On The Bill Press Show, Media Matters’ Matt Gertz explains how Sean Hannity spread the Seth Rich conspiracy theory

From the August 3 edition of Free Speech TV’s The Bill Press Show:

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BILL PRESS (HOST): There's a lawsuit filed this week by a detective by the name of Rod Wheeler who claims that the White House and Fox News were working together to try to spread the story that Seth Rich, a young staffer for the DNC [Democratic National Committee] who was murdered here in the District of Columbia, was actually not murdered, he was assassinated, his murder was ordered by the Clinton operation because he was leaking emails to WikiLeaks, which is a disgusting bit of fake news they were trying to spread. But what do we know about efforts on contacts between the White House and Fox News on this issue?

MATT GERTZ: Yeah, so this lawsuit was one of those that just knock your eyes out of your sockets. Reading through the lawsuit when it came out, just you go through it and it really has everything. It has Republican political operatives, it has Fox News, it has the White House itself. And it’s built on a set of emails and text messages that Rod -- taped conversations that Rod Wheeler has. And I don’t know how far --

PRESS: Because he was himself a Fox News frequent guest, or was he a contributor?

GERTZ: He's a Fox News contributor --

PRESS: Contributor, who was taken to the White House by this guy Butowsky?

GERTZ: Yeah, so Ed Butowsky is a Dallas businessman. He’s a longtime conservative commentator. A big supporter of the president. He goes on – he is not a Fox News contributor, but someone who has been on Fox News and Fox Business fairly frequently. He's written for Breitbart. He's appeared on Steve Bannon’s radio show back before he joined --

PRESS: Well he’s got all the right media credentials. Yeah.

GERTZ: He’s got all the right credentials. And he -- for -- to hear him speak, he is someone who sort of finds these stories and blows them up into the conservative media with as few fingerprints as possible. And I think from this lawsuit, we get a good sense of how the sausage is made around this sort of thing. So Butowsky hires Wheeler to -- back in I think February, to look into the Seth Rich murder. Seth Rich was a former Democratic staffer, murdered in June of last year. This immediately created a wide range of conspiracy theories and those sort of spiraled through until Butowsky got ahold of them. And so basically Butowsky and Wheeler are working with a Fox News reporter named Malia Zimmerman and what we see with this lawsuit is that Butowsky appears to be working with the White House as well. In April, according to the lawsuit, Butowsky and Wheeler go to the White House, they meet with [then-White House press secretary] Sean Spicer to brief him on this. Spicer's confirmed that this happened.

PRESS: Yeah.

GERTZ: And says that he took the meeting without knowing what it was about, which is the second time we’ve seen a high-ranking Trump official claim that they just take meetings without knowing who’s going to be there or what they're -- what’s going on. This is the same story with the Jared Kushner told about meeting with Russian operatives back during the campaign. I don’t know how plausible it is that these people just meet with whoever, but so -- briefed, they briefed Spicer on this. They don’t have much of a story at the time. A couple of weeks later Trump fires [FBI Director] James Comey. The day after that happens, Wheeler says that Butowsky and Zimmerman, the Fox News reporter, came to him and said that they had a source at the FBI saying that Seth Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks. The conspiracy around this was always that Rich somehow leaked the DNC emails to WikiLeaks rather than having them be stolen by Russian hackers.

PRESS: Hacked by the Russians.

GERTZ: Yeah. And so the story sort of spirals on from there. The Butowsky tells Wheeler in text messages and recorded voicemails that Wheeler has that the White House is extremely interested in the story, that the president has read the first draft of the story and really wants it to be out there. And this is one of those cases where we’ve got Butowsky making this claim to Wheeler based on we don’t really know. This was a case, I think, that calls out for more reporting and perhaps congressional investigation to determine what exactly is going on there.

PRESS: But Fox -- so Fox & Friends runs with this story and then later they retracted the story.

GERTZ: Yeah. Fox & Friends runs with the story, Hannity, Sean Hannity runs with it for three or four nights in a row. He’s really the central force on Fox News pushing this story, day in and day out. He had dabbled with it back last year, but he really takes it on and makes it his own. Because -- and this is a point that Butowsky makes in his emails -- the idea is that if Seth Rich provided the emails to WikiLeaks, then the entire Russia collusion story is nothing.

PRESS: Right.

GERTZ: It’s all been created by the media, which is the story that Sean Hannity desperately wants to tell.

PRESS: Right. And Hannity finally backed off when Seth Rich’s parents, as I recall, or his family got to him and just said, “Please, a little decency?”

GERTZ: That, and apparently he had a long conversation with several of his lawyers who presumably told him that he would be in a lot of trouble if he kept pushing this thing. But he was pushing this story after – I mean Fox News retracted their original story, right? They -- and Wheeler claims that part of the reason they did that was because the story had fabricated quotes from him. I don’t know how true that is, obviously it’s a huge ethical disaster for Fox News if that is the case. But certainly like the story’s central claims were garbage and immediately disproven, and so Fox had to pull the story. Sean Hannity has never pulled the story, he’s never apologized for anything that he’s done.

PRESS: He just kind of walked away from it.

GERTZ: He just sort of -- yeah, he sort of walked away from it.


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To watch the full interview click HERE.