NEW YORK — A lawsuit alleging Fox News exploited the killing of a Democratic National Committee employee was revived by an appeals court Friday after a lower court tossed it out.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Joel and Mary Rich, of Omaha, Nebraska, had sufficiently alleged they were subjected to emotional distress after their son, 27-year-old Seth Rich, was shot and killed in 2016 in Washington, D.C., in what authorities have said was a botched robbery near his home.
“We have no trouble concluding that — taking their allegations as true — the Riches plausibly alleged what amounted to a campaign of emotional torture,” the appeals court said.
The parents claimed Fox News exploited their son’s slaying as a “political football,” leaving them with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder.
The parents said Fox News, a reporter and a guest commentator used “lies, misrepresentations and half-truths” in a May 16, 2017, article claiming their son Seth Rich leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign.
The network removed the story a week after it was posted, saying it was not initially subjected to its “high degree of editorial scrutiny.”
But the 2nd Circuit noted that Fox News guests continued to reference the retracted article for months and that Fox News to this day makes available online at least two videos repeating almost verbatim the content of the story. The appeals court said it accessed one video on Wednesday.
In their lawsuit, the parents said Fox News and the others induced the parents to hire a purportedly independent investigator to help “solve” their son’s murder only to produce a “fiction” that Seth Rich had leaked thousands of emails, portraying him “as a criminal and a traitor.”
The 2nd Circuit noted that internet-based theories that Seth Rich had leaked emails and then was assassinated were contradicted by official U.S. intelligence reports.
In a statement, Fox News said that while it extends to the Rich family “our deepest condolences for their loss, we believe that discovery will demonstrate that Fox News did not engage in conduct that will support the Riches’ claims.”
The network also said it will be evaluating its next legal steps.
In a statement, Joel and Mary Rich said they appreciated the 2nd Circuit decision.
“We would not wish what we have experienced upon any other parent — anywhere,” the Riches said.
Attorney Lenny Gail, representing the parents, said the ruling “clears the way for a thorough investigation into the facts. We will now obtain documents from Fox News and other parties and take testimony under oath from those involved.”