Fox News on Tuesday moved to dismiss a controversial lawsuit levying the wild allegation that employees of the 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news network fabricated quotes in a now-retracted article about a murdered Democratic National Committee operative and helped spark a furious round of speculation about Fox News’ role in potentially spreading false information.
In filings made in United States District Court in the Southern District of New York, Fox News and Ed Butowsky and Malia Zimmerman, who were involved in the matter, claim the allegations are “overloaded with sensationalistic allegations,” and suggest “his case is one in search of a viable legal theory.” Fox News also sought to move the matter to arbitration, claiming its agreement with Wheeler required disputes to be handled by mediation.
The filings are the latest twist in a case filled with outlandish charges and counterclaims.
In August, private detective Rod Wheeler filed suit alleging Fox News was working with the Trump administration to disseminate fake news in order to distract the public from Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the nation’s most recent presidential election. Wheeler earlier this year became associated with a now-retracted online report from Fox News Channel that used comments from Wheeler alleging Seth Rich a DNC employee who was killed in Washington, D.C. last July, was linked to a leak of DNC emails by Wikileaks.
Wheeler, who had made an appearance on Fox affiliate WTTG about the situation, subsequently told CNN he had no evidence to support the claims. Fox News host Sean Hannity, who had been discussing the Seth Rich theories on his primetime Fox News program, said in May that he would “cease” talking about the case out of respect for the victim’s family, though he would continue to investigate the matter.
The White House said at the time the suit was filed that President Trump had no knowledge of the story.
The original Fox News posting on the matter lent momentum to right-wing outlets including Breitbart and The Drudge Report, which had suggested with items and links, but little credible evidence, that Rich could have been killed for the leak of DNC emails during last year’s presidential campaign, an act that has largely been attributed to Russian interference.
Citing emails, Fox News’ suit alleges Wheeler was given notice that his comments would be used in the story, and signed off on their use.
Wheeler had sought damages to be determined at trial to compensate him for mental anguish and emotional distress, and loss of earnings from his job.