On July 10, 2016, early in the morning, a young Democratic Party staffer named Seth Rich was shot and killed, causing his parents an unimaginable amount of pain.
Within a matter of days, Joel and Mary Rich were forced to suffer an additional blow that was beyond their comprehension: the proliferation of a cottage industry of conspiracy theories and blatant falsehoods surrounding the life and loss of their son. The Washington, District of Columbia, police were unable to determine who had k i l l e d him, and there was an absence of credible information. The internet was rife with inflammatory commentary, harmful conjecture, and false allegations about Seth, all of which found a welcoming home on various Fox News broadcasts.
According to Joel Rich is saying, “We’re completely beyond ourselves.” “With all the worldwide news and all the national media, how do you live with that when you know it’s all wrong about your son and his legacy?” “How do you live with that when you know it’s all false about your son and his legacy?”
Our conversation is the first public statement that the Riches have made since reaching a settlement in the fall of 2020 with the Fox News Channel and its parent company, Fox Corp., regarding the latter’s role in spreading those false claims. The Riches and Fox Corp. agreed to keep the terms of the settlement confidential. They are not permitted to directly discuss Fox or any of its celebrities in accordance with the rules of that agreement.
It is possible to bring conspiracy beliefs under control, as shown by the Riches’ story, but doing so does not come without sacrifice, particularly in terms of the emotional toll. Even many years later, the damage that Fox caused to the Riches continues to be felt, and a large portion of the blame can be placed on Fox. The network has decided to stop discussing Seth Rich for the time being. However, there are few indications that Fox will be corrected in a more general sense. Fox News has not stopped inviting guests on its shows who believe in conspiracy theories despite the fact that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, who oversee the firm’s parent corporation, are the ultimate executives of the network. Some of its most well-known personalities are outspoken in their support of fraudulent claims that have been thoroughly debunked.
“We have declared from Day 1 that we would follow the truth and whoever delivers the truth, we will follow that road,” Mary Rich adds. “We will follow the truth and whoever provides the truth, we will follow that path.” “There hasn’t been anything to follow up on thus far.”
Requests for interviews with Fox News and its president, Jay Wallace, who is in charge of the journalism on the network, were turned down for this particular piece. In addition, Fox refused to respond to comprehensive questions that were sent to Fox at the company’s request and delivered many days before the piece was published.
Mary Rich believes that after Seth’s loss, their family became “a piece in the game.”
Following Seth’s passing, the Riches received several offers of assistance from a variety of individuals. Some people have secret reasons for their actions. According to a sworn deposition, a man who has connections to Fox News and who made a promise to the Riches that he would help them solve their son’s m u r d er later plotted to hack their computers and tap their phones in order to discover “the truth” about Seth. This man’s promise was made to the Riches.
Both Joel and Mary Rich agree that finding out about it was a whole new nightmare.
Mary Rich explains that when you hear the news, your first reaction is “Oh my God, it just can’t be.” “And you’ve been taken advantage of. You are a complete and utter fool. You’re nothing more than a pawn in this game. And throughout the day, I keep wondering, Who is going to bother us? What is that’s going to hit us? That is how I shall forever feel.”
A failed armed robbery at gunpoint is what the police think led to the loss of Seth Rich, according to their statements.
Our conversation took place at a property in a city where the couple has a second residence that they acquired via Airbnb. They made this decision in order to protect the confidentiality of their family. They are genuine, unrefined, and kind, and they embrace me when we finally meet one another in person for the first time. They converse while sitting next to one another on a cushy sofa, gazing at one another with affection and sometimes with melancholy while they do so. They often complete one another’s sentences.
Following Seth’s loss, those with ties to the administration of the former President Donald Trump depicted him like an irate follower of Bernie Sanders. They spread the false idea that he had illegally obtained thousands of emails and supplied them to WikiLeaks in an effort to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming the next president of the United States. They implied that Clinton and the Democrats were behind the plot to have him killed. And that the Riches family itself was involved in some kind of elaborate cover-up. Julian Assange, the creator of WikiLeaks, stoked the accusations further, with the assistance of radical websites like Gateway Pundit.
This was not the case at all. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, the intelligence services of both the Obama and Trump administrations and the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by Republicans, all came to the conclusion that the Russian government used hackers to interfere with elections in the United States. The lies, however, assisted in diverting attention away from the mounting evidence that the Russian government had meddled in Trump’s election victory.
As Trump rose to prominence, Fox attempted to harness the fervor and enthusiasm of Trump’s supporters for use in the network’s own programming. And the channel was, by far, the most crucial and powerful factor in advancing the Seth Rich conspiracy theory; the Riches’ interactions with Fox were many and, inevitably, unpleasant.
