The parents of murdered Capitol Hill staffer Seth Rich are suing Fox News for emotional distress, claiming its coverage of the crime painted their son as a traitor and has prevented them from properly dealing with his death.
Rich was shot in the back in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 while employed by the Democratic National Committee, and law enforcement classified the death as a botched robbery. On May 16, 2017, Fox News ran a story alleging that the staffer had leaked thousands of internal DNC emails to WikiLeaks. The story went viral and sparked theories that the alleged leak and Rich’s death were connected.
The Washington Post then published an op-ed written by Rich’s parents, who asked the conservative media to “stop politicizing” their son’s death. Fox retracted its article that day, and host Sean Hannity said he’d stop discussing the situation “for now.”
At the time, legal experts who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter doubted the dispute would result in a lawsuit because the dead can’t be defamed, and prior attempts by other plaintiffs to creatively plead around that claim have failed.
On Tuesday, however, Joel and Mary Rich took a shot. They sued Fox News, as well as reporter Malia Zimmerman and guest Ed Butowsky. The couple claims they have become “collateral damage” in a political war.
“No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure,” they said in a Tuesday statement. “The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son’s life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension.”
The couple is suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims, and say they’ve experienced post-traumatic stress disorder because of the situation. (Read the complaint below.)
The story also sparked a defamation lawsuit from former D.C. homicide detective and Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, who claimed quotes in the piece were misattributed to him.
Joel and Mary Rich claim Fox and Butowsky convinced them to hire Wheeler to solve their son’s murder but in reality worked with the ex-cop to develop a fictional story that painted their son as a traitor. They’re also suing for tortious interference with contract and negligent supervision, claiming their agreement with Wheeler barred him from discussing the case in the media without their permission.
Fox News declined comment, citing pending litigation.