Fox News Editors Believe Their Anonymous Source for Seth Rich Article May Not Exist: Report

Fox News Editors Believe Their Anonymous Source for Seth Rich Article May Not Exist: Report

Fox News executives were unable to determine if an anonymous “federal investigator” used as the major source for an article pushing a conspiracy theory about the murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich even existed.

That revelation comes from the blockbuster story from Michael Isikoff about the way Rich’s death, which occurred when he was shot during what was likely a botched mugging in 2016, was used by Russian intelligence services and right-wing propagandists to deflect attention from how stolen internal DNC documents likely came into the possession of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks that summer.

Investigations have long determined the documents were stolen by Russian hackers and given to WikiLeaks to be released at strategic points during the summer and fall of 2016 to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and boost Donald Trump.

The Isikoff story and accompanying podcast traces how just a few days after Rich was killed on July 13, 2016, Russian intelligence tried to cover its role in the theft by generating a fake report claiming he had been murdered by a hit squad sent by Clinton to exact revenge on the young man for allegedly stealing the documents and giving them to WikiLeaks.

This rumor soon began circulating on the right, which was desperate for any reason to smear Clinton. This desperation became even more acute after Trump’s inauguration, when the FBI and then special counsel Robert Mueller were investigating whether the president’s campaign had conspired with Russians to steal and spread the stolen DNC documents.

In May of 2017, Fox News’ website published its story, which claimed that FBI computer forensics specialists had found evidence on Rich’s laptop that he had stolen the documents. The story relied on two sources: a one-time Washington, D.C. homicide detective named Rod Wheeler and an anonymous “federal investigator.”

Fox retracted the story after eight days, partly because Wheeler backed off of claims that he had gotten his information about the Rich investigation from FBI sources.  The network then began an investigation of the story to determine if it held up.

According to Isikoff:

“’Conspiracyland’ quotes a source familiar with the network’s investigation saying that Fox executives grew frustrated they were unable to determine the identity of the other, and more important, source for the story: an anonymous “federal investigator” whose agency was never revealed. The Fox editors came to have doubts that the person was in fact who he claimed to be or whether the person actually existed, said the source.”

The Rich conspiracy theory was not limited to one story, of course. Fox News personalities, particularly Sean Hannity, pushed the story relentlessly for months. All of it, apparently, came from a fake report generated by Russian intelligence.

The Rich family is suing Fox, among others, over its pushing of the conspiracy theory. The network cited the litigation as reason to not comment on the story.

Gary Legum

Gary Legum has written about politics and culture for Independent Journal Review, Salon, The Daily Beast, Wonkette, AlterNet and McSweeney's, among others. He currently lives in his native state of Virginia.