Remember the Seth Rich “story”? The fake-news yarn — peddled this spring by Fox News and amplified by fake-news megaphones Sean Hannity and Alex Jones — which sought to exonerate the Russians for hacking the Democrats by shifting blame to a young Democratic staffer who was murdered?
If you never dipped a toe into that cesspool, bravo. We all know the Russians did the hacking (as 17 intelligence agencies concluded), so it was surely a waste of time to read a Fox News website yarn which said the real culprit was a DNC kid murdered last summer in what the Washington cops call “a botched armed robbery.” The kid can’t defend himself, Fox News dragged his parents through the mud … what a mess. And Fox was compelled to retract the article (six days after it was posted and exploited on the fake-news grapevine) because, in the network’s hilarious weasel words, “the article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.”
But it’s worth revisiting, because now we have an inside account of how it happened — thanks to a boffo lawsuit filed in federal court this week by one of the Fox News players. This is recommended reading for anyone who wants to know how sausage is made in the fake-news kitchen.
Plaintiff Rod Wheeler, a Fox contributor who participated in this episode, says that Fox put words in his mouth when it “reported” that he had an FBI source who’d linked the hacking to Seth Rich. Wheeler says in his lawsuit that he had no such source, that no such source exists, and that Fox made up quotes he never said. But his biggest allegation, buttressed by contemporaneous texts, emails, and phone recordings, is that Fox invented its fakery to help Trump — to “establish that Seth Rich provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails, to shift flame from Russia and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.”
The fake-news network denies the allegation, natch. And the guy who bankrolled Fox’s fake investigation, a Trump donor named Ed Butowsky, says the lawsuit is “bullshit.” But on the lawsuit’s very first page, we get a delicious text, which Butowsky sent to Wheeler on May 14, shortly before the fake story was posted on the Fox website. In Butowsky’s own words:
“Not to add any pressure, but the president just read the article. He wants the article up immediately.”
Well, isn’t that special! Trump apparently read the fake piece in advance and urged that it be posted forthwith. You thought that Trump was merely a president? Turns out — according to Butowsky’s May 14 text — that he’s also editor-in-chief of Fox News, grinding sausage ingredients in the kitchen.
And on that same day, Butowsky left Wheeler a voicemail: “We have the full, uh, attention of the White House on this. And tomorrow, let’s close the deal.”
Butowsky now insists that when he texted Wheeler that Trump had read the fake story in advance, he was merely “joking.” Take that for what it’s worth — especially after reading the email that Butowsky sent to various Fox News producers, urging them to sell the story as an exoneration of the Russians: “I’m actually the one who’s putting this together but as you know, I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility.”
But clearly Butowsky did have the attention of the White House, because Sean Spicer confessed this week that he met in late April with Butowsky and Wheeler to discuss the fake story’s status. Spicer told NPR: “They were just informing me of the story.”
Well, isn’t that special! It basically means that Spicer lied on May 16 when, in response to a press question about the newly posted bogus story, he replied: “I’m not aware … I generally don’t get updates on former DNC staffers.” And the fact that Spicer knew of the fakery in advance means that the White House, at minimum, did nothing to dissuade Fox from pinning the hacking blame on a dead kid. (As opposed to supporting the conclusion of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.)
As for Wheeler, he’s no saint. He voiced some fakery during a guest stint on Fox & Friends, calling the story a “bombshell,” but the posted Fox story is what really ticks him off.
The story quoted Wheeler as saying, “There was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks … My investigation shows someone within the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee, or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward.” He says someone at Fox made that all up and put it in his mouth. When Wheeler protested to Butowsky, Butowsky replied — in a recorded phone conversation — “One day you’re going to win an award for having said those things you didn’t say.”
There’s so much more — the Trump-Fox cesspool is deep and dark — but let’s close with Jeff Flake, the conservative Arizona senator who’s making waves this week with a new book that eviscerates conservatives. This book passage ties in nicely to today’s tawdry tale:
“We’re only as good as our information, and if we lose our sense of objective truth, we lose everything. Whatever the source, a steady diet of bad information, conveyed in bad faith, can over time become a serious threat to a democracy. Over time, a determined effort to undermine the very idea of truth softens the ground for anti-democratic impulses.”