A judge in New York has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the parents of Seth Rich against Fox News. The judged expressed sympathy for the defendants but said they ultimately didn’t have a case. From Variety:
In his ruling on Thursday, Judge George Daniels found that the complaint failed to satisfy the elements required under federal law.
“It is understandable that Plaintiffs might feel that their grief and personal loss were taken advantage of, and that the tragic death of their son was exploited for political purposes,” Daniels wrote. “However, a general allegation that Defendants had an ‘agreement to collaborate against’ Plaintiffs cannot form the basis of an IIED claim. … Plaintiffs’ complaint is dismissed in its entirety.”…
Were he alive, Seth Rich might have grounds for a defamation claim. But Joel and Mary Rich were not defamed in the article, and in order to prove infliction of emotional distress, they had to meet a higher burden, namely that the network’s conduct was “extreme and outrageous.” Daniels ruled that the network’s behavior did not rise to that level.
Rich was murdered in Washington, D.C. and rumors began circulating on Reddit that he had been the source of the material Wikileaks had from the DNC and that he had been murdered because of that. Wikileaks, eager to deny that it had received the material from Russian hackers, poured fuel on the fire by offering $20,000 for information on Rich’s death. Julian Assange then went on TV and suggested, without really saying, that Rich could have been his source. This is from August 2016:
Host: The stuff that you’re sitting on, is an October surprise in there?
Julian Assange: WikiLeaks never sits on material. Our whistle-blowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks. There’s a 27-year-old, uh, works for the DNC who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the streets in Washington.
Host: That was just a robbery I believe, wasn’t it?
Assange: No. There’s no finding.
Host: What are you suggesting, what are you suggesting?
Assange: I am suggesting that our sources take risks and they are…they become concerned to see things occurring like that.
Host: But was he one of your sources then? I mean…
Assange: We don’t comment on who are sources are.
Host: But why make the suggestion about a young guy being shot in the streets of Washington?
Assange: Because we have to understand how high the stakes are in the United States and that our sources are…our sources face serious risks, that’s why they come to us so we can protect their anonymity.
Host: But it’s quite something to suggest a murder, that’s basically what you’re doing.
Assange: Well, others have suggested that.
In May of 2017, Fox News published a story claiming Rich had been in contact with Wikileaks before his death, but that claim quickly fell apart. From CNN:
[Fox News reporter Malia] Zimmerman’s story said Rod Wheeler, a private investigator and Fox News contributor hired by Butowsky to look into Rich’s death, had learned that Wikileaks had been in contact with Rich prior to his death. The story suggested without real evidence that Rich had leaked a trove of DNC emails to Wikileaks and further suggested that his death, which police suspect was a botched robbery, was retribution for the supposed leak.
Within hours, however, the Fox News story fell apart when Wheeler, who is now suing Fox News over the story, told CNN he had no evidence to suggest Rich had contacted Wikileaks before his death.
Rich’s parents wrote that they were suffering immensely from the false stories circulating in the media:
Seth’s death has been turned into a political football. Every day we wake up to new headlines, new lies, new factual errors, new people approaching us to take advantage of us and Seth’s legacy. It just won’t stop. The amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.
So Fox News got the story wrong and retracted it about a week later. That’s a screw-up but it’s apparently not enough to prove intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hopefully, today’s decision won’t start a new round of this nonsense. Rich’s parents have been through enough.