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Fox News and Seth Rich

A conspiracy theory, two years later

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Fox News didn’t deliver on its promised
Seth Rich coverage investigation, so
Media Matters is doing it instead.
In July 2016, the online fever swamp linked to- that conclusion, prominent U.S. conservatives
gether two unrelated events: former Democrat- and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would
ic National Committee staffer Seth Rich’s tragic repeatedly suggest that Rich had been the real
murder on July 10 in what police determined was source of the emails.
an unsolved botched robbery and WikiLeaks’
July 22 release of thousands of internal DNC On May 16, 2017, 10 months after Rich’s death, Fox
emails whose contents damaged Democratic News, the nation’s most powerful right-wing
nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. media outlet, put itself firmly behind that con-
Conspiracy theorists speculated -- based almost spiracy theory with a dubiously thin online article
entirely on the facts that Rich had worked at the and a despicable series of on-air segments.
DNC and that his murder had been unsolved --
that Rich had been killed in retaliation for giving
It took Fox seven days to retract the story. As
the emails to WikiLeaks. part of its retraction, Fox promised to inves-
tigate how the story had been published and
In reality -- as the U.S. intelligence community release that information publicly. But two years
concluded in January 2017, and as special later, no such updates have been provided, no
counsel Robert Mueller concluded in his 2019 one at the network has been held accountable,
report -- Russian hackers had given the emails and on-air commentators continue to push the
to WikiLeaks as part of a successful effort ap- conspiracy theory.
proved at the highest levels of that country’s
government to support Donald Trump’s presi- Here is the timeline that chronicles how Fox’s
dential run. But in order to raise doubts about massive failure happened (all times EST).

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July 2016 through January 2017
The roots of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory

July 10, 2016: Rich, a 27-year-old DNC staffer, is murdered in what police conclude was a
botched robbery. [Media Matters, 5/24/17]

July 22, 2016: WikiLeaks disclosure of DNC emails triggers the Rich conspiracy theory. After
Wikileaks released more than 20,000 internal DNC emails, online conspiracy theorists began
claiming Rich was the group’s source and was murdered in retribution, even as U.S. intelligence
sources suggested Russian hackers were the real source of the leaked emails. [Media Matters,
5/24/17]

August 2016: WikiLeaks statements fuel the Rich conspiracy theory. On Twitter and via
comments in interviews by founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks repeatedly suggested that Rich,
and not the Russians, was the source of the DNC emails. This framing pushed the conspiracy
theory into more prominent conservative media outlets, including Fox host Sean Hannity’s radio
show and Fox & Friends, with pro-Trump commentators using it to undermine the notion that the
Russian government had hacked and released the emails to bolster Trump’s campaign. [Media
Matters, 5/24/17, 8/10/16]

October 2016 to January 2017: U.S. intelligence community states that Russia was the source
for the DNC emails. On October 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence said in a joint statement that “the U.S. Intelligence Community
(USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails
from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations,” referring to the DNC,
the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign manager
John Podesta. And on January 6, U.S. intelligence agencies released a report concluding that
“President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton
the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office,” which included hacking and
distributing the DNC emails. [Media Matters, 5/24/16; “Joint Statement from the Department
Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security,”
10/8/16; The New York Times, 1/6/17]

February to May 16, 2017


The making of Fox’s Seth Rich story
February 2017: Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler begins collaborating on the Rich story with
Trump supporter Ed Butowsky and Fox investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman. On February

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23, Butowsky, a businessman and a “reliable Republican surrogate,” first contacted Wheeler, a pri-
vate investigator and longtime Fox News contributor, according to a defamation lawsuit Wheeler
would later file against Fox News, Butowsky, Zimmerman, and other parties. Wheeler claimed
that Butowsky asked if he would be willing to investigate Rich’s death on behalf of the Rich family,
with Butowsky paying his fee, and that Wheeler agreed to do so. Five days later, according to the
lawsuit, Wheeler arrived for a meeting with Butowsky and was “surprised to find that Butowsky
was accompanied by Zimmerman,” who was investigating Rich’s murder in collaboration with the
businessman.

“The motivation behind the In his complaint, Wheeler would allege


that “the motivation behind the article”
article” was to “establish Zimmerman would later write about

that Seth Rich provided Rich was to “establish that Seth Rich
provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails
WikiLeaks with the DNC to shift blame from Russia and help put
to bed speculation that President Trump
emails ...” colluded with Russia in an attempt to
—Rod Wheeler influence the outcome of the Presiden-
tial election.” [Preliminary Statement in
Rod Wheeler v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17; NPR, 8/1/17]

March to April 2017: Wheeler investigates Rich’s murder. On March 14, the Rich family retained
Wheeler to investigate Rich’s murder, with Butowsky wiring him $5,000 as payment, according
to the complaint. Wheeler said that on April 25, he met with the lead homicide detective on the
case, who told him “he still believed that Seth Rich’s murder was the result of a robbery gone bad”
and that “he had no knowledge of any FBI involvement” with the case. [Preliminary Statement in
Rod Wheeler v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17]

April 20, 2017: Butowsky and Wheeler meet with then-press secretary Sean Spicer at the
White House. In his complaint, Wheeler said they briefed Spicer on the investigation and provided
him with a copy of Wheeler’s “investigative narrative,” and Spicer asked the pair to keep him
updated. Spicer later told NPR that he took the meeting as a favor to Butowsky, whom he knew
as a Trump supporter, and acknowledged that they detailed the Rich story during the meeting.
[Preliminary Statement in Rod Wheeler v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17; NPR, 8/1/17]

May 10-15, 2017: Zimmerman preps her FoxNews.com story. On May 10, “Butowsky and Zim-
merman called Mr. Wheeler to inform him that they had supposedly secured a source at the FBI
who confirmed that emails were sent between Seth Rich and Wikileaks,” according to Wheeler’s

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complaint. The next day, Wheeler said, Zimmerman sent him the draft of her Rich story, which
included quotes from the investigator.

