Fox News sued by parents of slain Democratic staffer over conspiracy report

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The parents of a Democratic National Committee employee who was killed in 2016 allege Fox News exploited the slaying of their son as a "political football". However, in the absence of definitive answers, conspiracy theories have proliferated online claiming-without evidence-that Rich was murdered under more suspicious circumstances.

In May, a D.C. Fox station published a report that claimed the staffer's computer showed he had been in touch with WikiLeaks before he died and had leaked thousands of emails to the site. The goal of the story, according to the Riches and Wheeler, was to take political heat off the Trump administration as investigators probed whether Russian-backed hackers leaked the emails to advance his candidacy. The Riches' suit goes on to point to programming on Fox that they claim propagated baseless assertions that their son provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, even after Fox retracted Zimmerman's article a week after its publication.

But Fox News left the story up on its website for days and guests continued to mention the conspiracy theory on its air.

"No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure", Joel and Mary Rich said in a joint statement.

The lawsuit says Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and contributor Ed Butowsky spread "false and fabricated facts" that caused emotional harm. The Riches say in the lawsuit that Butowsky convinced them to accept Wheeler's help as a private investigator after assuring them that Wheeler would share his findings only with them.

To that end, Leonard A. Gail, the attorney representing the Rich family, said in a statement that "Joel and Mary Rich have brought this case" to hold the defendants "accountable for their reprehensible actions".

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In October, Rod Wheeler, a former Fox News commentator who is quoted in the Zimmerman article, filed his own defamation lawsuit against the news organization, Butowsky and Zimmerman, claiming among other things that the two individuals used fake quotes attributed to him.

A Fox News spokesperson noted to TPM that Butowsky was never actually a Fox News contributor.

The lawsuit claims that Joel and Mary are experiencing symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and Mary is experiencing symptoms consistent with Social Anxiety Disorder.

The complaint lists causes of action that include intentional infliction of emotional distress, aiding and abetting intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy to commit intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Butowsky called the lawsuit "one of the dumbest" he'd ever seen in an interview with ABC News. "Rich should come forward and be honest with people".