The parents of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich have sued Fox News over its coverage of a conspiracy theory surrounding their late son and the cache of leaked DNC emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 US presidential race.
Hannity has previously blamed efforts to discredit him over his promotion of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory on "liberal fascism". However, according to PolitiFact, those leaked emails likely came about due to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and any claim that Rich was involved is, and was, "baseless".
But Fox News left the story up on its website for days and guests continued to mention the conspiracy theory on its air.
"Joel and Mary have been irreparably harmed because whatever opportunity that existed to investigate and find closure with regard to their son's murder was taken away from them", the lawsuit continues.
"The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son's life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension", they said. Unbeknownst to them, however, Wheeler was working with Butowsky and Zimmerman on the article at the same time, and Butowsky and Wheeler even briefed White House communications director Sean Spicer on the story's progress. The Riches claim that these assurances turned out to be false, and that Wheeler, Butowsky, and Zimmerman discussed and reviewed drafts of an article that linked Seth to WikiLeaks without consulting them.
On May 16, 2017, less than year after Rich was killed in what police suspected was a botched robbery, Fox News published an article that said the 27-year-old was in contact with WikiLeaks before he was killed. The story went viral and sparked theories that the alleged leak and his death were connected.
A tape recording of a three-way call with Zimmerman, Wheeler and Butowsky that NPR has verified showed Zimmerman conceding that Wheeler never said "my investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks", but that her bosses told her to keep his quotes in the story.
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 Riches claim in their lawsuit that Fox News convinced them to work with investigator Rod Wheeler in order to get to the bottom of what happened to their son.
Leonard A. Gail of Massey & Gail LLP, a lawyer representing the Riches, said: "Joel and Mary Rich have brought this case to hold Fox News, Fox reporter Zimmerman, and political operative and Fox News contributor Butowsky, accountable for their reprehensible actions".
Butowsky told ABC News in an interview that the lawsuit is "one of the dumbest" he'd ever seen.