On May 15, he said, she informed him that its publication was imminent and he responded by
explaining that “he was traveling and could not review the drafts of the story she sent to him
throughout the day.” He said she also asked him for additional quotes for the article and he “pro-
vided them in writing.” [Preliminary Statement in Rod Wheeler v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et
al., 8/1/17]

May 15, 2017: Wheeler sets up competing Seth Rich story with Fox’s Washington, D.C., affiliate
WTTG. After receiving Zimmerman’s draft, Wheeler contacted Marina Marraco, a reporter for the
Washington, D.C., Fox affiliate WTTG. Wheeler would later explain that he “wanted to see if she
had heard about” the Rich story, “and she said she had heard about it, but she wanted to talk” to
him. According to CNN, “Wheeler said that he told Marraco she could not go with the story -- but
that she then showed up near the restaurant where he was having dinner, and at her urging he
went outside to talk to her. Video of that conversation would end up on TV not long after.” [CNN.
com, 8/10/17]
“Fox 5 has learned there is
May 15, 2017, 10 p.m.: WTTG airs
“exclusive” claiming Wheeler says
new information that could
there’s evidence Rich had contact prove these [conspiracy]
with WikiLeaks before his death.
Marraco appeared on WTTG’s 10 p.m. theorists are, in fact, right.”
news hour to discuss the story, which —Marina Marraco
she introduced by saying, “Fox 5 has
learned there is new information that could prove these [conspiracy] theorists are, in fact, right.”
She reported that according to Wheeler, “there is tangible evidence on Seth Rich’s laptop that
confirms he was communicating with WikiLeaks prior to his death,” suggesting that this narrative
contradicts the Washington, D.C., police’s conclusion that Rich was killed in a botched robbery.

The segment included video of Wheeler saying, “The answer to solving his death lies on that
computer.” The reporter then asked him whether he has “sources at the FBI saying that there is
information that could link Seth Rich to WikiLeaks,” to which Wheeler responded, “Absolutely,
yes, and that’s confirmed.” Wheeler also told WTTG that he had “a source inside the police
department” who told him “we were told to stand down on this case,” and that more information
would come to light from Fox News the next day. Marraco also wrote a version of her story for the
station’s website.

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Wheeler has subsequently alleged that he did not know the camera was rolling while he was
talking to Marraco, that she took him out of context, and that his intention had been only to
confirm Zimmerman’s and Butowsky’s alleged source “had information that could link Seth Rich to
WikiLeaks,” not that he had his own sources at the FBI who had detailed that. [WTTG, Fox 5 News
@ Ten, 5/15/17; Fox5DC.com, 5/15/17; CNN.com, 8/10/17; Preliminary Statement in Rod Wheeler v.
Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17]

May 15, 2017, late night: WTTG story begins spreading through right-wing media. Several right-
wing outlets picked up Marraco’s story within hours, including Breitbart (“Was DNC Hack An Inside
Job After All?”), The Gateway Pundit (“BREAKING: Seth Rich Family Detective Tells FOX 5 DC There
Is Evidence Seth was ‘Emailing’ Wikileaks”), and Drudge Report, which featured it in a red banner
headline (“Dead DNC Staffer ‘Had Contact’ With WikiLeaks”). [Media Matters, 5/16/17; Breitbart,
5/15/17; The Gateway Pundit, 5/15/17; Drudge Report, 5/16/17]

May 15, 2017, 11:55 p.m.: Butowsky sends email to Fox staffers saying FoxNews.com story
publication is imminent, suggesting pro-Trump framing. Butowsky reportedly urged Fox staffers
to stress in their reporting on the impending Rich story that “the Russians did not hack our com-
puter systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion like trump with the Russians,” ac-
cording to Wheeler’s complaint.

[Preliminary Statement in Rod Wheeler v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17]

May 16, 2017, shortly after midnight: Fox News’ Sean Hannity begins promoting the WTTG story
on Twitter. Hannity described the story as a “Must watch!” He later deleted the tweets. [Media
Matters, 5/24/17]

May 16, 2017, 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.: FoxNews.com and Fox & Friends First amplify WTTG’s “bombshell”
Seth Rich story. Between 4:07 a.m. and 5:12 a.m., Fox News published the following headline on
the front page of its website: “Slain DNC staffer had contact with WikiLeaks, investigator says.”

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The headline linked to a FoxNews.com aggregation of the WTTG report, stating: “There is tangible
evidence on the laptop of a former DNC staffer that confirms he was talking to WikiLeaks prior to
his murder, a private investigator suggested Monday.”

Fox & Friends First covered what


co-host Rob Schmitt called the WTTG
story’s “bombshell evidence” during
its 5 a.m. hour. The program hosted
WTTG reporter Melanie Alnwick, who
recounted that Wheeler had told the
station “that he has information that
there is evidence on Seth Rich’s laptop
that connects him with WikiLeaks,
that shows him communicating with
WikiLeaks before his death.” Fox & Friends First co-host Heather Childers added that Wheeler
also told WTTG “that investigators there in D.C. were told to ‘stand down’ on the investigation.” The
segment featured the chyrons “WikiLeaks Connection” and “Suspicious New Details.” [FoxNews.
com, 5/16/17, via Internet Archive; Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, 6:17 a.m.: Fox & Friends airs first segment credulously promoting WTTG’s “bomb-
shell.” During the segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt called the story a “brand new bombshell,”
co-host Brian Kilmeade called it “breathtaking,” and correspondent Griff Jenkins, covering
the story from Washington, D.C., said it contained “bombshell new evidence.” Jenkins detailed
Wheeler’s statements in the WTTG report, saying, “I’ve known Rod for a long time, and I know that
he’s been looking into this case for a long time.” Jenkins also reported that he had been trying to
reach both the Washington, D.C., police department and his contacts, but with “nobody telling
me anything, we are going to keep hunting this.” He further suggested that it was suspicious that
“at the time of Rich’s death, his wallet was not taken” and “he was still alive at the hospital, where
he died.” Jenkins and co-host Brian
Kilmeade also agreed that the place
where Rich was murdered was “not a
high-crime neighborhood.” “So the keys
are in his computer,” Earhardt conclud-
ed. Chyrons for the segment included
“DNC Murder Mystery,” “WikiLeaks
Connections,” “Questionable Crime,”
and “Crime or Coverup?” [Fox News,
Fox & Friends, 5/16/17]

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May 16, 2017, 7:17 a.m.: In a second Fox & Friends segment, Doocy says story suggests Russia
didn’t give DNC emails to WikiLeaks, Jenkins reports on interview with Wheeler. At this point,
Fox’s coverage transitioned from amplifying WTTG’s report to pushing the same conspiracy
theories based on the network’s own reporting. During this segment, Jenkins claimed to have
interviewed Wheeler. “I just spoke with Rod, guys, moments ago. He says, number one, a law
enforcement source inside the investigation told him personally that he saw emails on a com-
puter between Rich and a WikiLeaks contact,” Jenkins reported. “And he also says, number two,
that the source told Rod he was instructed not to pursue the murder investigation 48 hours after
Rich’s death.” Jenkins did not note that the story Wheeler told him, in which Wheeler said the
same source gave him both details, is different from the one he gave to WTTG, in which the two
claims came from separate sources. Jenkins added that the police department is refusing to
comment and that Wheeler told him
the Rich family “is still not convinced
that it was more than a botched
robbery.”

