US & Canada

Fox retracts Seth Rich murder conspiracy

Seth Rich Image copyright LinkedIn

Fox News has retracted a report about a US Democratic party employee whose murder last year has fuelled a right-wing conspiracy theory.

The cable network's report made an unsubstantiated link between Seth Rich's death and Wikileaks' leak of hacked DNC emails.

The victim's own family have debunked the report, imploring Fox News to stop reporting it.

Mr Rich, 27, was shot dead in Washington DC, last year.

Police say evidence suggests the former Democratic National Committee (DNC) staff member was the victim of a botched robbery. No arrest has been made.

'Fake news story'

On Tuesday, Fox deleted its story, but said it would continue investigating his death.

Image copyright Courtesy of the Rich family
Image caption The 27-year-old was shot dead in in Washington, DC, last year

"On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich," the network said in a statement.

"The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.

"Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed."

Mr Rich was shot in the back on 10 July last year in the north-west of the city at the Bloomingdale neighbourhood, where residents have reported a spate of gunpoint robberies.

Following his death, some right-wing media suggested his killing was revenge by figures linked to the Hillary Clinton campaign for allegedly leaking embarrassing DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Wikileaks itself fuelled the conspiracy theory by offering a reward for the capture of Mr Rich's killer and hinting that he may have been the source of the emails.

No evidence has emerged to indicate that Mr Rich provided the emails to the anti-secrecy organisation.

Fox News this month published and aired reports on Washington affiliate WTTG-TV, citing Rod Wheeler, a contributor to the cable network and private investigator, who said he was being paid by the Rich family to look into the murder.

He said evidence showed Mr Rich was in contact with Wikileaks before his death.

The Rich family rejected his claim and released a statement through a spokesman saying: "Anyone who continues to push this fake news story after it was so thoroughly debunked is proving to the world they have a transparent political agenda or are a sociopath."

WTTG-TV later retracted the report, acknowledging Mr Wheeler had no evidence to support the claim. However, the story initially remained on Fox's website.

Mr Wheeler told CNN the source for his assertion was a reporter at Fox News.

The Rich family sent Mr Wheeler a cease-and-desist letter and threatened legal action if he continued to discuss the case.

But Fox News host Sean Hannity continued to fan the conspiracy theory on his show, prompting the family to write a letter urging the programme to stop disseminating the claims.

Mr Hannity defended his decision to continue promoting the story on Twitter on Tuesday, suggesting an online entrepreneur, Kim Dotcom, can back up the claim.

Mr Dotcom, who is currently fighting extradition to the US from New Zealand on copyright infringement and money laundering charges, said he has evidence to support the conspiracy theory.

Brad Bauman, a spokesman for the Rich family, told CNN they were grateful for the retraction.

"The family would like to thank Fox News for their retraction on a story that has caused deep pain and anguish to the family and has done harm to Seth Rich's legacy," he said.

"We are hopeful that in the future Fox News will work with the family to ensure the highest degree of professionally and scrutiny is followed so that only accurate facts are reported serving this case."