27-year old Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in Washington, D.C. in July 2016. Ever since, his death has been the subject of conspiracy theories surrounding the allegation that he was behind the leak of the Democratic National Committee’s emails to WikiLeaks.
Fox News and Sean Hannity, in particular, indulged those conspiracy theories to a particularly disgusting degree. In May of last year, the network published a now-retracted investigative piece by reporter Malia Zimmerman that was later found to not meet “the high level of editorial scrutiny” the network so famously requires.
Now, according to ABC News, the Rich family is suing Fox News, alleging that story contained “false and fabricated facts” and that the network, the reporter, and the story’s Trump-supporting financial backer “aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress” on the family:
In the suit, which was obtained by ABC News, Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich, claim that Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and Fox News commenter Ed Butowsky reached out to the family under false pretenses to support stories that Seth Rich leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks.
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.”
“No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure,” Rich’s parents told ABC News in a joint statement. “The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son’s life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension.”
Butowsky told ABC News that the Rich family’s lawsuit was “one of the dumbest he’d ever seen” and said the lawsuit’s allegation that he or Fox News “benefitted” from pushing the conspiracy “smells weird.”
This isn’t the first time the network has been sued over the Rich story. Last August, Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, a former D.C. homicide detective who served as a source for the story, filed a defamation lawsuit against the network alleging that the White House, Fox News, and Butowsky — who hired Wheeler to investigate the Rich case — had colluded to push the Rich/DNC conspiracy theory and that the reporter, Zimmerman, had fabricated some of his quotes.
According to court documents in that case, Butowsky repeatedly asserted the White House’s involvement in the story. One alleged text message from Butowsky to Wheeler read: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. But don’t feel the pressure.”
Fox News declined comment on this lawsuit to ABC News, other than to say Butowsky was a “guest” and not a “contributor.” When Wheeler’s lawsuit was filed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “completely untrue” that the President knew about the story prior to publication.
Update, 11:39 PM ET, 03/13/2018: This post has been updated to reflect ABC News’ most recent story, which refers to Butowsky as a “commenter” rather than a “contributor.”
Update, 11:44 PM ET, 03/13/2018: Here’s the Rich family’s complaint.