Fox News co-ordinated with White House on false story, lawsuit alleges
Fox calls claims in civil action 'completely erroneous'
An investigator who worked on the Seth Rich homicide case claims Fox News fabricated quotes implicating the Democratic National Committee staffer in the WikiLeaks scandal and alleges that U.S. President Donald Trump pressured Fox to publish the story.
The investigator, Rod Wheeler, is suing Fox for defamation. His lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York, lays out an explosive tale of Trump allies conspiring to push a false story to take the pressure of the Russian collusion investigation off the president, and a news organization willing to show the president its story before it was published.
Fox called the accusation that reporter Malia Zimmerman's story was published to detract from the Russian investigation "completely erroneous."
Jay Wallace, Fox's news president, said the story is still being investigated and that Fox has no evidence that Wheeler was misquoted.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Who was Seth Rich?
Rich, 26, worked for the Democratic National Committee when he was fatally shot in the Bloomingdale neighbourhood of Washington on July 10, 2016, in what Washington police believe was a botched robbery. No arrests have been made in the slaying.
His death prompted several right-wing conspiracy theories, which were condemned by Rich's parents. They accused the theorists of exploiting their son's death for political gain.
Wheeler, a Fox contributor who looked into Rich's slaying for the family, was brought into the case by Ed Butowsky, a Texas man and Trump supporter who appeared frequently on Fox, the lawsuit said. Butowsky was intent on establishing a link between Rich and the WikiLeaks scandal.
Wheeler was quoted in a May 16, 2017, story on Fox's website saying there had been contact between Rich and WikiLeaks, whose dump of DNC emails proved a major detriment to Hillary Clinton's campaign. He also said he was quoted falsely saying that someone — possibly Democrats or Clinton campaign officials — was blocking an investigation into Rich's slaying.
Two days before the Fox article was published, Butowsky told Wheeler in a phone conversation that Trump had read the article and wanted it published immediately, the lawsuit said.
Butowsky had no immediate comment.
Wheeler also alleges in the suit that he was told that his false comments were put in the story because Trump wanted it that way. Wheeler also said that he and Butowsky had met with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and showed Spicer notes on Wheeler's investigation. Spicer asked to be kept informed of the probe, the lawsuit said.
Fox removed the story from its website a week after it was published, saying that "it was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all of our reporting." That forced Fox News's most high-profile host, Sean Hannity, to back away from aggressively pushing the story on the air.
Wheeler, who is black and has been a Fox contributor since 2005, is also suing Fox for racial discrimination. He said similar law enforcement experts who are white were given higher pay and more opportunities. Wallace denied those accusations.