In the wake of the lawsuit filed against Fox News claiming that they invented quotes from Rod Wheeler, a private investigator hired by a Trump donor to dig up dirt on the Seth Rich murder, CNN quotes Fox News insiders questioning the network’s action, or lack thereof, on the retracted story.
“People are talking about it,” a Fox News employee told CNN. “Frankly, there’s confusion over it.”
More than two months ago, on May 23, FoxNews.com deleted a story that suggested Rich had been in contact with Wikileaks before his death. The story rested on quotes from Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor and former homicide detective hired to investigate the unsolved murder on behalf of the Rich family. He was quoted in that article saying there was evidence showing Rich had been in contact with Wikileaks.
The story was immediately seized on by President Trump’s media allies, who treated it as an explosive scoop and used it to cast doubt on the US intelligence community’s determination that Russia-backed hackers stole the internal DNC emails published by Wikileaks. For a little while, the story was everywhere in the pro-Trump media universe — including two of Fox News’ biggest shows, “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.”
But the article upon which all this coverage was based fell apart within hours of its publication, when Wheeler contradicted aspects of it in an interview with CNN…
A person with knowledge of the situation told CNN that employees have been left puzzled as to why no one has been held accountable for one of Fox News’ most high-profile mistakes.
“No one knows,” the person said. “This is like a huge question mark internally. This is a giant mystery.”…According to half a dozen people spread throughout Fox News who spoke with CNN, all this has left employees at the network wondering what is going on with the investigation — and why there has not been an announcement either of disciplinary action or a finding that there was no wrongdoing.
“People need to start getting canned over the [Seth Rich] thing,” an employee told CNN. “What a mess.”
“They don’t want to acknowledge that they f**ked up,” a senior Fox News employee said, explaining that either a top editor didn’t see the story before publication, as would be typical procedure, or a top editor saw the article and approved it. “Both situations are really bad.”
There are really two elements to this lawsuit. The first is the involvement of the White House, which was told about the story in advance and apparently urged them to publish it to distract attention from the Russia investigation. That’s undoubtedly why Sean Hannity was pushing the story so hard, because he is little more than the unofficial press secretary for Trump at this point. The voicemails from Ed Butowsky, the Trump donor who concocted the whole thing, have already been released and they demonstrate clearly that he was talking to the White House about it and they wanted the story out. A meeting between Butowsky, Wheeler and Sean Spicer has also been confirmed by Spicer.
The second element is the part that is legally actionable on Wheeler’s behalf, which is the allegation that Zimmerman invented the quotes from Wheeler that she used in the article on the Fox website. I’m not sure how credible he is on that one; his interviews have been all over the board on the subject. But if she doesn’t have recordings of those interviews with those quotes in it, that’s a serious problem. I’ve been a reporter, you just don’t do that. And if you’re quoting from handwritten notes, you go back and confirm with the source that the quote is accurate before you publish and you get that confirmation on the record. That’s what email is for.
As I said before, the good news is that this is in a court of law, which means discovery, subpoenas and depositions under oath. The truth will come out at some point.