Seth Rich’s Family Just Won a Legal Victory Against Fox News

A court found the network’s conspiracy theories about the murder subjected his parents to “emotional torture.”

News headlines scroll above the Fox News studios in the News Corporation headquarters building in New York, Aug. 1, 2017. Richard Drew/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that a lawsuit filed by the parents of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich against Fox News should move forward, finding that the network’s retracted reporting about his death amounted to “extreme and outrageous conduct.”

Fox News played an instrumental role in helping push the conspiracy theory that the 27-year-old Rich, who was murdered in a botched robbery in July 2016, had contact with Wikileaks, which released thousands of Hillary Clinton campaign emails during the 2016 presidential race.

Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary, sued Fox News in March 2018 alleging that the network set out “to take the conspiracy theory from the fringe to the front pages and screens of the mainstream media.” A district court dismissed the suit in August 2018, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit on Friday. “We have no trouble concluding that—taking their allegations as true—the Riches plausibly alleged what amounted to a campaign of emotional torture,” wrote Judge Guido Calabresi.

The lawsuit describes a lurid and elaborate plot where a Fox News reporter, Malia Zimmerman, and guest commentator, Ed Butowsky, befriended the Riches and urged them to hire a private investigator, Rod Wheeler, without disclosing that he was a paid contributor to Fox News.* Without the Riches’ knowledge, the suit says Wheeler coordinated with Donald Trump’s White House and fed Fox News false information peddling the Wikileaks conspiracy theory, which resulted in a May 2017 Fox News story: “Slain DNC Staffer Had Contact with WikiLeaks Say Multiple Sources.”

Rich’s family asked Fox News to retract the story, which they did five days later. But Fox News guests and hosts like Sean Hannity continued to peddle the false story for months afterward. The Rich family then sued the network for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

The Second Circuit panel found that Rich’s parents’ allegations “plausibly rise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct” by Fox News, who subjected the family to “a deliberate and malicious campaign of harassment.”

The appeals court remanded the case to a district court in New York and ordered that it be reopened.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated Butowsky’s role at Fox.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate