the DNC.
Rich’s family offered a reward for any information leading to how and why he was shot in the back after a night of heavy drinking at Lou’s City Bar in Washington D.C.
They said they are still compelled to read unfair and inaccurate articles, tweets and internet postings regarding their son in order to defend him from attacks on his character.
Rich, a voter-expansion data director for the DNC who was offered a new job on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was talking on the phone on July 10, 2016, when he was gunned down on the street. Police and his parents believe he was killed in an attempted robbery.
The law suit says that the ‘outrageous conduct [of Fox news]’ prevented Mr and Mrs Rich ‘from coming to terms with his murder because they were repeatedly forced to relive it.
‘Whatever progress they had made in accepting Seth’s death and moving forward was completely derailed by Defendants’ outrageous behavior,’ the suit states.
The lawsuit names the reporter, Malia Zimmerman, and political operative Ed Butowsky as defendants, in addition to the network. It does not name Mr Wheeler.
Fox News contributor Ed Butowsky has described the lawsuit ‘one of the dumbest’ he had ever seen
WikiLeaks – set up by Julian Assange – published thousands of hacked DNC emails, which included missives from seven key staffers, less than two weeks after Rich’s death
The suit said that even after the story fell apart, Fox continued to exploit the sham story because it was good for ratings’.
It claims the couple has developed post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, among other afflictions, as a result of the viral conspiracy theory about Seth.
‘Imagine that every single day, with every phone call you hope that it’s the police, calling to tell you that there has been a break in the case,’ they said in a statement in the lawsuit.
‘Imagine that instead, every call that comes in is a reporter asking what you think of a series of lies or conspiracies about the death. That nightmare is what our family goes through every day.
‘No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure.
‘The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son’s life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension.’
The suit says Fox News never apologized to Joel and Mary Rich for the retracted story about their son.
Asked about the Rich family’s suit, a Fox spokesperson said: ‘We can’t comment on this pending litigation.’
But the network did point out that the suit Ed Butowsky was never a contributor as the Rich family lawyers have maintained – he was only a guest.
Butowsky himself described the lawsuit ‘one of the dumbest’ he had ever seen.
‘Nobody’s benefited from anything. To file a lawsuit to say that anybody has benefited just smells weird,’ he told ABC.
SETH RICH TIMELINE
June 14, 2016: The Democratic National Committee database is compromised by Russian government hackers, U.S. security sources tell the Washington Post. A Kremlin spokesman rules out Russian involvement to Reuters.
June 15, 2016: Solo, anonymous hacker ‘Guccifer 2.0’ takes credit for hacking the DNC database, saying it was ‘very easy’ on his website.
July 10, 2016: DNC tech staffer Seth Rich, 27, is killed on a DC street after being shot twice in the back in the early hours of the morning. DC police say he is the victim of a botched robbery and offer $25,000 to help catch his killer.
July 22, 2016: Thousands of DNC emails released by WikiLeaks – a damaging blow to the Democrats’ presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
July 24, 2016: Fallout from the DNC hack continues as chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigns.
August 9, 2016: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange floats the idea that Rich was an informant for his organization, telling a Dutch TV show: ‘Whistle blowers often take very significant efforts to bring us material and often at very significant risks. There’s a 27-year-old who works for the DNC and who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the streets in Washington.’ WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich’s murder but later clarifies in a Twitter post that they always protect the anonymity of their sources.
September, 2016: GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman adds $100,000 donation to the reward money to catch Rich’s killer – making it the largest ever reward to solve a murder case in DC history.
December, 2016: The U.S. intelligence community says that Russia was behind the hack of the DNC emails and meddled in the U.S. presidential elections.
December, 2016: Assange denies that the Russian government was involved in providing the hacked DNC emails that WikiLeaks received and published during the election.
February, 2017: Billboards are posted in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of DC where Rich was killed, encouraging those with information to come forward. Nine months on, police have announced no suspects or leads in the investigation.