The parents of a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer wrote an op-ed condemning right-wing media commentators and outlets that have advanced conspiracy theories about their son.
“We’re Seth Rich’s parents. Stop politicizing our son’s murder,” urged the parents’ Washington Post op-ed, published Tuesday.
Mary and Joel Rich’s son, Seth, was shot last summer in what Washington, D.C., police believe to be a botched robbery. Due to Seth’s job working for the DNC and the spinning of conspiracy theorists, his death became fodder for a slew of stories and amateur investigating from right-wing media outlets and communities. Despite the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Kremlin-backed hackers stole DNC emails and then leaked them to WikiLeaks, these conspiracy theories claim that Seth was involved and that he was slain as a result.
The theories reignited last week when Fox News published a report stating that Rich had information on his laptop tying him to WikiLeaks. Fox retracted that story Tuesday after other outlets had disproven the reporting and one of the primary sources for the story recanted his statements.
“We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth’s murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics,” wrote the Rich parents. “Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.”
“Still, conservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel.”
The stories have been pushed by Fox News host Sean Hannity, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and right-wing news sites like Breitbart and the conspiracy-laden InfoWars. By connecting Rich to WikiLeaks’ DNC email dump — which included politically toxic missives and led to resignations at the committee — these conspiracy theories are attractive to some on the right, as they would potentially absolve Russia from allegations that it boosted Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
“Despite these facts, our family’s nightmare persists,” wrote the Rich parents after outlining the basics of the case. “Seth’s death has been turned into a political football. Every day we wake up to new headlines, new lies, new factual errors, new people approaching us to take advantage of us and Seth’s legacy. It just won’t stop. The amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.”
“To those who sincerely want to get to the bottom of Seth’s murder,” added the Richs, “we don’t hold this against you. We don’t think you are monsters, and we don’t think you are terrible people. We know that so many people out there really do care, don’t know what to think and are angry at the lack of answers.”
Hannity was perhaps the loudest voice driving the conspiratorial conversation, to the point that Seth Rich’s brother, Aaron, wrote to the show pleading with them to stop. On his radio show Tuesday afternoon, Hannity was initially defiant.
“And for all you in the liberal media,” said Hannity, “I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing.”
Hannity had also been promoting statements from Kim Dotcom, an Internet gadfly living in New Zealand under indictment in the United States for money laundering and copyright infringement. Dotcom, who has a history of document forgery, claimed he had been in contact with Rich. Hannity’s latest broadcasts had reportedly caused fellow Fox News staffers to feel “embarrassed” and “disgusted.”
Hannity’s tone had changed by the start of Tuesday evening’s broadcast.
“I totally and completely understand how upset and how hard this is on this family, especially over the recent coverage of Seth’s death,” said Hannity on Tuesday night. “I’ve been communicating with them. I got a very heartfelt note. I also sent them a heartfelt note back.”
“However, out of respect for the family’s wishes, for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time.”
He then seemed to undercut his previous words.
“I want to say this to you — my loyal audience, which is very important: Please do not interpret what I’m saying tonight to mean anything,” Hannity said. “Don’t read into this. I promise you I am not going to stop doing my job to the extent of my ability. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.”
By Wednesday morning, Hannity appeared to have at least temporarily moved on to a different cause, using Twitter to attack left-wing media watchdog group Media Matters and Democratic donor George Soros for allegedly attempting to “silence” conservative voices.
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