Topline

After years of back-and-forth, Fox News on Tuesday settled a lawsuit filed by the family of Seth Rich over the network’s involvement in spreading conspiracy theories about the young Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer’s 2016 death. 

Key Facts

Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary, filed the lawsuit in 2018 alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress after Fox News published and aired a conspiracy theory that Rich—who was 27 when he was fatally shot in a suspected burglary gone wrong in Washington D.C.—had been killed as retribution for involvement in leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

Though the family released a statement that it’s “pleased” with the settlement, the announcement does not include any details about the terms of the agreement.

The statement from the Riches says that all litigation has been dropped against defendants in the case: Malia Zimmerman, the author of a now-retracted story about Rich, and Ed Butowsky, a Fox News guest who helped promote the story. 

The original complaint from the Riches, filed nearly a year after Fox News published Zimmerman’s story, alleged that the two defendants had “intentionally exploited [their] tragedy—including through lies, misrepresentations and half-truths—with disregard for the obvious harm that their actions would cause.” 

The settlement comes as top figures inside the network, such as host Sean Hannity and Fox Business Network anchor Lou Dobbs, were possibly slated to give testimony about the case. 

Like the Riches, Fox News told Forbes in a statement that it’s “pleased with the resolution of the claims and hope this enables Mr. and Mrs. Rich to find a small degree of peace and solace moving forward.”

Crucial Quote 

“The settlement with Fox News closes another chapter in our efforts to mourn the murder of our beloved Seth, whom we miss every single day,” wrote the Riches in a Tuesday statement. “We are pleased with the settlement of this matter and sincerely hope that the media will take genuine caution in the future.”

Key Background 

Conspiracy theories about Rich’s murder were in circulation prior to the Fox News stories. However, it wasn’t until May 2017, when the network published its purported bombshell allegations that the FBI had knowledge that a DNC insider and not Russia, as the intelligence community had concluded, was behind the leak of nearly 20,000 internal emails. “Now, let me connect the dots,” Hannity told his audience after Zimmerman’s initial story went public, suggesting Rich may have been involved with the leak because he was “upset” that the DNC “was conspiring to hurt and help Hilary Clinton win the nomination.” The story quickly fell apart, with sources backtracking and the D.C. police department commenting that there was “nothing that we can find that any of this is accurate.” Despite a retraction from the network, the conspiracy theories lingered, prompting Mary Rich to say that Fox News’ exploitation had meant: “We lost his body the first time, and the second time we lost his soul.” 

Tangent 

The Riches’ lawsuit was initially dismissed by a district court judge, but the decision was later overturned in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Further Reading 

“Killing the Truth” (Rolling Stone)

“Fox News Is Still Defending Its Seth Rich Lies—Three Years Later” (The Daily Beast)

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