Fox News has retracted a controversial story about slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, whom a local network affiliate had falsely accused of being in contact with WikiLeaks before his death.
Fox 5 of DC reported that private investigator Rod Wheeler, who is affiliated with the Rich family, said that before Rich was fatally shot in July, he was in contact with WikiLeaks, the website that was responsible for the release of internal DNC emails last year.
After removing the story from its website, Fox News released a statement saying, “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 article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.”
It continued: “Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed. We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.”
A representative for the Rich family thanked Fox News 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,” Brad Bauman said in a statement to Business Insider. “We are hopeful that in the future that Fox News will work with the family to ensure the highest degree of professionalism and scrutiny is followed so that only accurate facts are reported surrounding this case.”
The Daily Caller also took down its story on the conspiracy surrounding Rich’s murder, titled, “Report: Murdered DNC Staffer Passed Off Documents To Wikileaks.” There is no editor’s note included on the URL page.
In the original story, Wheeler seemed to suggest that the Metropolitan Police Department attempted to cover up the details of Rich’s murder in order to shield the DNC from scrutiny. The police department flatly denied Wheeler’s claim.
When reached for comment by CNN, Wheeler said he personally had no evidence suggesting Rich had been in touch with Wikileaks before his death. “I only got that [information] from the reporter at Fox News,” Wheeler told CNN.
He added that a quote attributed to him in the Fox News story was in reference to information the media had already reported on.
After it was published, the story quickly gained traction with right-wing media outlets, as well as prominent conservative commentators like Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Hannity has consistently pushed the conspiracy theory surrounding Rich’s death since it gained prominence in right wing circles, arguing that Rich’s murder was orchestrated by the DNC, an organization that Hannity has repeatedly slammed as being “corrupt.”
“Congress, investigate Seth Rich Murder!” Hannity tweeted on May 21. “@JulianAssange made comments u need to listen to! If Seth was wiki source, no Trump/Russia collusion.”
“There are still so many questions surrounding the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich…” he tweeted on May 18.
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 22, 2017
Rich’s family blasted right-wing outlets for publishing stories about his death.
“It’s sad but unsurprising that a group of media outlets who have repeatedly lied to the American people would try and manipulate the legacy of a murder victim in order to forward their own political agenda,” Bauman, the Rich family representative, told Business Insider. “I think there is a special place in hell for people like that.”
Maxwell Tani contributed to this report.