This segment also marked the first


time Fox used the new Rich story
in an attempt to debunk the notion
that Russians gave the DNC emails to
WikiLeaks, with Doocy claiming, “You
know, for a long time, on the internet
and elsewhere, he has been rumored to have been the one who gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails.
So, if that is true, and we don’t know yet, looks like Russia didn’t give it to WikiLeaks. It was Seth
Rich, perhaps.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, early morning: FoxNews.com editor rushes to publish Zimmerman’s article. CNN
reported that the draft of Zimmerman’s report previously had “no concrete publish date,” would
likely have needed additional editorial and legal review, and could have been delayed for addition-
al reporting. But when Greg Wilson, then-deputy managing editor of FoxNews.com, arrived at the
office that morning, “the story was everywhere” and had already appeared on Fox & Friends.

So, according to CNN, Wilson “rushed to prepare Fox News' own article ... for publication and set it
live on the website,” soon replacing the text of the article FoxNews.com had published on WTTG’s
report. CNN further reported that “it’s not clear” how well the story was reviewed, but that accord-
ing to a source, “at least two steps in the usual vetting for an article like this -- review by Refet
Kaplan, managing director of FoxNews.com, and by the network's legal team -- did not happen.”
NPR similarly reported that according to a Fox executive, “The story was published to the website

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without review by or permission from senior management.” [CNN.com, 8/10/17; NPR, 8/1/17]

May 16, 2017, early morning: FoxNews.com publishes Zimmerman’s article. The article was
headlined “Seth Rich, slain DNC staffer, had contact with WikiLeaks, say multiple sources.” One
purported source was an anonymous “federal investigator who reviewed an FBI forensic report
… detailing the contents [of] Rich’s computer,” who was quoted saying, “I have seen and read the
emails between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” which the source claims “are in possession of the FBI.”
Zimmerman also reported that the source said that more than 44,000 DNC emails “were trans-
ferred from Rich to” a now-deceased WikiLeaks director prior to May 21, 2016.

Zimmerman’s second source was Wheeler, whom she quoted as saying, “My investigation up to
this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks”
and that his investigations showed that Rich’s murder was unsolved because “someone within
the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder
investigation from going forward.” Wheeler subsequently alleged in his lawsuit that Zimmerman
had fabricated those quotes and that “the only purported source saying that Seth Rich sent any
emails to WikiLeaks was Butowsky and Zimmerman’s supposed source within the FBI,” to whom
he said he had never spoken. [FoxNews.com, 5/16/17, via Internet Archive; Preliminary Statement
in Rod Wheeler v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17]

May 16, 2017


Fox News and Fox Business shows push the
network’s supposed Rich scoop, which quickly collapses
May 16, 2017, 8:10 a.m.: Fox host Laura Ingraham suggests Rich was assassinated and that his
family is helping to cover it up, attacks media for not covering story. After reading from Zim-
merman’s just-published FoxNews.com story, Doocy said to guest Laura Ingraham, “So it looks
like, this is a possibility, this is a guy who provided to WikiLeaks all those DNC emails.” Ingraham
interjected:

LAURA INGRAHAM: And he was shot in the back. He was shot in the back, nothing
taken from his person. That’s just -- anyone at the time thought that was bizarre?
He happened to work for the DNC, rumored to have contacts with WikiLeaks, and
then, shot in the back, nobody takes his cell phone, his wallet, just found in the
street in Washington, D.C.

“It seems very suspicious,” Earhardt replied, adding, “You know what’s interesting, that the par-
ents aren’t pursuing it.” “I don’t know what to say about that,” Ingraham responded. “When people

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don’t want information to get out, and
when an election is on the line -- you
know, again, reading between the
lines, a lot of people will do a lot of
things that they otherwise wouldn’t do
when hundreds of millions of dollars
are on the line.” Ingraham went on
to criticize the “aggressive lack of
curiosity on the part of the frothing
media,” adding, “Where’s the follow-up
on this story?” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, around 9 a.m.: Rich’s family issues statement criticizing Wheeler, saying, “We
have seen no evidence.” [Twitter, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, “around 1 p.m.”: WTTG tells reporter it is standing by its story. A Fox 5 DC spokes-
person told DCist in an emailed statement, “We stand by our story. We didn’t have any unnamed
sources. And by the way, maybe you should call the Washington Post—they usually have 30
unnamed sources in their stories.” [DCist.com, 5/17/17]

May 16, 2017, afternoon: Mainstream news outlets debunk Fox’s Rich story. Beginning with a
report from NBCNews.com at around 1:30 p.m., other news outlets publish a series of articles
debunking aspects of the Fox News and WTTG stories:

• A “current FBI official” told NBC News that, as the outlet reported, the police “never
even gave the FBI Rich’s laptop to analyze after his murder.” [NBCNews.com, 5/16/17]

• A “former law enforcement official with first-hand knowledge of Rich’s laptop”

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told NBC News the laptop “never contained any e-mails related to WikiLeaks, and
the FBI never had it.” [NBCNews.com, 5/16/17]

• The district police’s chief spokesperson said of the report, “There is nothing that
we can find that any of this is accurate.” [The Washington Post, 5/16/17]

• “Law enforcement officials have said that Rich’s computer and email activity
have been examined and suggest nothing that would connect him to WikiLeaks.”
[The Washington Post, 5/16/17]

• Wheeler “has developed a reputation for making outlandish claims” and exag-
gerated his tenure on the district’s police force, which ended with his firing.
[NBCNews.com, 5/16/17; The Washington Post, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, afternoon: FoxNews.com rewrites Rich story to focus on statement from family.
FoxNews.com changed the headline of Zimmerman’s story to “Family of slain DNC staffer Seth
Rich blasts detective over report of WikiLeaks link” and updated the lead of the story to match
that framing some time between 1:39 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The new lead stated that Wheeler had
been “corroborated by a federal investigator who spoke to Fox News” but that a spokesperson for
Rich’s family said Wheeler “was not authorized to speak for the family and called assertions Seth
Rich sent emails to WikiLeaks ‘unsubstantiated.’” [FoxNews.com, 5/16/17, via Internet Archive]

