Family of slain DNC staffer sues Fox News over retracted story

Seth Rich was shot and killed in Washington, D.C., in July 2016.

March 13, 2018, 9:43 PM

The family of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who was killed in 2016, has filed a lawsuit against Fox News, an investigative reporter and one of the network's frequent guests over a story about Rich and allegations that he was involved in a conspiracy, according to the lawsuit.

Rich was shot and killed in Washington, D.C., in July 2016. Police said he was shot several times in the back and later died at a local hospital. Rich was 27 years old and worked as a voter-expansion data director for the DNC at the time.

The May 16, 2017, Fox News article, which allegedly contained "false and fabricated facts," according to the lawsuit, fueled conspiracy theories that Rich was murdered in connection with a massive WikiLeaks data dump of 20,000 DNC emails days after his death.

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."

The Rich family claims that the “defendants’ conduct was extreme and outrageous” in what they allege was a deliberate effort to portray Seth Rich as a “criminal and traitor to the United States.”

“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 joint statement.

Leonard A. Gail of Massey & Gail LLP, a lawyer representing the Riches, said: “Joel and Mary Rich have brought this case to hold Fox News, Fox reporter Zimmerman, and political operative and Fox News contributor Butowsky, accountable for their reprehensible actions. 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."

Butowsky called the lawsuit "one of the dumbest" he'd ever seen in an interview with ABC News. “Mr. and Mrs. Rich should come forward and be honest with people,” he said, adding that he's reached out to them repeatedly to tell what he claims to be the truth.

“Nobody’s benefited from anything," he added. "To file a lawsuit to say that anybody has benefited just smells weird.”

Fox News told ABC News it had not seen the complaint yet and therefore would not comment.

ABC News has reached out to Zimmerman, but did not immediately hear back.

PHOTO: Seth Rich is seen in this undated Linkedin profile picture.
Seth Rich is seen in this undated Linkedin profile picture.

Fox News retracted the story in late May 2017.

"On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich," Fox News said in a statement at the time. "The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.

"We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted."

The U.S. intelligence community stated in October 2016 that the Russian government was behind the DNC email hacks blamed on Seth Rich in the retracted news report. Officials this week said they have not changed the intelligence assessment about the Kremlin-directed effort.

Joel Rich told ABC News shortly after his son's death that police told the family Seth Rich may have been a victim of a robbery but that none of his belongings were missing.

His murder remains unsolved.