The revelation that Fox News made contact with the White House over a false and malicious story could spell trouble for the network – and the president
In the early hours of Sunday 10 July 2016, Seth Rich, a 27-year-old digital campaigner with the Democratic National Committee, was walking home after a long night at his favorite Washington sports bar, Lou’s City. He was in no hurry, chatting for more than two hours on the phone to his girlfriend. At 4.19am, he told her he was almost at his door and had to go.
Seconds later, gunshots rang out. A minute after that, police arrived to find Rich lying on the ground just a block from his apartment, still alive but fading fast, with two bullet wounds in his back. He died in hospital a few hours later.
It was the tragic end to the life of a popular man with strawberry blond hair and a taste for wearing stars and stripes shirts on the Fourth of July. But it was only the beginning of an even more tragic afterlife: the ruthless exploitation of his death for political purposes by the hard right, from Fox News, Breitbart, and Roger Stone to Newt Gingrich, along with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and the farther flung reaches of the internet.
Last week, the conspiracy theory that conservatives draped around Rich’s lifeless neck – that he was the source of the hacked DNC emails released by WikiLeaks at the height of the 2016 presidential race, and not Russia, as US intelligence insists – was revealed to have received a boost from the highest quarter. The former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, and allegedly even Donald Trump himself, were revealed to have been given advance notice of a sensational Fox News story that blamed Rich for the hack, and implied he had been murdered by Clinton acolytes as payback.
The only problem with the Fox story: it wasn’t true.
The blockbuster revelation that Fox News made pre-publication contact with the White House over a malicious and false story blaming a murdered young man for the DNC emails spells potential trouble for both parties. For Fox News, it revives the charge made over many years that its owner, Rupert Murdoch, is prepared to be cavalier with journalistic ethics if it suits his political or corporate interests.
It has also resurfaced memories of the phone-hacking of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler by the News of the World,…