May 16, 2017, afternoon: Wheeler repudiates the story in interview with CNN. CNN reported that
in an interview Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler said that “he had no evidence to suggest Rich had
contacted Wikileaks before his death” but instead “only learned about the possible existence of
such evidence through” Zimmerman, and that his comments to WTTG “were intended to simply
preview Fox News' Tuesday story.” [CNN.com, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, during the 2 p.m. hour: Sean Spicer declines to comment on Rich story when
asked during White House press briefing. Spicer said, “Generally, I don’t get updates on DNC —
former DNC staffers. I’m not aware of that.” He added that it would be “highly inappropriate” for
him to comment on an ongoing investigation. [WhiteHouse.gov, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, during the 7 p.m. hour: Fox Business host Lou Dobbs runs multiple segments
promoting Rich “bombshell” and hosts Wheeler, who continues to walk the story back. During
a segment on what Dobbs termed the “explosive new developments” in the Rich case, Wheeler
admitted that he had “never seen the e-mails themselves” between Rich and WikiLeaks and that
“the information that I have gotten is information that has come through Fox News from that fed-

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eral investigator.” But he stood by his claim that a police department source had told him there
had been an order to “stand down” on the case, and he and Dobbs went on to suggest that Rich’s
death had been suspicious and cast doubt on the notion that he was killed in a botched robbery.
During a later segment, Dobbs said there was a “partisan shroud around the family” because the
family’s spokesperson was “connected to the Democratic Party.”

Dobbs also said at the beginning of his interview with Wheeler:

LOU DOBBS: I want to say first to the family, who have expressed concerns about
the evidence here and what it actually means, that we're being very sensitive to
this. But we're also looking at this case in the public interest, in fact in the national
interest, to try to discern what the D.C. Metropolitan Police and the FBI have not
been able to do to this point. And we're going to do so with every -- every sensitivity
that we can bring to their concerns, with every effort also to get ultimately to the
truth, which I know the family must desperately, desperately seek.

Dobbs has not mentioned Rich on any subsequent edition of his show, according to a review of the
Nexis database. [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 5/16/17, via Fox Business and Media Matters]

May 16, 2017, 9:17 p.m.: CNN reports that the Seth Rich family spokesperson is warning Fox
not to use “the legacy of a murder victim in such an overtly political way.” CNN reported that
in an interview, family spokesperson Brad Bauman said that “outlets that had run with the story
‘have shown over and over again that they are willing to lie and manipulate the facts’ to further
‘their own political end.’” He was further quoted saying, “I think it's important for everyone at Fox
News to be careful with this information and how this story breaks because using the legacy of a
murder victim in such an overtly political way is morally reprehensible.” [CNN.com, 5/16/17]

May 16, 2017, during the 10 p.m. hour: Sean Hannity devotes portions of three segments to
the Rich story, which he suggests
debunks “the whole Russia collusion
narrative.” Hannity argued during his
opening monologue that the new Rich
reporting “could completely shatter
the narrative that in fact Wikileaks was
working with the Russians, or there was
collusion between the Trump campaign
and the Russians” and “could mean that
Rich could have been murdered under

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very suspicious circumstances.” He also highlighted an interview from earlier in the year in which
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told him that the Russian government was not his source for the
DNC emails and did not dismiss Hannity’s suggestion that it might have been a disgruntled Demo-
crat instead. Hannity went on to speculate -- based on no evidence -- that Rich may have leaked the
DNC emails because he “was upset that the DNC was conspiring to hurt Bernie Sanders and help
Hillary Clinton” during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

During the second segment, Hannity


asked regular guest Jay Sekulow wheth-
er it is “possible that this whole Russia
narrative was -- and the leaks really came
from a DNC staffer and that the media's
been wrong for almost a year.” Sekulow,
who would later become Trump’s per-
sonal lawyer, responded in part that “this
is a timeline, as you mentioned, that is
troubling, to say the least.”

And in a third segment, Hannity hosted


Wheeler, praising him as “a man of
honor and integrity” whom Hannity said
he had known for “a long time.” During
the interview Wheeler again said that
he had no direct knowledge that Rich
had emailed with WikiLeaks. But he
also claimed that the FoxNews.com
source who “said he laid eyes on that
computer and he laid eyes on the case
file” was “very credible.” He and Hannity went on to raise questions about the police investigation
and Rich’s death, with Wheeler concluding, “I don't know as a matter of fact if the emails went
out to the WikiLeaks or anybody else, but it sure appears that way.” [Fox News, Hannity, 5/16/17,
segments one, two, and three]

May 17, 2017


Fox, WTTG begin walking back Rich reporting
May 17, 2017: Fox News and Fox Business go quiet on Rich story. Even though there were new
developments undermining the WTTG and FoxNews.com stories that the networks had promoted,

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neither Fox News nor Fox Business mentioned Rich on May 17. Indeed, neither Lou Dobbs nor the
hosts of Fox & Friends have ever subsequently informed their audiences that the story had been
debunked, according to a Media Matters review of the iQ media and Nexis databases.

May 17, 2017, afternoon: Rich family demands apology and retraction from Fox News, WTTG.
“The family is officially asking for a retraction and an apology from Fox News and from the Fox 5
DC affiliate for inaccurate reporting and damaging the legacy of their son,” family spokesperson
Bauman told CNN. [CNN.com, 5/17/17]

May 17, 2017, 8:11 p.m.: HuffPost reports that Fox News says the network “continues to track
developments” in the Rich story. Refet Kaplan, managing director of Fox News Digital, said in
an email to HuffPost earlier that day: “We continue to track developments in the story and will
update further when the situation warrants.” [HuffPost, 5/17/17]

May 17, 2017, 6:57 p.m.: WTTG issues “clarification” to story, says Wheeler “backtracks.” In an
article without a byline, WTTG said it wanted “to make an important clarification on claims that
were made by Rod Wheeler.” According to the piece, “On Wednesday, just before our newscast,
Wheeler responded to our requests via a telephone conversation, where he now backtracks his
position and Wheeler characterizes his on-the-record and on-camera statements as ‘miscom-
munication.’” The station also updated its original online story, adding an “Editor’s Note” with a
similar “update” and “clarification.” [Fox5DC.com, 5/17/17, 5/15/17]