Fox stars such as Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and Eric Bolling, as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a contributor to Fox News, were among those who made the unsubstantiated claim that Seth Rich had been the leaker and that he had been killed as a result of the disclosures. Fox broadcast the allegations without offering any proof to back them up, and they issued a gloomy warning that his m u r d e r may have been the work of Democrats.
Joel Rich disproves each and every theory of a plot involving his kid by asserting, “They didn’t know him.”
Before the election of 2016, Mary and Joel Rich had a secluded life in Omaha, Nebraska, and their only link to the political climate of the country was the dreams of their younger son, who was a political activist. Mary handled advertising sales teams prior to the couple’s retirement, while Joel oversaw commercial sales for a number of printing enterprises that he owned.
His mother and father recall that Seth had a big open heart and was accepting of everyone. He was able to get the whole section cheering whenever he went to a baseball game. They claim that he donned a completely red, white, and blue suit on one July Fourth out of patriotism; there was no hint of irony or kitsch in his choice of attire.
When he was in high school, he would stay up late and watch legislative discussions on C-SPAN. Later, while attending Creighton University in Omaha, he realized that politics was his true vocation. By July of 2016, he was working as a member of the staff of the Democratic National Committee, where he was focusing on finding methods to make better use of data to assist the Democrats in increasing voter engagement. He was 27 years old. According to the Riches, though, he did not prefer any of the party’s candidates for the presidential election. They believe that after Clinton won the primary, Seth Rich was excited about heading to Brooklyn to work at her campaign headquarters, despite the fact that he was apprehensive about leaving his fiancée behind in Washington, D.C.
Mary Rich refers to the following passage that may be found in Seth’s employment acceptance letter: “What a source of pride it was for him “to be able to work to make a difference,” he said. Those are the adjectives that best describe who my kid was “she adds. These phrases are also engraved on his tombstone at the cemetery.
“He wanted to make a difference,” Joel Rich explains in a calming tone of voice.
Mary Rich keeps reiterating that “He wanted to make a difference.”
Since his passing, the Riches have been able to draw strength from their community in Omaha, which includes both their friends and their synagogue. They told me that they talked with me in order to respect his memory. They also had a conversation with the creators of the upcoming documentary series for Netflix titled “Web of Make Believe,” which is set to premiere on Wednesday. (I acted in the capacity of a consultant producer on the episode of the show that was centered on Seth Rich.)
The Metropolitan Police Department’s investigation into who killed Seth eventually came to a dead end. The Riches did not own a significant amount of personal riches and did not have many contacts to advance the case. They gladly accepted the assistance that was offered by unknown individuals.
“Having lived in Omaha and knowing that people — if they reach out to try to assist you — that they mean it,” Joel Rich says, “we were probably a bit more naïve and trusting.” “We were definitely a little more gullible and trusting,”
Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman, who was one of the people who contracted out, offered a reward of one hundred thousand dollars for information that led to an arrest. He took advantage of the spotlight to spread rumors about a possible conspiracy behind Seth’s loss When Burkman performed a simulation of the fatal gunshot, the Riches distanced themselves from the situation because they were continuously obliged to face questions from the media regarding each new accusation made by Burkman.
Joel Rich recalls that they made the statement that “this type of support is benefiting him more than it is helping us.”
Ed Butowsky, who is a contributor for Fox News and a financial manager, was one among the many people who offered assistance to the Riches when they fled from Burkman. He volunteered to pay for the services of a private investigator in order to assist them in solving the mystery at his own cost. Butowsky exerted pressure on the private investigator, who was also a commentator for Fox News, to develop evidence that Seth Rich had fed the emails to WikiLeaks as a means of removing any taint of Russian involvement in Trump’s victory. This was done without the private investigator’s clients’ knowledge.
Butowsky informed me during a conversation that he conducted in the month of August 2017 that he felt he was assisting the Riches by demonstrating that their son was a whistleblower against Clinton and the Democrats. On the contrary, they expressed fury.
When I asked Mary Rich about the probe at the time, she told me that “this entire blown-up BS has taken the focus off the ball.” “That just brings me to my knees because they’ve ruined so much of trying to find out who his killer is,” she said. “That just buckles me to the knees.”
The groundless theories were given new life thanks to a piece on Fox.
Fox News published an article written by one of its investigative reporters, Malia Zimmerman, in May 2017, claiming that Seth Rich had been linked to the leak. The article used anonymous law enforcement sources to support its assertions. Rich had passed away some months before. The narrative gave their assertions a new lease of life and gave them the appearance of having weight. Immediately, the Riches voiced their objections.
According to prior reports by NPR, Butowsky had been working behind the scenes to craft the narrative of the event. He made it possible for the private investigator to be a significant source for Zimmerman’s account of the events.
