Fox News sued by family of dead Democratic employee

A Fox News channel sign is seen on a television vehicle outside the News Corporation building in New York City in New York

Fox News said Tuesday that it could not comment on pending litigation.

The May 2017 Fox News article peddled incorrect theories that Rich was murdered because he was connected to the WikiLeaks release of 20,000 DNC emails, which occurred after his death. The objective of the story, according to the Riches and Wheeler, was to take political heat off the Trump administration as investigators probed whether Russian-backed hackers leaked the emails to advance his candidacy.

Rich was shot in the back in D.C.in July 2016 while employed by the Democratic National Committee, and law enforcement classified the death as a botched robbery.

In the lawsuit, which was first obtained by ABC News, Rich's parents "claim that Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and frequent guest Ed Butowsky reached out to the family under false pretenses".

ABC News reported the lawsuit argues that Zimmerman and Butowsky are liable for damages because of the "intentional infliction of emotional distress" the story caused.

"No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure", Joel and Mary Rich said in a statement provided to media outlets.

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Zimmerman and Butowsky published a story on May 16, 2017 claiming they spoke with multiple sources who had confirmed the conspiracy theory.

Fox News claimed to have confirmation from two sources that Rich was a WikiLeaks informant. However, in the absence of definitive answers, conspiracy theories have proliferated online claiming-without evidence-that Rich was murdered under more suspicious circumstances. The story was heavily promoted by Fox News host Sean Hannity and other conservative pundits such as Alex Jones, whose website Infowars has also promoted conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook shootings and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In the lawsuit, Joel and Mary Rich claim Butowsky reached out to them deceitfully by suggesting they hire former homicide detective Rod Wheeler to look into their son's murder. Unbeknownst to the family, however, Wheeler was working on an article about Rich's death with Butowsky and Zimmerman.

A tape recording of a three-way call with Zimmerman, Wheeler and Butowsky that NPR has verified showed Zimmerman conceding that Wheeler never said "my investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks", but that her bosses told her to keep his quotes in the story.

To that end, Leonard A. Gail, the attorney representing the Rich family, said in a statement that "Joel and Mary Rich have brought this case" to hold the defendants "accountable for their reprehensible actions". It does not name Rod Wheeler, the private investigator who was cited in the retracted story, and who sued Fox past year, alleging he was misquoted.