May 18 through May 22, 2017


Sean Hannity becomes the conspiracy theory’s champion
May 18, 2017, afternoon: On his radio show,
Hannity suggests Rich’s murder “sounds
like a hit” in retaliation for providing
WikiLeaks with documents. Hannity added
that those who criticize the story as a
conspiracy theory “might regret it when
more information comes out. I'll take your
apology whenever you're willing to give it.”
[Media Matters, 5/18/17]

May 18, 2017, during the 10 p.m. hour: On Fox, Hannity and Sekulow discuss how the Rich story
could “blow the whole Russia collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the
water.” Hannity repeatedly suggested during the segment that if Rich had provided WikiLeaks

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with the emails, that would undermine
the Trump-Russia story. He also spec-
ulated that the DNC emails could have
been leaked because “somebody,”
perhaps Rich, was angry at the DNC’s
treatment of Sanders and wanted
“the truth told.” During the segment,
Sekulow argued that Rich’s death
“sounds like premeditated murder.
They targeted this individual, and
the unfortunate situation is that it's been classified” as a botched robbery by the police. [Media
Matters, 5/18/17]

May 19, 2017, 10:13 a.m.: Russian Embassy in the U.K. promotes the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.
[Twitter, 5/19/17]

May 19, 2017: Rich family’s lawyer sends Wheeler a cease-and-desist letter. In the letter, the
lawyer wrote that Wheeler’s “improper and unauthorized statements, many of which are false and
have no basis in fact, have also injured
the memory and reputation of Seth
Rich and have defamed and injured
the reputation and standing of the
members of the Family.” [NBCNews.
com, 5/19/17]

May 19, 2017, during the 10 p.m. hour:


Hannity declares on his Fox show
that “I’m not backing off” the Seth

15
Rich conspiracy theory. “I am not backing off asking questions even though there's an effort that
nobody talk about Seth Rich,” Hannity claimed, adding, “I don’t believe it’s a robbery.” He went on
to again speculate that a Sanders supporter, rather than Russians, had provided WikiLeaks with
the DNC emails, asking Sekulow whether that would “completely wipe out the entire Russia lie
we've heard for months and months.” Sekulow replied, “Of course.” [Media Matters, 5/19/17]

May 20, 2017: On Twitter, Hannity issues “public invitation” to hacker Kim Dotcom, who claimed
to have proof linking Rich and Wikileaks, “to be a guest on radio and TV.” He subsequently
deleted the tweet. [Twitter, 5/20/17; Media Matters, 5/30/17]

May 21, 2017, during the 9 a.m. hour:


On Fox & Friends Weekend, Fox con-
tributor Newt Gingrich says Rich was
“assassinated” for giving emails to
WikiLeaks. Gingrich claimed that Rich
“apparently was assassinated at four in
the morning, having given WikiLeaks”
tens of thousands of emails and
“nobody's investigating that.” He added,
“It turns out it wasn't the Russians, it
was this young guy who, I suspect, was
disgusted by the corruption of the Democratic National Committee. He's been killed, and apparently
nothing serious has been done to investigate his murder.” [Media Matters, 5/21/17]

May 21, 2017, evening: Hannity has Twitter meltdown over the Rich story. In a series of unhinged
tweets, Hannity demanded that Congress investigate Rich’s murder, declared that Democrats
were panicking, and lashed out at his critics as “snowflakes.” He later deleted his tweets. [Media
Matters, 5/30/17]

May 22, 2017, afternoon: Hannity continues to push the Rich story on his radio show. Hannity
declared he is “asking these questions” about
the conspiracy “because the media is trying
to destroy a sitting president.” [Media Matters,
5/22/17]

May 22, 2017, 4:28 p.m.: Fox contributor Geraldo


Rivera pushes the conspiracy theory on Twitter.
[Twitter, 5/22/17]

16
May 22, 2017, 5:30 p.m.: The Daily Beast reports Fox News staffers “embarrassed” and “in-
censed” by Hannity’s Seth Rich “conspiracy theory crusade.” According to the report, “Multiple
sources said that hard-news reporters and staffers at the network are aghast at the network’s
ongoing coddling of the baseless story and wonder why it has been allowed to continue.” Fox
sources quoted in the piece said that they were “embarrassed” and “pissed” over the “heartless”
coverage and “befuddled” as to why the network hasn’t stopped Hannity. [The Daily Beast,
5/22/17]

May 23 through June 22, 2017


FoxNews.com finally retracts story, but Hannity keeps pushing it
May 23, 2017, 1:03 p.m.: CNN reports that Rich’s brother sent a letter urging Hannity to stop
pushing “false conspiracy theories.” Rich’s brother Aaron sent the letter to Hannity’s executive
producer calling on Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theory, writing in part: “As the family,
we would hope to be the first people to learn about any such evidence and reasons for Seth's
death. … It is a travesty that you would prompt false conspiracy theories and other people's
agendas rather than work with the family to learn the truth.” [CNN.com, 5/23/17]

May 23, 2017, during the 1 p.m. hour: Media Matters publishes a list of Hannity’s Fox News adver-
tisers. [Twitter, 5/23/17]

May 23, 2017, during the 2 p.m. hour: After seven days, FoxNews.com retracts its Seth Rich
story, promises to investigate how it was published. The network published a statement on its
website which read: “On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation
into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high
degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article
was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed. We will continue to investi-
gate this story and will provide updates as warranted.” A former Fox executive commented to The
Daily Beast: “Retracted. Wow. [Fox founder] Roger
[Ailes] would brag at meetings how he was proud
“And all you in
Fox never had to print a retraction.” [FoxNews.com, the liberal media,
5/23/17; Twitter, 5/23/17; The Daily Beast, 5/23/17]
I am not Fox.com
May 23, 2017, afternoon: An enraged Hannity de-
clares on his radio show that he “retracted nothing.”
or FoxNews.com, I
Hannity declared that he had a “moral obligation” to retracted nothing.”
ask questions about the source of the DNC email
—Sean Hannity
leak because “the entire Russia collusion narrative is

17
hanging by a thread.” He added, “And all you in the liberal media, I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.
com, I retracted nothing.” [Media Matters, 5/23/17]