Butowsky wrote in an email to the hosts and producers at Fox News advising them on how to frame the story, “I’m actually the one who has been putting this together, but as you know, I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility.” This was in response to their question about how to present the story. “One of the most important inferences we need to make from this is that the Russians did not get into our computer systems and steal emails and that there was no cooperation between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.”
The news report sparked a heated debate on the programs of Fox News and other channels that are affiliated with the conservative media.
The private investigator almost immediately denied responsibility for the comments that were attributed to him. After waiting a week, Fox decided to withdraw the article. Later on, the network severed its links with its reporter after it severed its relations with its commentators (Butowsky and investigator Rod Wheeler) (Zimmerman). A senior editor for the website of Fox News who was engaged in the process of vetting the item will also be leaving the network.
Fox never provided the Riches with an explanation or an apology.
In spite of the fact that it said in the statement that it was withdrawing Zimmerman’s article and that it would “continue to investigate this issue and give updates as needed,” Fox never released any more information on the passing of Seth Rich.
Fox has never provided an explanation as to where they went wrong as journalists, despite the fact that all litigation over their debunked narrative have been resolved. (Fox previously declined to speak to NPR and others, citing all of the connected lawsuits as the reason for their decision.) Fox has never publicly said, for example, if it obtained confirmation that the federal law enforcement sources Zimmerman described actually existed. This is despite the fact that Fox has had sufficient opportunity to investigate this matter. The questions that NPR asked Zimmerman about his comments were left unanswered.
Fox News never issued a public apology to the Riches, despite the fact that they reported erroneous statements regarding the Riches’ deceased son. Instead, it restricted its public remark to the “hope” that the Riches find some “peace and consolation” as a result of their settlement agreement. (By comparison, Rupert Murdoch personally apologized to the family of a deceased British girl whose phone his British newspaper hacked into, and both parties recognized the apology soon after it was delivered.)
Butowsky has vehemently condemned Fox for withdrawing their support for the story and has been looking for evidence. Butowsky, along with a blogger called Matt Couch who expanded on Butowsky’s ideas and earned money online from the m u r d e r, alleged that Seth’s older brother Aaron Rich was also engaged in leaking to WikiLeaks, according to a lawsuit that was filed after the incident. Butowsky’s assertions were also used in an editorial article written by a retired admiral and published in The Washington Times.
According to Joel and Mary Rich, it is an absurd claim on every conceivable level. Aaron worked in the field of technology and did not participate in party politics. According to the Riches, he was a jokester who enjoyed making fun of his younger brother. In the event that he got married, Seth would serve as the best man.
According to Mary Rich, after the students graduated from college, it was clear that they were beginning to consider having a life and a family. She claims that they discussed the possibility of their children playing together in the future.
As a result of legal action, a deposition is taken about an extensive plan to observe the distressed parents.
A flurry of legal action was brought about as a result of all these claims about Seth Rich and the Rich family. Wheeler initiated legal action against Butowsky, Zimmerman, and Fox. The lawsuit was filed by Joel and Mary Rich against Fox, Zimmerman, and Butowsky. Mr. Rich filed a lawsuit against Mr. Butowsky, Mr. Couch, and The Washington Times. Butowsky filed a lawsuit against me, NPR, and other media for reporting on his actions. He also sued other journalists. Additionally, other lawsuits were initiated. (The lawsuit that was filed against NPR and me was ultimately thrown out, and NPR did not have to admit any wrongdoing or make any compensation; the organization completely stands behind its reporting.)
In addition, as a consequence of the dispute, some alarming facts came to light. A consultant named Thomas Andrew Schoenberger, who had formed a digital reputation restoration company that promised “decentralized discreet solutions,” was examined under oath by the attorneys representing Aaron Rich in his legal action. Butowsky was the one who hired the company that went by the name ShadowBox. He subsequently said that he was inspired to do so by NPR’s unwelcome scrutiny of him for his participation in Fox’s debunked tale about Seth Rich. Seth Rich was a former employee of Fox News.
Under oath, Schoenberger testified about a meeting that took place at Butowsky’s home in Plano, Texas, in September 2017, several months after the story was retracted by Fox and several weeks after Wheeler’s lawsuit was filed against Fox and Butowsky. The meeting was attended by Schoenberger and Butowsky.
At the meeting, in addition to Schoenberger, those who were there included his partner in ShadowBox, Zimmerman, and Couch. According to the testimony provided by Schoenberger, Butowsky told him that he wanted Schoenberger and his accomplice to install listening devices in a van, drive it to Omaha, and eavesdrop on Riches.
