News & Politics

Fox 5 Issues “Clarification” But Does Not Retract Debunked Seth Rich Story

On Fox 5’s 10 o’clock newscast on Wednesday, Marina Marraco made an “important clarification” to the story she ran connecting Seth Rich to WikiLeaks. Rod Wheeler, the station’s lone source, had backtracked—telling Fox 5 that his on-camera statements were the result of a “miscommunication.” As Washingtonian reported yesterday, Wheeler’s story makes no sense.

More interesting, is Fox 5’s decision not to retract the story–it was the station’s responsibility to verify Wheeler’s claims, after all. An editor’s note runs at the top of it instead. On Wednesday, the Rich family requested that Fox 5 pull the story immediately.

The family’s spokesman Brad Bauman told DCist:  “At this point, with the body of evidence that is out there, and with the private investigator thoroughly recanting his story, it shows a complete lack of journalistic integrity for them to continue running this story.” If the story is not retracted, Bauman said “we will be looking into other ways we can compel Fox 5 to do the right thing. At this point, everything is on the table.”

Fox 5’s backpedaling came after Wheeler, a Fox News contributor who is working as a private investigator for the Rich family, told CNN he has no evidence for his claim. He said all his information came from a reporter at Fox News. This conflicts with what he told Fox 5 on Monday. When asked by Fox 5 if he had sources tieing Rich to WikiLeaks, Wheeler said: “Absolutely. Yeah. That’s confirmed.” (Fox 5’s original story did not mention that Wheeler is a Fox News contributor.)

Wheeler’s history of making unsubstantiated claims should have raised concerns at Fox 5. In a 2007 appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s show, he claimed in a news report that lesbian gangs armed with pink pistols were raping and terrorizing people across the United States and that the DC area had more than 150 of such gangs. Asked for evidence of this claim, Wheeler was “unable, in several phone and E-mail exchanges over a two-day period, to specify a single law enforcement agency or officer, police report, media account or any other source he relied upon for his D.C. area lesbian gangs claim,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported. “But he insisted that his report was accurate and that any law enforcement officer who disagrees is ‘out of touch.’”

Nevertheless, Fox 5 used him as the only source for an explosive story bound to infuriate the Rich family and ignite the conspiratorial imaginations of alt-right trolls. The Rich’s spokesman told Fox 5 that “The family has relayed their deep disappointment with Rod Wheeler’s conduct over the last 48 hours, and is exploring legal avenues to the family.”

Fox 5 has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Editorial fellow

Noah Lanard is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, he freelanced for the Guardian, Fusion, and Vice in Mexico City. He was born in DC, grew up in New Jersey, and went to college in Montreal.