May 23, 2017, during the 6 p.m. hour: The Washington Post publishes an op-ed by Rich’s parents
under the headline “We’re Seth Rich’s parents. Stop politicizing our son’s murder.” Mary and
Joel Rich described their circumstances as “a nightmare that you can never wake up from” in
part because “conservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to
peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with
emails from the DNC.” They further stated that Rich’s computer was reviewed by detectives, who
found no evidence that he had been in contact with WikiLeaks, and they noted that he didn’t have
access to the emails that were leaked. [The Washington Post, 5/23/17; Twitter, 5/23/17]

May 23, 2017, evening: On Twitter, Hannity promises more on the Rich story on his Fox show
that night, then reveals he has just spoken to his attorneys. An hour before his show was to air,
Hannity tweeted that he stood by everything he had said and promised: “More at 10 pm tonight.”
But minutes before the show started, he revealed on Twitter that he had just spoken with three of
his attorneys. [Media Matters, 5/30/17]

May 23, 2017, during the 10 p.m. hour:


On Fox, Hannity says he will no longer
discuss his Seth Rich conspiracy theo-
ry “for now.” Hannity revealed during
the opening monologue of his Fox show
that he had spoken to Rich’s brother
and that “out of respect for the family's
wishes, for now, I am not discussing
this matter at this time,” even though
“there’s something clearly happening
here” related to how the media and Democratic Party have supposedly “been pushing that Russian
tinfoil hat conspiracy theory with zero evidence.” He also criticized Media Matters for “attacking my
advertising base.” [Media Matters, 5/23/17; FoxNews.com, 5/23/17; The Washington Times, 5/24/17]

May 23, 2017, during the 10 p.m. hour: Before Hannity’s show even concluded, he was pushing
the conspiracy theory again on Twitter. Hannity tweeted: “Ok TO BE CLEAR, I am closer to
the TRUTH than ever. Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder. Updates when available.
Stay tuned!” Over the next few hours, he tweeted about the story several times. [Media Matters,
5/24/17]

18
May 24, 2017: Advertisers begin dropping Hannity’s Fox show over Rich coverage. Over the next
24 hours, Cars.com, Casper, Crowne Plaza Hotels, Ring, Peloton, Leesa Sleep, and USAA an-
nounced that they pulled their commercials from Hannity’s Fox News show. [BuzzFeed, 5/24/17]

May 24, 2017: Hannity brags that he has the support of Fox’s executives, lashes out at Media
Matters. In an interview, Hannity told HuffPost that “he received no pressure from Fox News brass or
Rupert Murdoch” to back off the Rich story, bragging, “Nobody tells me what to say on my show. They
never have and frankly they never will.” He also lashed out at Media Matters for posting a list of his
advertisers, calling it “an attempt to take me out.” [HuffPost, 5/24/17]

May 24, 2017, during the 10 p.m. hour:


Hannity again uses his Fox show to
push conspiracy theory that “someone
from inside the DNC” leaked emails to
WikiLeaks. Without mentioning Rich by
name, Hannity suggested that “someone
from inside the DNC” might have leaked
the emails to WikiLeaks, adding, “If
something like that happened, wouldn't
that blow the entire Russia collusion
theory out the window? And isn't that something they may be afraid of?” [Media Matters, 5/24/17]

May 25, 2017: Hannity goes on vacation. “Like the rest of the country, Sean Hannity is taking a
vacation for Memorial Day weekend and will be back on Tuesday,” Fox News said in a statement.
[Variety.com, 5/25/17]

May 28, 2017: Fox’s media criticism show reports that the network retracted its Seth Rich
story. During the segment, Fox media correspondent Howard Kurtz read the network’s statement
retracting the story and commented, “On this tragic subject with no evidence to contradict the
police account, that is a very good decision. And it would have been better if Fox’s website had
never published that story.” This marked the first time Fox had noted the story’s retraction on-air
and the first time a show besides Hannity’s had covered the story since May 16, according to
reviews of the iQ media and Nexis databases. [Mediaite, 5/28/17]

May 29, 2017, during the 6 p.m. hour: On Fox’s flagship news program Special Report, The
Washington Post’s Charles Lane criticizes “conspiracy theories about Seth Rich.” Responding to
conservative commentator Mollie Hemingway’s criticism of journalists for their critical coverage

19
of Trump, Lane commented, “It's true there is a lot of misinformation floating around in the
media. I'm thinking of the conspiracy theories about Seth Rich's death.” Later in the segment,
when Hemingway said that “in the rest of the country people are kind of wanting journalists to get
a grip and get a handle on it,” Lane mockingly responded, “Maybe they're wondering whether Seth
Rich was assassinated by Hillary Clinton, things like that, that's what they’re really wondering?”
FoxNews.com’s retracted story was not specifically mentioned. [Special Report with Bret Baier,
5/29/17]

May 30, 2017, during the 10 p.m. hour: Hannity returns, says he is “making progress” investigat-
ing Rich's death, promises “a lot more coming probably sooner than later.” From the show:

SEAN HANNITY: Now out of respect for the family's wishes, well, I decided for the
time being not to discuss it unless there were further developments. But I also
promised you, my audience, my loyal audience, that I will not stop investigating. I
will not stop asking questions. And at a very high level, the bottom line here is the
family wants the truth and I
think the country deserves the
truth, because this impacts so
much of what the narrative in
this country is now about, which
is the left and their conspiracy
theory. Now I can report, I am
making progress. We will have
a lot more coming probably
sooner than later. [Media Mat-
ters, 5/30/17]

“Early June,” 2017: In meeting with Fox executives, Wheeler claims Zimmerman fabricated
quotes attributed to him. Wheeler met with Dianne Brandi, general counsel for the network, and
Jay Wallace, the network's president for news, and, as NPR reported, made “his case that fabri-
cated quotes had knowingly been attributed to him.” [NPR, 8/1/17]

June 22, 2017: On radio show, Hannity again mentions Rich’s “suspicious” murder. Hannity
suggested that “a lot of angry, disgruntled, whistleblowing truth-tellers within the DNC … saw the
collusion, that saw that the fix was in against Bernie Sanders” and decided to leak the emails to
WikiLeaks. He added, “Now, I don't know anything about Seth Rich in this sense. I don't have any
information about why he was murdered except that it was suspicious." [The Hill, 6/22/17]

