Fox News paid millions to keep Seth Rich’s family from deposing Sean Hannity about how the network framed the young murder victim for the leaks of DNC emails to WikiLeaks - and to keep news of the settlement secret until after the election. What is Fox trying to hide?
Fox is covering up its shameful role in the Seth Rich smears
In late November, it was revealed that Seth Rich’s parents had settled their lawsuit against Fox. The settlement was reached just in time to keep Hannity, Lou Dobbs and other high-profile Fox figures from testifying, under oath, about their roles in spreading the baseless smears about Rich.
Michael Isikoff, who made a six-part podcast about the Rich conspiracy theory, reported in November that Fox paid “a lucrative seven figure payment to the Rich family consistent with the size of payouts Fox News and related corporate entities have made in other cases that have brought them negative publicity.”
The family deserves every cent of that money. But their settlement should do nothing to stop the rest of us from asking questions or to let Fox off the hook for spreading its poisonous disinformation and treating the grieving Rich family as mere collateral damage in Fox's pro-Trump propaganda mission.
There's a Russia component in the Rich smear campaign
Isikoff notes the group effort to frame Rich (which Fox joined):
[S]hortly after Rich’s death, Russian intelligence agents and right-wing allies of Trump, including longtime political adviser Roger Stone, promoted the idea that Rich was assassinated by gunmen working for Hillary Clinton because of his supposed role in leaking the Democratic Party’s emails.
In fact, Rich had played no role in the leak of DNC emails. Deborah Sines, then the assistant U.S. attorney in Washington who was charged with investigating Rich’s murder, said in the podcast that the claims that Rich had done so were a “complete fabrication.”
Yet as the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election gained steam, and focused in part on potential links to the Trump campaign, Trump’s allies aggressively pushed the Rich story as an alternative narrative.
What did Fox’s Rich settlement have to do with the election?
Yesterday, The New York Times’ Ben Smith asked some of the questions that need to be asked about why Fox wanted to keep the Rich settlement under wraps until after November 3, 2020:
Why did Fox care about keeping the Rich settlement secret for the final month of the Trump re-election campaign? Why was it important to the company, which calls itself a news organization, that one of the biggest lies of the Trump era remain unresolved for that period? Was Fox afraid that admitting it was wrong would incite the president’s wrath? Did network executives fear backlash from their increasingly radicalized audience, which has been gravitating to other conservative outlets?
Fox News and its lawyer, Joe Terry, declined to answer that question when I asked last week. And two people close to the case, who shared details of the settlement with me, were puzzled by that provision, too.
I think it’s also quite possible that Fox didn’t want to bring attention to this shameful episode for fear that it might harm the network’s efforts to help Trump get re-elected. Or to put it another way, this blotch on its record could have inhibited Fox’s ability to shill and lie for Trump (Hunter Biden smear campaign, anyone?) in what the network knew was going to be a tough road to re-election.
Whatever the reason, the behavior is inexcusable. Fox had already publicly retracted its Rich reporting and promised, “We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.” No legitimate news organization would time such important news about its own missteps based on a political calculation that just happens to favor the same guy the disinformation was designed to help.
Did Fox collude with Team Trump To Smear Rich?
If Fox wanted to keep the settlement out of the news until after the election, why not just wait to settle the case until then? I think the answer is obvious: the network wanted to forestall the Hannity and other depositions as well as the public release of documents. Isikoff noted, “In the course of the lawsuit brought by Seth Rich’s parents, Fox News was forced to turn over hundreds of internal emails and documents relating to its story. The documents were sealed but could have become public if the lawsuit proceeded.”
There are ample reasons to suspect collusion in the Rich story: We know that Hannity chats with Trump most nights after his show and has been dubbed Trump’s “unofficial chief of staff.” In 2018, New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi reported, “Hannity admits to advising Trump” and “one person who knows both men said of Hannity … ‘He gives tactical advice versus strategic advice.’” On what planet would Hannity, the chief spreader of the pro-Trump smear, not have discussed the matter with his Bedtime BFF?
Former Fox contributor and former Washington, D.C. detective Rod Wheeler, a source for the original FoxNews.com article framing Rich, has since alleged that the article was “prewritten before I even got involved.” The author of that article, the mysteriously vanished-from-Fox Malia Zimmerman, is “well-known for her close relationships with Republican donors and politicians,” The New Republic has reported. Wheeler has accused Zimmerman of teaming up with Trump supporter and donor Ed Butowsky to cook up the story, in a now-dismissed lawsuit. Wheeler’s legal complaint included a text from Butowsky saying that Trump wanted the “the article out immediately” (Butowsky later claimed he was joking).
Then there’s WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange who has said he was offered a White House pardon if he would say that Russia was not involved in the DNC leaks (even though the Mueller investigation found otherwise).
And what role, if any, did Russia play?
Obviously, Smith is not in a position to suggest collusion without actual evidence. But he stops one step short of that:
The Murdoch organization didn’t originate the lie, but it embraced it, and it served an obvious political purpose: deflecting suspicions of Russian involvement in helping the Trump campaign. That’s why the story was so appealing to Fox hosts like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, who kept hyping it for days after it collapsed under the faintest scrutiny.
I have no idea if Smith suspects collusion between Team Trump and Fox. But he’d be naïve not to.
Below is a good mashup video Media Matters put together showing how Fox promoted the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. It’s from 2019 but it’s still quite relevant.
Hannity image via screen grab)
The fact that they are liars – about everything, and that they are a source of disinformation and propaganda.