News & Politics

Fox News Finally Retracts Debunked Seth Rich Story

Fox News on Tuesday afternoon removed a widely discredited story it published last week about the murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich, who was fatally shot outside his Northeast DC home last July.

“The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting,” the network wrote on a page in place of the original article. “Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.”

Fox’s story dredged up a conspiracy theory that claims Rich had been a source for Wikileaks, which during last year’s election published a large cache of emails stolen from DNC servers, and was possibly killed as retribution. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly stoked the evidence-free claim, as have users of internet message boards like Reddit and 4chan, all over pleas by Rich’s family to let law enforcement to run its course. DC’s police department has said from the beginning that Rich’s death appears to be the result of a botched robbery.

But that didn’t stop Fox News last week from running a story that leaned on Rod Wheeler, a retired detective and one of the network’s analysts, who claimed that he had evidence connecting Rich to Wikileaks. In addition to its placement on Fox & Friends, the channel’s flagship morning show, a version of the story also ran on Washington Fox network affiliate WTTG. Both the Fox News report and the local version, reported by Marina Maracco, quickly fell apart.

Within hours of airing, Fox’s story was picked apart by Rich’s family, DC Police, and even the FBI, which is not involved in the investigation. Another WTTG reporter also brought up the story during White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer‘s daily briefing; Spicer deferred to local law enforcement. Wheeler then started recanting his participation in the story, saying it was a Fox News reporter who first told him Rich had a connection to Wikileaks.

WTTG backpedaled its version of the story a day after it first aired, but Fox News continued to stand by its obviously thin reporting. Still, WTTG, has not fully retracted its report, and the station’s news director has not responded to questions if it will.

Meanwhile, Fox News host Sean Hannity has hammered away at the conspiracy theory on both his afternoon-radio and prime-time television shows. Reports of Fox News employees being embarrassed by Hannity’s obsession with a discredited story hasn’t deterred the host; on Tuesday night, he plans to feature more unfounded allegations about Rich from Kim Dotcom, the founder of the defunct file-sharing site Megaupload who is currently fighting extradition to the United States.

Rich’s brother, Aaron, wrote to Hannity’s producer, asking to cancel Dotcom’s appearance. But even after Fox News posted its retraction, Hannity was still popping off about Dotcom’s claims on Twitter.

The family would like to thank Fox News for their retraction on a story that has caused deep pain and anguish to the family and has done harm to Seth Rich’s legacy,” Brad Bauman, a spokesman for the Rich family, said in a released statement. “We are hopeful that in the future the Fox News will work with the family to ensure the highest degree of professionally and scrutiny is followed so that only accurate facts are reported surrounding the case.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.