Vandana Rambaran, DCNF
A New York City judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the parents of murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich on Thursday that asserted Fox News Channel colluded with the White House to propel a false, politically-biased narrative about Rich’s death.
Rich was gunned down outside of his home in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2016. The death prompted conspiracy theories introduced by Fox News and peddled by television pundits including Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh that Rich was targeted because he allegedly corresponded with Wikileaks, leaking thousands of emails to them from the DNC.
Rich’s parents called Fox News’ decision to publish the article, which the family claims is false, as “extreme and outrageous conduct,” according to a lawsuit filed in March. The judge has since dismissed the allegations, which implicated Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky, a Fox news guest who contributed to the report, according to The New York Times.
“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 Fox evidently did not intend to inflict emotional distress, Judge George Daniels wrote in his decision. Daniels came to this decision despite the fact that Fox made “false statements or misrepresentations” in their reporting. Their story has since been retracted because it did not meet the publication’s standards.
Daniels also dismissed a second and separate lawsuit brought forth by Rod Wheeler, a private detective who was also a Fox News contributor and hired by the Rich family to investigate their son’s death. In it, Wheeler accused Fox News and Zimmerman of misrepresenting his analysis of Rich’s death in their story, and Butowsky of defaming him on Twitter after the story was published, according to reports by The New York Times.
“My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” Wheeler was quoted in the Fox News article.
Wheeler denied making those statements and said that Butowsky’s Twitter, which claimed “Rod Wheeler has a major battle with the truth,” were defamatory. He also asserted that Fox News was working in tandem with the White House to deflect attention from accusations against President Donald Trump’s administration and their ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
Because Wheeler agreed to the article being published, the judge determined that there was no evidence to support that he was misquoted, and Butowsky’s Twitter sentiments did not constitute defamation.
The Rich family lawyer, Suyash Agrawal, told The New York Times they “look forward to vindicating their rights on appeal.”
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