20
July 2017
Fox analyst pushes the Rich conspiracy theory,
network promotes editor behind Zimmerman story

July 10, 2017: On first anniversary of Rich’s


death, his family pleads for public to stop
“The continual push of
using his murder as a “political football.” false and inaccurate in-
“While we recognize the futility of this request,
we make it anyway: please cease using Seth as formation about Seth’s
a political football in predetermined partisan
narratives,” the family wrote in a statement.
death ... hurts those who
“The continual push of false and inaccurate were closest to Seth, and
information about Seth’s death, along with
the harassment of Seth’s friends, family and does nothing to bring
co-workers, hurts those who were closest to
Seth, and does nothing to bring justice to his
justice to his killers.”
killers.” [WTOP.com, 7/10/17] —Statement from Seth Rich’s Family

July 11, 2017: Fox military analyst Thomas McInerney revives conspiracy theory on Fox Busi-
ness. Conflating several different topics, McInerney claimed that the DNC hadn’t turned over its
server to the FBI because “this shows that the Russians did not do it. That server was turned over
by Seth Rich and no one will look at his server. And those two servers blow this whole Russian
conspiracy, collusion up.” [Media Matters, 7/11/17]

July 20, 2017: Fox promotes editor who handled Zimmerman’s FoxNews.com story. Greg Wilson was
promoted from deputy managing editor to managing editor of Fox News Digital. [Politico, 7/20/17]

August through September 2017


Wheeler’s lawsuit triggers new disclosures as Fox
reporters speak out against network’s handling of story
August 1, 2017, morning: Wheeler files lawsuit against Fox, its parent company, Zimmerman,
and Butowsky, alleging he was misquoted. Wheeler’s complaint and interviews conducted in
its wake provided new evidence and allegations already detailed above about how and why the
FoxNews.com story was assembled and whether the White House was involved with its genera-
tion. In the complaint, Wheeler alleged that Zimmerman had fabricated the quotes attributed to
him in the story and that she and Butowsky had both subsequently acknowledged to him that she
had done so. Fox's then-president of news, Jay Wallace, told NPR in a statement: “Since meeting

21
with Rod Wheeler, we have also met with
Malia Zimmerman to try to determine
whether Rod was misquoted. As of now, we
don't have concrete evidence that he was.”
[Preliminary Statement in Rod Wheeler v.
Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17;
NPR, 8/1/17]

August 1, 2017, during the noon hour: In


statement on the lawsuit, Wallace says,
“The retraction of this story is still being
investigated internally.” [Twitter, 8/1/17]

August 1, 2017, during the 2 p.m. hour: Press secretary Sarah Sanders says there was no “White
House involvement in the story.” During a press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump
“had no knowledge of the story, and it’s completely untrue” that there was “White House involve-
ment in the story.” She also said of Spicer’s meeting with Wheeler and Butowsky, “It doesn’t
bother me that the Press Secretary would take a meeting with somebody involved in the media
about a story.” [WhiteHouse.gov, 8/1/17]

August 1, 2017, during the 6 p.m. hour: Special Report covers Wheeler lawsuit. In the program’s
only reference to Fox retracting the story to date, anchor Bret Baier briefly detailed Wheeler’s
allegations and read Wallace’s statement. [Mediaite, 8/1/17]

“Classic Fox. No one August 2, 2017: Fox staffers tell CNN they are
embarrassed and angry over network’s lack
ever gets fired from Fox of transparency on Rich investigation. CNN’s

for publishing a story Oliver Darcy reported that network employees


are wondering why, two months after Fox sup-
that isn’t true.” posedly began to investigate its Rich reporting,
“there has not been an announcement either of
—Fox Senior Network Employee
disciplinary action or a finding that there was
no wrongdoing.” Darcy noted that Zimmerman
had continued to publish stories on Fox’s website. Some sources commented that “people need
to start getting canned” and that the situation “makes people doubt Fox,” but a senior network
employee described it as “classic Fox. No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that
isn't true.” [CNN.com, 8/2/17; Media Matters, 8/4/17]

22
Early August: Fox’s Seth Rich reporting begins to imperil Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy the
British satellite TV company Sky. Fox founder Murdoch had made a $14 billion bid to acquire full
control of Sky. In his complaint, Wheeler suggested that Fox News’ machinations with regard to
the Rich story prove that Murdoch is not “fit and proper” to gain additional control over the U.K.’s
media. NPR reported a few days later that “several members of Parliament are now asking gov-
ernment officials and regulators to review whether Fox's handling of the Seth Rich story meets
standards required for British broadcasters,” throwing the bid into jeopardy. [NPR, 8/7/17; Pre-
liminary Statement in Rod Wheeler v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., et al., 8/1/17; Media Matters,
8/23/17]

August 10, 2017: CNN details “what happened behind the scenes” as Zimmerman’s article
was published. Darcy described how Wheeler had set the wheels in motion for FoxNews.com to
publish its piece without sufficient editorial review by tipping WTTG off to the story, as described
above. [CNN.com, 8/10/17]

September 19, 2017: Fox calls for arbitration or dismissal of Wheeler suit. In a court filing, Fox
said that Wheeler’s contract with the network required that he submit to arbitration and that if
the court would not move the lawsuit to arbitration, it should dismiss it. Fox denied Zimmerman
misquoted Wheeler, stating that he “confirmed in writing that he was reviewing a draft containing
those quotes before he provided additional quotes for the article” and that he had “even stated
publicly that the article he now challenges as false ‘was essentially correct and worthy of further
investigation.’” [The New York Times, 9/19/17]

January 2018
Fox’s Andrew Napolitano says Rich was killed “assassination-style”
January 10, 2018, during the 4 p.m.
hour: On Fox Business, Napolitano
suggests Rich may have been assassi-
nated in connection with “the dossier.”
Responding to a recently released
congressional testimony transcript in
which a lawyer for the co-founder of the
firm that commissioned the infamous
dossier detailing Trump connections
to Russia said that someone had been
killed as a result of the document, Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano asked, “Who?” He
added, “We really don’t know who he’s talking about. Is the reference to Seth Rich, the Democratic

23
National Committee staffer who was killed assassination-style in D.C., and who it is believed somehow
facilitated the hacking of the DNC emails?” [Fox Business, After the Bell, 1/10/18]

March through May 2018


Rich’s family sues Fox News for intentional infliction of emotional distress
March 13, 2018: Rich family files lawsuit against Fox News, Zimmerman, and Butowsky over Zim-
merman article and network’s subsequent coverage. ABC News reported:

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 out-
rageous” in what they allege was a deliberate effort to portray Seth Rich as a
“criminal and traitor to the United States.”

