Fox News Sued by Seth Rich's Parents Over "Exploitation" of His Death

Remigio Civitarese
Marzo 15, 2018

The parents of a Democratic Party staffer whose unsolved 2016 murder touched off a flurry of right-wing conspiracy theories sued Fox News for publishing a "sham" story claiming their son leaked Democratic National Committee emails in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Since their son's murder, the Rich family has consistently had to refute the idea of a connection between Seth and Wikileaks. The report quoted an unnamed federal investigator who claimed to have "seen and read the emails between Seth Rich and Wikileaks" and was heavily promoted on Fox. The goal of the story, according to the Riches and Wheeler, was to take political heat off the Trump administration as investigators probed whether Russian-backed hackers leaked the emails to advance his candidacy. No evidence to support that theory emerged during an investigation by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, and Rich's family said they believed that Rich, 27, was killed during an attempted robbery.

Fox News first published the story in May 2017 and proceeded to reference it on-air several times. They claim the negative and baseless coverage of their son prevented them from processing his death and that they became "collateral damage in a political war".

Mary Rich and her husband, Joel Rich, hold a photo of their son in their home on January 11, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska.

The lawsuit names the reporter, Malia Zimmerman, and political operative Ed Butowsky as defendants, in addition to the network.

Private investigator Rod Wheeler sued the network in August for defamation, alleging Fox put words in his mouth when it posted the Wikileaks story.

The complaint states that in December 2016, Butowsky reached out to the Riches and mentioned a rumored connection between their son and WikiLeaks. The story went viral and sparked theories that the alleged leak and his death were connected.

The lawsuit claims that Joel and Mary are experiencing symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and Mary is experiencing symptoms consistent with Social Anxiety Disorder. They are suing all three parties for intentional infliction of emotional distress, aiding and abetting intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy to commit intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with contract; they are also suing Fox News for negligent supervision and/or retention.

By April, Wheeler and Butowsky met with then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer about the Fox story - without Mary and Joel Rich's knowledge, they say. "Mr. and Mrs. Rich should come forward and be honest with people", he said.

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