- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The parents of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich have sued Fox News over its coverage of a conspiracy theory surrounding their late son and the cache of leaked DNC emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Attorneys for Joel and Mary Rich filed suit in Manhattan federal court Tuesday against Fox News, investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and commentator Ed Butowsky for propagating claims involving their late son’s purported role in supplying WikiLeaks with sensitive DNC emails subsequently published by the anti-secrecy website weeks after his death.

Rich, 27, was murdered in June 2016 in D.C., likely as the result of a botched robbery, authorities said. Skeptics nonetheless claimed Rich may have been killed for allegedly leaking the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, despite U.S. intelligence officials concluding that Russian hackers sourced the correspondence in question.

While countless outlets have covered Rich’s death and the baseless theories that ensured, attorneys for his parents argue that Fox News published “sham” articles about their son on its website last year that fueled conspiracies that painted Rich “as a criminal and a traitor” and continue to cause damages to this day, according to their lawsuit, prompting them to seek damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and other claims.

Defendants “intentionally exploited this tragedy — including through lies, misrepresentations and half-truths — with disregard for the obvious harm that their actions would cause Joel and Mary,” attorney Eli J. Kay-Oliphant wrote on their behalf.

“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 statement.

Specifically the lawsuit alleges that Fox News, Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. Butowsky are liable because they “aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress” caused by the articles.

Fox News ultimately retraced its Rich reporting days after its initial coverage, saying the story “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.” The reporting had nevertheless gone viral, however, and reportedly even garnered the attention of President Trump, according to the lawsuit.

“Whether motivated by party politics, ratings, corporate profit or personal gain, we hope to help prevent this kind of malicious and reckless behavior in the future so that others can be spared the hell the Riches have had to endure,” added Leonard A. Gail, another attorney for the plaintiffs.

Fox News declined to comment on ongoing litigation, according to news reports.

Mr. Butowsky, on his part, called the lawsuit “one of the dumbest” he’d ever seen, ABC News reported.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian hackers likely breached the DNC and other Democratic targets during the course of a state-sponsored interference campaign targeting the 2016 White House race. Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Justice Department’s investigating into Russia’s alleged role in the race, is considering bringing criminal charges against Russian nationals allegedly responsible for those hacks, NBC News reported.

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