A lawsuit filed today alleges that Fox News and Ed Butowsky worked directly with the White House to publish an intentionally fake news story, NPR reports. The story? That the murder of Democratic National Committee aide, Seth Rich, was connected to how Rich had allegedly leaked the Democratic Party emails and not Russian hackers. The implication being that the DNC had Rich murdered to both punish him and blame the leak on the Russians rather than one of their own.
The story was all over Fox News for a week before it was eventually retracted, with Fox News claiming the story didn’t hold up to their internal standards. This was after the story was denounced by the Rich family, D.C. police, Democratic Party officials and even a few Fox journalists. Additionally, the story’s only named source, Rod Wheeler, a former police detective, was hired months earlier on behalf of the Rich family by Ed Butowsky to look into Seth Rich’s death. It is Wheeler who has filed the lawsuit, claiming defamation and that the quotes attributed to him in the story were outright manufactured.
Evidently, a month before the story ran, Wheeler and Butowsky met with Sean Spicer to let him know what they were working on. This is interesting given that the lawsuit shows a voicemail and text from Butowsky claiming that President Trump himself had reviewed the Fox News story before it was published. Butowsky now claims he was “kidding,” and Spicer claims he only did the meeting as a favor to Butowsky. Isn’t great how often people associated with Trump are always kidding and being so accommodating to their friends? Great sense of humor, those guys. Here’s the hilarious text Butowsky sent to Wheeler:
Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you.
Look out, Jim Gaffigan.
Whether Butowsky was joking or not, Douglas Wigdor, Wheeler’s lawyer, asserts that, “Rod Wheeler unfortunately was used as a pawn by Ed Butowsky, Fox News and the Trump administration to try and steer away the attention that was being given about the Russian hacking of the DNC e-mails.”
And indeed, Butowsky sent several emails and texts that appear to advocate for using the story s a way to distance the president from any appearance of Russian collusion. Butowsky sent an email to Fox News producers and hosts coaching them on how to frame the Rich story, according to the lawsuit:
I’m actually the one who’s been putting this together but as you know, I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility. One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion [between] Trump and the Russians.
To Wheeler directly:
[T]he narrative in the interviews you might use is that you and [Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman’s] work prove that the Russians didn’t hack into the DNC and steal the emails and impact our elections…. If you can, try to highlight this puts the Russian hacking story to rest.
Another joke? This guy’s full of them!
Be sure to read the full NPR report for yourself here.
UPDATED Aug 1, 1:32 P.M. EST
Fox News reached out to Paste through a publicist and asked us to print this statement from FOX News Channel’s president of news, Jay Wallace:
The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous. The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, FOX News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit — the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race.