— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) May 21, 2017
Today, Dave Weigel published a story in the Washington Post on “The life and death of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory”:
When Seth Rich’s Gmail account received an alert this week from Mega.com, attempting to start a new account on a website created by the New Zealand-based Internet businessman and convicted hacker Kim Dotcom, his family knew that something was off.
Over seven frenzied days, Dotcom had become a leading purveyor of the theory that Rich, a staffer at the Democratic National Committee who was shot dead near his home in Northeast Washington last summer, had supplied DNC documents to WikiLeaks and was killed as a result. Multiple security analysts and an FBI investigation have tied the release to hackers with ties to Russia. D.C. police have said repeatedly that they think Rich was slain in a random robbery attempt…
All that began to unravel Tuesday afternoon when Fox News retracted a story that had claimed the same Rich-WikiLeaks connection, telling readers that the article was “not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.” Fox News did not respond to a request for comment, but Dotcom wrote on his website that he would not speak further about his allegations…
Of course, this being the internet (and certain people & networks happy to be ghouls for profit) the morbid feasting on other peoples’ tragedy will never actually end.
Here’s Weigel’s original story, on May 20:
On July 10, at 4:19 a.m., gunfire was detected in the District’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. Not five minutes later, police found Seth Rich, a 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer, lying on the ground, dying from a bullet wound to his back. A conscious Rich was transported to the hospital; by daybreak, he was dead.
Nearly one year later, Rich’s death remains one of America’s thousands of unsolved murders — and the focus of endless conspiracy theories, spread this past week by Fox News, alt-right social media, a local D.C. news station and the Russian embassy in Britain. The reemergence of the conspiracy theory this week, which did not lack for real news, revealed plenty about the fake news ecosystem (or to use BuzzFeed’s useful phrase, “the upside-down media”) in the Trump era. It also happened to cause untold pain for the Rich family…
TV news can be an easy mark. This iteration of the Seth Rich story started when the District’s own Fox 5 ran a Monday night “exclusive,” citing one source — a Fox New legal commentator, Rod Wheeler — for a “big break in the investigation.” Reporter Marina Marraco reported that “conspiracy theories” could “be proven right,” as Wheeler was saying what had been rumored since last year: Rich might have leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks, making him the target of an assassination…
Within 24 hours, reporters at NBC News, CNN and The Washington Post had debunked the story. First, Rich’s family quickly corrected the idea that Wheeler was on their payroll; he was hired by Ed Butowsky, a Texas businessman who had grown interested in the case. Next, Wheeler told CNN he hadn’t actually obtained information linking Rich to WikiLeaks — Fox 5, he insisted, had told him to say so…
Most forms of reporting have guardrails that this story would have crashed against. Had the channel waited to run the story until the family or the police weighed in, it couldn’t have aired. But that’s the problem — there’s a fluff allowance on TV, one that lets sensational videos through even if they’ve not been fully vetted…
Fake news has weakened on Facebook, but its bots still own Twitter. With very little fanfare, likely a result of the backlash it got from conservatives after Gawker revealed its editorial policy for newsfeeds, Facebook has seriously cracked down on the ability of conspiracy and clickbait sites to make stories trend. There’s been no similar crackdown on Twitter, where conspiracy theorists can still coordinate, start trends, and benefit when bots chime in…
Debunking a story still doesn’t end it. Sean Hannity, who’s now a sort of elder statesman in Fox News’s prime time lineup, devoted parts of three episodes this week to the Rich story…
As the phrase goes: That escalated quickly…
Fundamental stupidity of the Seth Rich conspiracies: he would’ve known emails published by Wikileaks showed no malfeasance by DNC
— Dana Houle (@DanaHoule) May 23, 2017
the most powerful figures in the GOP are tormenting a dead man’s family to distract from the bumbling klansmen they put in the white house
— sean. (@SeanMcElwee) May 21, 2017
Never thought I’d be recommending anything by John Podhoretz, but this piece is actually worth a read:
“Seth Rich’s murder is being used as counter-programming.” https://t.co/cpT4XkJGSx
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) May 23, 2017
Hoaxers now claim that an April 24 video of Rich’s parents thanking GoFundMe donors is a video of them thanking Reddit. Disgusting. pic.twitter.com/zjmtM3nBC6
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) May 21, 2017
… Although, with any justice, it may end the public career of Sean Hannity…
I said publicly over and over to the Rich Family they are in my thoughts and prayers. I m trying to find the truth as the Mom Dad bro asked https://t.co/op11hVRlWW
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 23, 2017
You’re rich. You could donate $100k to their gofundme. Nobody believes that you give a damn about them. https://t.co/IONaElAQOS
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) May 23, 2017
Sean wants an 8-figure buyout like Ailes/O’Reilly. But wants ’cause’ to be alt-reich conspiracy martyr, not sex pred https://t.co/9eZqrIWw10
— Orb Orbison (@ZeddRebel) May 23, 2017
This Seth Rich lie is not really “a new low.” Richard Mellon Scaife spent a lot of money propagating nonsense about Vince Foster’s death.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) May 23, 2017
… While the World’s Dumbest Professional Republicans will do their best to keep the story churning.
House Republican cites ‘stuff circulating on the internet’ as evidence of DNC conspiracy theory https://t.co/UyibSHxjs9
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) May 24, 2017
There’s stuff circulating at the top of every septic tank, too also.