The Slatest

Family of Slain DNC Staffer Seth Rich Sues Fox News Over Retracted Story That Fueled Far-Right Conspiracy Theories

Fox News host Sean Hannity is seen in the White House briefing room in Washington, DC, on January 24, 2017. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump insider.

The family of Seth Rich, the DNC staffer whose shooting death in 2016 spurred countless conspiracy theories, filed suit against the originator and perpetrator of those theories: Fox News. Rich’s family was subjected to an onslaught after his death, in part, due to a Fox News article published May 16, 2017 that claimed the 27-year-old was murdered as part of a conspiracy linked to WikiLeaks, which released 20,000 DNC emails in the days after Rich’s death that turned the presidential race upside down. The suit, which also names Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman as well as Republican donor and Fox News guest* Ed Butowsky, alleges the story, now retracted, contained “false and fabricated facts.”

From ABC News:

In the suit, which was obtained by ABC News, Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich, claim that Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and guest* Ed Butowsky reached out to the family under false pretenses to support stories that Seth Rich leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks. The lawsuit claims that Fox News, Zimmerman and Butowsky are liable for the harm caused by the report because they “aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress” caused by the story about Seth Rich and alleges that Fox News provided with a national platform to develop what the lawsuit dubs a “sham story.” The Rich family claims that the “defendants’ conduct was extreme and outrageous” in what they allege was a deliberate effort to portray Seth Rich as a “criminal and traitor to the United States.”

Fox News star Sean Hannity went long on Seth Rich’s death, which Washington, D.C. police say was a botched robbery, pushing the story each night despite dubious sourcing and the pleas of the Rich family to allow them to grieve. But Hannity continued to fan the flames of the story that took off among the far-right’s conspiracy theory set.

Update, March 14, 2018: Fox News issued a statement on the suit saying: “We can’t comment on this pending litigation.” The network also clarified that Ed Butowsky, who is named in the suit as a Fox News contributor, has been a guest on the network, but not a contributor. The post has been updated to reflect this.

One more thing

Since Donald Trump entered the White House, Slate has stepped up our politics coverage—bringing you news and opinion from writers like Jamelle Bouie and Dahlia Lithwick. We’re covering the administration’s immigration crackdown, the rollback of environmental protections, the efforts of the resistance, and more.

Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. So we need your help.

If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.

Join Slate Plus
Elliot Hannon is a writer in New York City.