Joel and Mary Rich filed suit in federal court in New York, seeking unspecified damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and other claims. On May 16, 2017, Fox News published a story on its website asserting that Seth Rich had leaked thousands of emails to Wikileaks before he was shot and killed in July 2016.
The network retracted the story a week later, saying it did not meet the network’s standards. However, the suit alleges that the story fueled a conspiracy theory that continues to cause them harm. For example, they say they still feel compelled to read articles, tweets and internet postings regarding their son, in order to defend him from attacks on his character.
“Defendants’ outrageous conduct prevented them from coming to terms with his murder because they were repeatedly forced to relive it,” the suit states. “Whatever progress they had made in accepting Seth’s death and moving forward was completely derailed by Defendants’ outrageous behavior.”
The lawsuit names the reporter, Malia Zimmerman, and political operative Ed Butowsky as defendants, in addition to the network. It does not name Rod Wheeler, the private investigator who was cited in the retracted story, and who sued Fox last year, alleging he was misquoted.
Asked about the Rich family’s suit, a Fox spokesperson said, “We can’t comment on this pending litigation.”
According to the complaint, Butowsky used the Rich family’s Jewish heritage in order to gain their trust, contacting them through a member of their temple. Butowsky persuaded them to hire Wheeler, who had done work for Fox News, in order to help investigate their son’s murder, the suit claims. The contract barred Wheeler from discussing the case with third parties without the Rich family’s permission. Unbeknownst to them, however, Wheeler was working with Butowsky and Zimmerman on the article at the same time, and Butowsky and Wheeler even briefed White House communications director Sean Spicer on the story’s progress.
Since their son’s murder, the Rich family has consistently had to refute the idea of a connection between Seth and Wikileaks. In the suit, they say they repeatedly told Butowsky that there was no way their son could be connected to the dump of DNC emails. Nevertheless, the suit notes that Butowksy has been quoted saying that the Rich family confirmed to him that their son leaked the emails.
Even after the story fell apart, the suit states that “Fox continued to exploit the sham story because it was good for ratings.”