Parents of slain DNC staffer sue Fox News for alleged distress caused by retracted WikiLeaks story

Fox News

SlayStorm /

The parents of a murdered staffer for the Democratic National Committee have filed a suit against Fox News that claims a false story about their son intentionally exploited their tragedy and caused them significant emotional distress.

Joel and Mary Rich filed suit Tuesday over the retracted story that had claimed their son, Seth Rich, had leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Intelligence officials have concluded Russia hacked and leaked the emails, while law enforcement has attributed Rich’s July 2016 murder to a botched robbery. The Washington Post and the New York Law Journal have coverage.

The suit claims intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision of Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman and paid investigator Rod Wheeler, and tortious interference with a contract between Wheeler and the Riches.

“Joel and Mary Rich, grieving parents of a murdered child, seek justice for having become collateral damage in a political war to which they are innocent bystanders,” the suit says. The Fox News story stemmed from a “fringe conspiracy theory” that was a “fiction” and a “sham,” according to the suit.

The Riches are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and Mary Rich has symptoms of social anxiety disorder, the suit says. The symptoms are triggered “by the constant stream of news coverage making false accusations and maligning their son.”

Wheeler sued Fox News last year, claiming he misquoted in the discredited story. Wheeler had alleged the story was concocted with the help of a wealthy supporter of President Donald Trump, Ed Butowsky, to discredit intelligence reports that Russians had hacked Democratic National Committee emails.

Fox News said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation. Zimmerman and Butowsky are also defendants.

Butowsky told the National Law Journal he didn’t write the article and it was frivolous to sue him over it. He said he was merely trying to help the Riches, and Joel Rich was initially happy with the story.

Updated on March 15 to report Fox News statement that it can’t comment on pending litigation.

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