The murder of Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich in Washington, D.C. in 2016 has been a favorite subject of right-wing conspiracy theorists. Some of those theories were reported by Fox News in the past, and on Friday, an appeals court in New York City reinstated a lawsuit against Fox News that was brought by members of Rich’s family.
On July 10, 2016, Rich was on his way back to his Washington, D.C. apartment when he was shot. Police, investigating Rich’s death, have concluded that he was the victim of a street robbery attempt gone wrong — not some type of political assassination. Regardless, conspiracy theorists have continued to insist that the murder was politically motivated rather than the work of a random street mugger.
One of the conspiracy theories surrounding Rich’s death claims that he was killed for leaking stolen Democratic National Committee (DNC) e-mails to WikiLeaks. But Rich’s family has stressed that the claim is blatantly false and has no merit.
In 2017, a report by Fox News linked Rich to those Democratic e-mails, and Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich, sued the right-wing media outlet for promoting unverified claims. In the lawsuit, Joel and Mary Rich sought damages for the “emotional distress” they said Fox caused their family.
In 2018, U.S. District Judge George Daniels threw out the lawsuit against Fox News and said that the Riches did not “adequately allege essential elements of the causes of action asserted.” But on Friday, a three-judge panel in New York City disagreed with Daniels’ reasoning when it reinstated the lawsuit.
The Fox News coverage that inspired the Riches’ lawsuit started with Malia Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky. In May 2017, Fox News offered a retraction, but by that time, according to Huffington Post, it had already received coverage at Fox from major hosts like Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy.
On Friday, the panel that reinstated the lawsuit wrote, “We have no trouble concluding that, taking their allegations as true, the Riches plausibly alleged what amounted to a campaign of emotional torture. In order to publish a knowingly false article accusing Seth of leading the DNC e-mails, Butowsky and Zimmerman needed a reliable source. They settled on a purportedly independent investigator, hired by the Riches. But they had to fabricate that source.”
According to the panel, Zimmerman and Butowsky allegedly set out “to take the conspiracy theory from the fringes to the front pages and screens of the mainstream media.”
On Friday, Fox News offered an official statement on the panel’s decision to reinstate the lawsuit: “The court’s ruling today permits Mr. and Mrs. Rich to proceed with discovery to determine whether there is a factual basis for their claims against Fox News. And while we extend the Rich family our deepest condolences for their loss, we believe that discovery will demonstrate that Fox News did not engage in conduct that will support the Riches’ claims. We will be evaluating our next legal steps.”