A new lawsuit ties Fox News’ misconduct in its reporting of the murder of a Democratic staffer to parent company 21st Century Fox’s bid to takeover Sky PLC.
NPR’s David Folkenflik reported today that Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler filed a defamation lawsuit stating that the conservative channel and a wealthy supporter of President Donald Trump “worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story about the murder of” Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who was killed in what Washington D.C. police believe to be a botched robbery attempt in June 2016. Rich’s murder has been the subject of unfounded conspiracy theories in the conservative media, especially on Fox News.
Fox News was forced to retract a story about Rich’s murder featuring quotes by Wheeler last May. According to NPR, Wheeler says that Fox “and the Trump supporter intended to deflect public attention from growing concern about the administration's ties to the Russian government. His suit charges that a Fox News reporter created quotations out of thin air and attributed them to him to propel her story.”
Wheeler’s lawsuit connects Fox News’ conduct to parent company 21st Century Fox’s bid to take over Sky. Media Matters has opposed Fox’s bid for control of the British satellite broadcaster due to “the company’s demonstrated culture of malfeasance and governance deficiencies borne out of Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s commitment to advancing his personal political agenda.”
The suit states that while Fox executives claimed they “were completely transparent during” meetings with British regulators about the bid, those executives “failed to disclose the facts regarding Fox’s role in the effort to influence American politics by disseminating” the Rich story. The suit adds that the “devious scheming” involved in Fox’s mishandling of the story “is precisely why British regulators have yet to provide a green light to Fox for the Sky takeover bid, and why many U.K. politicians question whether Fox is capable of news dissemination in a fair and neutral manner.” From the complaint:
96. As part of the U.K.’s takeover rules, government officials referred Fox’s takeover bid to Ofcom, the communications regulation agency tasked with investigating Fox and issuing a report as to whether Fox had a “commitment to broadcasting standards.” As part of the regulators’ inquiry, attention was focused on whether Fox was “fit and proper” to exert such enormous influence over U.K.’s news and media industries.
97. In an effort to convince regulators that Fox was in compliance with the rules, senior executives from Fox participated in meetings with Ofcom investigators and provided testimony under oath. Specifically, Fox Executives, including [general counsel Gerson] Zweifach, met with regulators in London on March 27, 2017, April 11, 2017, May 11, 2017 and May 30, 2017, to alleviate concerns regarding Fox’s ability to influence the media.
98. Despite public claims that Fox Executives were completely transparent during the Ofcom investigation, upon information and belief, Fox Executives failed to disclose the facts regarding Fox’s role in the effort to influence American politics by disseminating Zimmerman’s story.
99. Clearly, senior level producers at Fox, as well as [Executive Vice President of legal and business affairs Dianne] Brandi and [Executive Vice President of news and editorial Jay] Wallace, were aware of the fact that Zimmerman’s article, while unsubstantiated, provided support to the Trump Administration’s desire to divert attention from the Russian email hacking scandal.
100. It is hard to imagine a clearer example of Fox’s willingness and determination to influence the news agenda and the political process than a situation where it knowingly generates and publishes fake news to further its own political agenda.
101. Such devious scheming is precisely why British regulators have yet to provide a green light to Fox for the Sky takeover bid, and why many U.K. politicians question whether Fox is capable of news dissemination in a fair and neutral manner.