Fox News Settles With Seth Rich’s Parents Years After Pushing Conspiracy Theory

OMAHA, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 11: (L-R) Mary Rich and her husband, Joel Rich hold a photo of their son in their home in Omaha, Nebraska, on January 11, 2017. Seth Rich, a 27-year-old staffer for the Democratic Natio... OMAHA, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 11: (L-R) Mary Rich and her husband, Joel Rich hold a photo of their son in their home in Omaha, Nebraska, on January 11, 2017. Seth Rich, a 27-year-old staffer for the Democratic National Committee, was killed in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2016. (Photo by Matt Miller for The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 25, 2020 11:10 a.m.

More than four years after the tragic death of their son Seth Rich — and after Fox News falsely suggested that he was part of a seedy story involving WikiLeaks — Rich’s parents have settled a lawsuit with the cable network.

A paragraph-long court filing in Joel and Mary Rich’s suit Tuesday closed their years-long legal effort against Fox News, the former FoxNews.com reporter Malia Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky, a key player in the false Seth Rich conspiracy theory that Fox pushed to millions.

Yahoo News reported that the confidential settlement terms included a seven-figure payment to Rich’s family, but neither side confirmed that to TPM.

The emotional distress suit focused on a story Fox News published in 2017 about Rich’s death during what police said was a botched robbery.

In the since-removed Fox News story, Zimmerman wrote that federal investigators and Rod Wheeler, a private investigator hired by Butowski on behalf of Rich’s family, had discovered evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks. The website published the hacked Democratic emails that rocked the 2016 presidential election. Robert Mueller’s investigation later found that Russian agents hacked those emails, but the Fox story suggested that Rich was Wikileaks’ source.

The story was quickly discredited (and eventually removed) but nonetheless was the subject of much on-air chatter for a week afterward by Sean Hannity and others. Rich was a DNC tech staffer at the time of his death, and the conspiracy theory posited that his death was a result of the leak, rather than a robbery attempt.

Wheeler, a former Fox News contributor and private detective, separately sued the network for defamation after the story was published, alleging that Zimmerman fabricated quotes attributed to him. That suit was dismissed in 2018.

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted that Zimmerman’s contributions to Fox News’ website ended in late 2017, and a Fox News spokesperson told him that she was no longer with the network.

“The settlement with Fox News closes another chapter in our efforts to mourn the murder of our beloved Seth, whom we miss every single day,” Joel and Mary Rich said in a statement.

“It allows us to move on from the litigation we initiated in response to Fox News’ May 2017 article and televised statements concerning Seth’s murder. We are pleased with the settlement of this matter and sincerely hope that the media will take genuine caution in the future.”

A district judge dismissed Rich’s parent’s suit in 2018, but an appeals court judge reinstated it the following year.

Hannity was set to be deposed in the case in recent months, as were Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and other Fox staffers.

A Fox News spokesperson said in a statement, “We are pleased with the resolution of the claims and hope this enables Mr. and Mrs. Rich to find a small degree of peace and solace moving forward.”

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