NEW YORK (AP) — The parents of a Democratic National Committee employee who was killed in 2016 allege Fox News exploited the slaying of their son as a "political football."
Joel and Mary Rich claim in a lawsuit that Fox News, a reporter and a guest commentator used "lies, misrepresentations and half-truths" in a May 16, 2017, article that claimed their son, Seth Rich, had 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."
Rich, 27, was killed in what Washington police believe was a random robbery attempt.
The lawsuit claims Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman and frequent network guest Ed Butowsky intentionally fabricated the story connecting Rich to WikiLeaks, a site that publishes secret and restricted information. The story was heavily promoted by Fox News host Sean Hannity and other conservative pundits, such as Alex Jones of Infowars, a conspiracy-promoting website.
"No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure," the couple said in a statement. "The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son's life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension."
Attorney Leonard A. Gail said the Riches hope to hold Fox News, Zimmerman and Butowsky accountable for their "reprehensible actions."
"Whether motivated by party politics, ratings, corporate profit, or personal gain, we hope to help prevent this kind of malicious and reckless behavior in the future so that others can be spared the hell the Riches have had to endure," Gail said.
Fox News declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Butowsky told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he did not write the article connecting Rich to WikiLeaks and that it was "baseless and frivolous" to name him in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is not the first targeting Fox News over its reporting on Rich's death.
Private investigator Rod Wheeler sued the network in August for defamation, alleging Fox put words in his mouth when it posted the WikiLeaks story.
The story quoted Wheeler saying there had been contact between Rich and WikiLeaks. Wheeler alleged in his lawsuit that the comments were false and were put in the story at the behest of President Donald Trump to discredit investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had no knowledge of the false story before it was posted and had no role in shaping it.