“No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure. The
pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son’s life and legacy treated
as a mere political football is beyond comprehension” Joel and Mary Rich said in a joint
statement. [ABCNews.com, 3/13/18]

March 16, 2018: The Washington Post reports that Zimmerman has not published a story in months.
The Post’s Erik Wemple pointed out that Zimmerman’s “archive page on FoxNews.com records no
contributions since Aug. 24, 2017, not long after the Wheeler suit lodged critical claims about her
conduct in the Seth Rich story, including that she had fabricated quotes attributed to him.” He also
reported that Fox said she was still employed by the network but would not say if she was still working
on stories. No new articles have been added to Zimmerman’s archive since Wemple’s report. [The
Washington Post, 3/16/18; FoxNews.com, accessed 5/8/19]

May 8, 2018: Fox files a motion to dismiss the Rich family’s lawsuit, saying its coverage portrayed
Rich positively. The filing stated, “Although Plaintiffs assert that the Fox News article caused them
pain, other readers might well consider their son to be a hero. Far from condemning Seth Rich for the
purported leak, the Fox News article portrayed him as a whistleblower who released the DNC emails to
expose that ‘top party officials conspired to stop Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont from becoming the
party’s presidential nominee.’” [Media Matters, 5/8/18]

24
July 2018
Special counsel Robert Mueller indicts Russians for hacking DNC emails

July 13, 2018: 12 Russians indicted for


hacking the DNC, Democratic Congressio-
nal Campaign Committee, Hillary Clinton’s
presidential campaign.
The indictments aligned with the U.S. intel-
ligence community’s longtime conclusion
that Russian government actors had hacked
these Democratic groups and disseminated
their emails, and it contradicted the Fox
conspiracy theory that Rich had given the
DNC emails to WikiLeaks. [Media Matters,
7/13/18]

July 13, 2018: Gingrich and Fox public


relations team refuse to comment on the
promotion of the Rich conspiracy theory
in light of the indictments. [Media Matters,
7/13/18]

August 2018
Judge dismisses the Rich family and Wheeler lawsuits
August 2, 2018: Judge George B. Daniels dismisses Rich family lawsuit, saying that while he
sympathizes, the conduct did not meet legal standards for the claims. The New York Times
reported that Daniels wrote, “It is understandable that plaintiffs might feel that their grief and
personal loss were taken advantage of, and that the tragic death of their son was exploited for
political purposes. But he added that he had no choice but to dismiss the suit, because Fox’s
conduct did not amount to the intentional infliction of emotional distress.” He also dismissed the
accusations against Zimmerman and Butowsky, “saying that even though the story they had put
together was untrue, their behavior did not meet the legal standard of ‘extreme and outrageous
conduct.’” [The New York Times, 8/2/18]

August 2, 2018: Daniels also dismissed Wheeler’s report. The Times reported that Daniels “ruled
that Mr. Wheeler had not proved that he had been misquoted and added that Mr. Wheeler had also
given his tacit consent to the article’s publication.” [The New York Times, 8/2/18]

25
March through April 2019
Barr letter and Mueller report make clear Russians, not Rich,
gave emails to WikiLeaks, but conspiracy theory continues

“The Special Counsel found March 24, 2019: In letter to Congress,


Attorney General William Barr writes that
that Russian government Mueller concluded Russians, not Rich,
provided emails that WikiLeaks released.
actors successfully hacked Detailing the main findings of Mueller’s
into computers and probe, Barr wrote: “The Special Counsel's
investigation determined that there were
obtained emails ... and two main Russian efforts to influence
the 2016 election. … The second element
publicly disseminated those involved the Russian government's efforts
materials through various todesigned
conduct computer hacking operations
to gather and disseminate
intermediaries, including information to influence the election.
The Special Counsel found that Russian
WikiLeaks.” government actors successfully hacked
—Attorney General William Barr into computers and obtained emails from
persons affiliated with the Clinton cam-
paign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through
various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks.” [Media Matters, 3/27/19]

Late March, 2019: Fox hosts respond to Barr’s letter with anti-press victory lap, ignoring
WikiLeaks conclusion. Hannity and Fox host Laura Ingraham framed Barr’s letter -- which quoted
Mueller’s report as stating that the probe “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign
conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” -- as
both a vindication of the president and definitive proof that the media enabled a hoax by report-
ing on ties between Trump’s associates and Russia. [Media Matters, 3/27/19]

April 11, 2019, afternoon: On his radio show, Hannity still raises questions about how
WikiLeaks obtained the DNC emails. Hannity claimed that while “most people tell me” that
“probably it was connected to Russia in some way,” other sources dispute that. He concluded,
“Who knows? I don't know the answer to that. I only know the answer [Julian Assange] gave
me.” [Media Matters, 4/11/19]

26
April 11, 2019, during the 8 p.m. hour: Jerome Corsi tells Fox Business that “Julian Assange can
come back and open up the Seth Rich case.” Corsi, a frequent promoter of conspiracy theories,
commented in the wake of Julian Assange’s arrest for “conspiring to hack into a Pentagon com-
puter network” that “Julian Assange can come back and prove that Russia was not involved in
stealing the Democrats' emails. And I think Julian Assange can come back and open up the Seth
Rich case, where he has suggested time and again that it was this Democratic National Commit-
tee employee who was murdered in Washington during the 2016 campaign who supplied him the
emails.” Host Trish Regan responded, “That has certainly been a can of worms” before changing
the subject. Corsi had previously retracted and apologized for a 2018 InfoWars story about Rich.
[The New York Times, 4/11/19; Real Clear Politics, 4/12/19; CNN.com, 3/4/19]

April 18, 2019: Redacted Mueller report released, confirms Rich was not source of DNC emails.
According to Mueller’s report, “As reports attributing the DNC and DCCC hacks to the Russian
government emerged, WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently de-
signed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing,” including “a number
of statements about Seth Rich” which “implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen
DNC emails.” Mueller concluded that Russian hackers were the actual source of the DNC emails
and that they had corresponded with WikiLeaks and provided the group with an encrypted file
several days after Rich’s death. [Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016
Presidential Election, 4/18/19, via The New York Times]

April 23, 2019: 700 days have passed since Fox promised to investigate its Rich reporting. Fox’s
probe has gone on longer than Mueller’s, and the network has offered no public accounting or
disciplinary action for those responsible for its Rich coverage. [Media Matters, 4/23/19]

Research by Matt Gertz


PDF Design by Melissa Joskow

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