The Fox News Channel—the subject of numerous allegations of sexual harassment and worse since Gretchen Carlson successfully sued its late founder Roger Ailes in July 2016—took yet another PR beating Thursday morning from the parents of murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
Joel and Mary Rich, whose 27-year-old son was shot and killed on a Washington, D.C. sidewalk on July 10, 2016, appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America to discuss their lawsuit against the right-leaning, Trump-friendly cable-TV outlet for publishing and promoting a bogus conspiracy theory that Seth, not Russian hackers, leaked a cache of 44,000 DNC emails to WikiLeaks.
“I want the people who started the lies, who are responsible for the lies, held accountable,” Mary Rich told ABC News correspondent Tom Llamas in a segment taped Wednesday at their Washington area home. “This has got to stop.”
She added: “His computer didn’t have anything on it. He would never have done it.”
Seth’s murder has gone unsolved.
The Riches’ lawsuit—in which Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and frequent on-air guest Ed Butowsky, a Republican Party donor, are also listed as defendants—seeks a jury trial and unspecified actual and punitive damages for “mental anguish and emotional distress, emotional pain and suffering, and any other physical and mental injuries” caused by Fox’s flacking of the false report.
The lawsuit—filed in federal court—claims that Fox News portrayed Seth Rich as a criminal and otherwise trashed his reputation, causing his grief-stricken family both emotional and physical distress. It claims Butowsky preyed upon the vulnerable Rich family to win their trust and persuaded them to hire Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler as a private investigator of Seth’s murder, and that Zimmerman and Butowsky worked with Wheeler to concoct the lies in the story. (Butowksy told ABC in a statement he was simply trying, in good faith, to help the Riches solve their son’s murder.)
The most notable falsehood was Wheeler’s claim at the time (which he has since retracted) that he had examined email communications between Seth and WikiLeaks. Wheeler, too, filed suit against Fox News, claiming Zimmerman made up a quote from him to support her spurious report.
After Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich relentlessly promoted the bogus story—which fueled fringe right-wing conspiracy theories after it was initially published on the network’s website on May 16, 2017—Fox retracted it a week later under pressure after other news organizations thoroughly debunked it and Fox News journalists internally expressed disgust over their employer’s conduct.
“If this is true,” Hannity told his viewers, “this blows the Russia-collusion narrative completely out of the water.”
After management retracted the story, and Seth’s brother Aaron pleaded with him to cease promoting it, Hannity announced on the air that he would stop talking about it out of respect for the Rich family’s wishes. He never mentioned that his own company had retracted the story because it was not up to Fox News’ standards.
But the cable network never apologized to viewers or the Riches, nor did Fox News management publicly explain how and why Zimmerman’s false story was posted; nor has Fox News said that anyone at the cable channel has faced discipline over the debacle.
“They never called us to check any facts,” Mary Rich told ABC News. “They took a rumor and ran with it.”
While her husband sat beside her, Seth’s tearful mother added: “We lost his body the first time. And the second time we lost his soul. They took more from us with the lies. So we want our son’s life and soul restored, and I want our life back so we can move forward again.”
Fox News offered no comment on the litigation or the GMA segment.