On Friday, the Russian embassy in London tweeted this:
Why is a Russian government Twitter account posting about a 27-year-old American’s death? For that answer, you have to go back to last July.
On July 10, at around 4 a.m., 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was walking home in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C.. At 4:19 a.m., ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology registered a gunshot in the area. Less than four minutes later, police officers reached the source of the gunshot, and found Rich lying on the ground, a bullet lodged in his spine. The shooter had fled the scene. Two hours later, Rich died in the hospital.
Nearly a year later, Rich’s murder remains unsolved. The Metropolitan Police Department has said it was a botched robbery attempt gone wrong. But what would seem to be a tragic local crime story has somehow ballooned into one of the most popular conspiracy theories in right-wing media, both in the United States and now overseas.
With the national news cycle operating at a fever pitch, what has Fox News’ Sean Hannity been using his valuable time slot—which draws roughly 3 million viewers, and counts the sitting president of the United States among its fans—to report on? For the past week, the answer has been: peddling unfounded conspiracy theories about Rich’s death.
Hannity didn’t invent the conspiracy, he has merely seized on it. The gutter right-wing media seized on Rich’s death before his body was even cold:
Within two days of Rich’s murder, Your News Wire—a website that typically traffics in “scoops” about the Illuminati—vaguely declared that Rich was a “campaign fraud whistleblower.” A month after Rich’s death, far-right website World Net Daily added Rich to its “Clinton Death List” alongside the likes of Vince Foster, the Clinton administration deputy counsel who committed suicide—or “suicide,” depending on which sites you believe—in 1993.
Later that month, Wikileaks published a cache of internal emails from the DNC. It didn’t take long for the right-wing mediasphere to connect the dots—clearly, Rich had been the leaker behind the DNC hack, and had been killed off on behalf of angry Democratic leaders.
Despite the conspiratorial chatter, interest in Rich’s death had waned over the past few months. Until Monday, when a man named Rod Wheeler told a local Fox affiliate that Rich was emailing with Wikileaks before his death:
The Fox affiliate’s story hinges on a a Dallas-based financial adviser and Fox News commentator named Ed Butowsky. Butowsky contacted the Rich family and suggested they hire an independent investigator into their son’s case, and offered to cover the investigator’s fees. He recommended they hire Wheeler, a former MPD detective and, not coincidentally, a fellow Fox News contributor.
Rich’s family agreed to hire Wheeler, with the condition that he not speak to the media without their explicit approval. On Monday, Wheeler told Fox 5 WTTG that there is a connection between Rich and WikiLeaks:
FOX 5 DC: “You have sources at the FBI saying that there is information...”
WHEELER: “For sure...”
FOX 5 DC: “...that could link Seth Rich to WikiLeaks?”
WHEELER: “Absolutely. Yeah. That’s confirmed.”
He also claimed, without evidence, that the MPD had been told to “stand down” in the Rich case:
“I have a source inside the police department that has looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘Rod, we were told to stand down on this case and I can’t share any information with you.’ Now, that is highly unusual for a murder investigation, especially from a police department. Again, I don’t think it comes from the chief’s office, but I do believe there is a correlation between the mayor’s office and the DNC and that is the information that will come out [Tuesday].
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser called Wheeler’s allegations “preposterous.” Rich’s family quickly refuted Wheeler’s statements and asked Fox 5 to retract their story.
“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,” Rich family spokesman Brad Bauman said.
Bauman told MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald that Butowsky was the third party behind Wheeler’s hiring. But when Seitz-Wald contacted Butowsky to confirm that he was funding the private investigation, saying, “I’m not involved with any of what you said.” Hours later, Butowsky admitted to CNN that he was the third party funding the investigation, and had lied to Seitz-Wald because he “didn’t want to talk to NBC.” Wheeler finally effectively retracted his own supposed bombshell, saying that the Fox affiliate reporter put words in his mouth.
But by then, the snowball was already rolling down the mountain. Right-wing websites like WorldNetDaily and The Gateway Pundit latched onto the Fox 5 story, and soon enough, the story trickled into the mainstream, as The Drudge Report, Breitbart, and Fox News joined in:
It has all culminated with America’s Shitposter-in-Chief, Sean Hannity. On Thursday, Hannity split his time between calling on the media to “leave Roger [Ailes] and his family alone in their time of grief” and parroting unsubstantiated claims about the violent death of a 27-year-old man, to stoke his own ratings and distract from the scandals engulfing the president.
On his radio show Thursday morning, Hannity had the gall to claim that he cares more about Rich’s death than Rich’s own family:
Apparently I care more about why this kid was murdered than you do. You know, why isn’t a member of, you know — why didn’t they offer a reward? Julian Assange did. You know, why is a case that is not open and shut being treated as open and shut?
Did Seth Rich have a computer? And if he did, where is it? And I think that perhaps all of you that are saying these things, you might regret it when more information comes out. I’ll take your apology whenever you’re willing to give it. And by the way, Twitter can mock away. Go right ahead.
I hope and pray — I pray for this kid, this family, but I don’t believe this story about robbery for one second, and I don’t like being lied to. And the family shouldn’t like being lied to, that’s their business, I pray for them.
On Hannity’s TV show on Thursday night, he hosted Jay Sekulow, a conservative lawyer with his own talk show. Despite having zero connection or firsthand knowledge of the Rich case, Sekulow nonetheless felt entitled to make wild accusations like this:
It sure doesn’t look like a robbery, it looks like a murder, and I haven’t seen the files, you haven’t seen the files, but there’s one thing this undercuts, I think, is — I think this whole Russian argument is subterfuge for reality.
Rich’s family has asked Fox News to apologize for the network’s reckless coverage of their son’s murder, and people are calling on advertisers to boycott Fox 5 for publishing Wheeler’s comments:
But it’s a safe bet that Hannity and other right-wing fever swamp dwellers will never apologize to Rich’s family for the undue pain they have caused them. They are, at their essence, people without shame, more concerned with agitating their audiences than displaying any modicum of humanity.
The Rich story has been a singularly repulsive example of how the conservative media in general, and Fox News specifically, behaves in a vacuum of political grievances. Donald Trump is in the White House. Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House. Mitch McConnell is Senate Majority leader. Republicans control the vast majority of governors’ mansions and state legislatures in the country. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have all but gone into the Witness Protection Program for Democrats, also known as the speaking circuit.
The GOP holds near-absolute power, which is why conservative media has been casting about for a scapegoat to justify their grievance politics and their apocalyptic style of broadcasting. Seth Rich, to ghouls like Hannity, is not a victim of a tragedy, with a family, so much as an ideal bit of stimuli for the conservative media’s paranoid target audience. The idea of a vast conspiracy involving Clintonland, the mainstream media and the Deep State is too delicious to refuse—grieving friends and family be damned.
Sean: Keep Seth Rich’s name out of your mouth, and kindly fuck off forever, you absolute ghoul.