According to the testimony of Schoenberger, “he wanted the phones, the computer, and the cellphones tapped, regardless of where a room in the house it was.” “He said that he want for there to be so little noise in the kitchen that a pin could be heard dropping.” According to the testimony provided by Schoenberger, Butowsky also inquired about the Riches’ bank accounts and how to access them.
Early in the year 2020, Butowsky gave an interview to The Daily Beast in which he denied having asked the Riches for permission to spy on them but did disclose that the meeting had taken place. According to a story by The Daily Beast, three individuals who were there at the meeting acknowledged that they discussed the prospect of listening in on the Riches’ conversation.
There is not a single shred of evidence to suggest that any such eavesdropping took place.
Butowsky did not respond to NPR’s request for comment about either the meeting or the discussion of eavesdropping. Instead, he made disparaging remarks about Schoenberger and provided a link to a web article that claimed Schoenberger had connections to QAnon.
The Riches were taken aback when they learned that a person who had assured them he would assist them may have been more interested in gathering information on them.
Joel Rich states that as a result, “it has affected how you behave, who you will listen to, and what you do while you are at home.” “Do you plan on going to the store? And this is only one example of the harm that may be caused by these schemes.”
In 2018, The Washington Times issued an apology to Aaron Rich and his family for publishing an opinion piece that relied on Butowsky’s statements. The piece in question had been written by Butowsky.
Butowsky issued an apology to Aaron Rich and the Riches through Twitter in January 2021, saying, “I never had tangible evidence to back up any such remarks or assertions, which I now admit I should not have made.” Couch expressed regret as well. They placed the apologies in a prominent location on Twitter and left them there for many months.
The deal does not prevent Fox News from spreading fresh conspiracies and rumors of conspiracy.
According to Michael Gottlieb, who represented Aaron Rich in legal matters, took rumors and innuendo that existed in the dark parts of the internet and took it and mainstreamed it.” It was emphasized in every location.
According to him, “it definitely had a catastrophic impact on the Rich family and everything they know about their entire existence and the things they’ve been through.”
The Rich parents, Joel and Mary, claim that they have advocated for their child. However, his reputation has been ruined as a result of the outlandish theories that have been fabricated about him in order to further his personal and ideological goals.
In Jewish custom, the names of deceased family members or friends are often given to newborn children. Mary Rich adds that Seth if he were still alive, “would have been very thrilled to have a kid named after him.” She goes on to say that this will never take place.
She claims that if you were to be born with the name Seth Rich, you would be subjected to harassment for the whole of your life. Even if you were an infant and didn’t know anything at all about any of this, you would still have to put up with the harassment.
In spite of the fact that Fox News reached a deal with the Riches, the network has not refrained from spreading false assertions about other topics that are of significant concern to the public. Fox is now engaged in a legal battle against two voting technology firms seeking multibillion-dollar damages for defamation for erroneous accusations of voter fraud in the 2020 elections that were broadcast on Fox. (Fox News has said that it was just broadcasting important public conflicts between public people, including Trump, in its defense), Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ most prominent personality, has been a proponent of conspiracy theories that have been debunked in the past about the siege of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
One might look at the unfortunate circumstances of the Riches and find some consolation in them. As a result of their legal action, the rumors of Seth Rich being involved in a conspiracy have passed away. It has been claimed that Fox settled with the Riches for a number of millions of dollars.
Bolling resigned from his position at Fox News in September 2017 after allegations surfaced that he had sent unsolicited sexually explicit texts to his coworkers. In the meanwhile, Hannity continues to be one of the network’s primetime stars. (Bolling said, via his attorney, that he had never before sent any unwanted texts.) Dobbs was fired in February 2021, one day after a voting technology company filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox, Dobbs, and others for their promotion of groundless claims about election fraud in the 2020 race. The lawsuit was filed against Fox, Dobbs, and others for their promotion of these claims.
Regarding the lawsuit against Fox, Joel Rich had this to say: “We are still delighted we did this because you receive a payout.” “It is possible that the words “I’m sorry” are not included. However, you have, in effect, the acknowledgment that they did something that was wrong.”
The Riches’ case was also crucial in the establishment of a brand-new program developed by the non-profit legal organization Protect Democracy to battle disinformation via the utilization of libel and defamation legislation.
Despite this, the Riches claims that they are no longer able to trust anybody outside of their immediate network of friends and family. Mary Rich claims that the double tragedy of Seth’s loss and being the focus of conspiracy theorists has irrevocably altered them.
She explains that the three of them “felt that once the case was ended, our lives would be able to go back” to some kind of normality. “People would be aware of and comprehend the fact that there was a significant deception. Since that time, I have come to the conclusion that it will never be possible to get our life back.”