The cable news network exploited the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich to push a conspiracy theory, and a new suit alleges it wasn’t an accident.
Last year, 27-year-old DNC staffer Seth Rich was shot to death in what appeared to be an attempted robbery near his home. It’s a tragic story, and a senseless one. The kind of thing no parent should ever have to live through. But unfortunately for the parents of Seth Rich, the death of their son was only the beginning of their nightmare. Rich’s death became fodder for right-wing conspiracy theories that alleged Rich was “assassinated” because he had been involved in leaking the DNC emails to Wikileaks. This was not true. There was no evidence to back that claim up. But that didn’t stop Fox News and Sean Hannity from running the story as though it were fact. And even though Fox is famously partisan, it is still a news-gathering organization. How could such a blatantly false and disgusting conspiracy theory get to air, presented as fact?
Well, if the allegations by a Fox News contributor in a new lawsuit obtained by NPR prove true, the answer to that question goes all the way to Donald Trump himself. Rod Wheeler is a former detective and long-time paid Fox News contributor who found himself at the center of the Rich story and became something of a fall-guy as the story fell apart. Now, he’s claiming in a lawsuit that the story was concocted by Fox News with direction from people in the White House, up to and including Donald Trump.
It’s a complicated story, but this all allegedly begins with Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Trump supporter and sometimes Fox contributor, and Malia Zimmerman, a Fox News producer. According to the suit, Butowsky approached Wheeler about investigating Rich’s murder on behalf of the family. But when the two met up, a third person was there, Malia Zimmerman. Butowsky explains that the investigation is not purely altruistic, as he is convinced that there’s an FBI report that says Rich’s laptop showed that he had connections to the DNC Wikileaks dump.
So Wheeler is paid by Butowsky to investigate Rich’s death. Wheeler doesn’t find much, and the FBI says they’re not investigating the case as they’re leaving it to Metro D.C. police, which seemingly blows up the idea that there’s some FBI report that connects Rich to the leaks. Meanwhile, the police conclude that Rich’s death was a robbery gone bad.
As this is all happening, Wheeler and Butowsky meet with Sean Spicer at the White House to go over Butowsky’s claims. (A meeting Spicer confirms but claims he didn’t know the subject of.) Wheeler goes along with the story and even allows himself to be coached by Butowsky on how to spin it—namely, that this whole mess supposedly proves Russia didn’t hack our emails.
And that’s how it’s sold, except of course, once it airs, it becomes clear that it’s all bullshit and there’s nothing to the story. Here’s NPR:
According to the lawsuit, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer meets at
the White House with Wheeler and Butowsky to review the Rich story a
month before Fox News ran the piece.
On May 14, about 36 hours before Fox News’ story appears, Butowsky
leaves a voicemail for Wheeler, saying, “We have the full, uh,
attention of the White House on this. And tomorrow, let’s close this
deal, whatever we’ve got to do.”
Butowsky also texts Wheeler: “Not to add any more pressure but the
president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately.
It’s now all up to you.”
Again, this all the story according to Wheeler. He obviously has motive to pass blame to someone, ANYONE, else, but the lawsuit does contain emails and texts and voicemail transcripts that corroborate certain aspects of his version of events. So what’s the truth? Who knows. But I do think it’s fair to say that an administration that has consistently misled the American people has lost its right to claim the benefit of the doubt on accusations of attempting to mislead the American people.
Down Goes the Mooch
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