Disobedient Media previously reported that Rod Wheeler had filed a defamation suit against Fox News. Wheeler is a retired Washington homicide detective and Fox News contributor hired as a private investigator by the Rich family regarding the still-unsolved murder of Seth Rich. The suit centers on a Fox story which was eventually retracted, which Wheeler claimed misquoted him regarding the Seth Rich case. Disobedient Media’s previous coverage of the suit discussed the case being relatively weak. If misquotation or false quotation were proven to have occurred, it would still be unlikely to legally prove that defamation had occurred.
Many of the claims made in Wheeler’s suit have been brought into serious question. On the day the suit was filed, Big League Politics investigative journalist Cassandra Fairbanks released two audio tapes; one with legendary, pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh referencing Seth Rich as the source of Wikileaks’ DNC email publication. The other audio clip contained a recorded conversation where Wheeler appeared to support the information attributed to him in the initial Fox story.
Further questions regarding Wheeler’s suit were raised after his appearance on MSNBC where he contradicted significant elements of the defamation suit against Fox. During the interview, Wheeler stated that he did not know for a fact if President Trump knew about the Fox story, which fundamentally contradicts Wheeler’s previous allegations that the Trump administration had participated in orchestrating Fox’s story.
Wheeler also told MSNBC that the DNC was involved in this investigation with the DC police department. He stated that: “During my investigation when I first reached out to the police department, Donna Brazille was the one that contacted the Rich family wanting know why I was snooping around. Why would Donna Brazille even be involved in this situation if this is just a street murder?” This is extremely important, as it supports the statements quoted in the Fox story, and contradicts Wheeler’s legal claim that Fox misquoted him, which even if true would be unlikely to qualify legally as defamation. Fox has also strenuously denied the race discrimination claim made in the suit.
Adding to controversy surrounding the case, Consortium News reported that pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh confirmed that audio files released by Cassandra Fairbanks were legitimate. Hersh told Consortium that the tape in question was “made without his permission” when he quoted an unnamed government source who stated Seth Rich had offered the DNC emails to WikiLeaks in exchange for money.
Significantly, the recording of Hersh was made by Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Republican donor and Trump supporter. This is important because it is Butowsky who was named in Wheeler’s suit as a coordinator of the now-retracted Fox story regarding Rich. Butowsky represents the crux of alleged Trump administration knowledge of the story, which legacy media has widely circulated. However, even Wheeler contradicted these claims when he told MSNBC that he did not know whether President Trump was aware of the story. This would be important in the Wheeler suit, and for its implications for the already discredited Trump-Russia narrative and possibly for Seth Rich’s murder.
That such a shaky suit would be widely heralded by establishment press as evidence that the Seth Rich case is a figment of fevered conspiracy theory imagination deserves serious skepticism from the public. The mainstream media enthusiasm for a story which is based on a lawsuit that appears to be contradicted so clearly by the facts, indicates the degree to which issues raised by the case may threaten establishment interests, as Wheeler himself indicated during his MSNBC interview. It is deeply concerning that legacy media figures, some of whom appear supportive of Media Matters, would use this legally shaky suit to discredit Ed Butowsky personally and to create a scandal to replace the thoroughly discredited Russian hacking narrative.
It appears on this author’s inspection that Ed Butowsky enjoys a good reputation and has had no complaints made against him in the past.
With respected journalist Seymour Hersh confirming to Consortium News that his statements claiming Seth Rich was Wikileaks source for the DNC emails was legitimate but recorded without his permission, it appears likely that attempts to dismiss questions regarding the death of Seth Rich may be fundamentally baseless, relying crucially on the discrediting of Ed Butowsky’s reputation. This concern is supported by revelations that the reporter who initially reported on the Wheeler suit and disparaged Butowsky may have been connected to the DNC apparatus which Wheeler had stated even after filing his suit, needed to “butt out” of the Seth Rich investigation.
David Folkenflik, an NPR correspondent, wrote the initial story at NPR which covered the Wheeler suit. The article reported the accusations made in Wheeler’s suit accusing the Trump administration of orchestrating the Fox story on Seth Rich through Ed Butowsky. Concerns have been raised by Folkenflik’s apparent support towards David Brock’s controversial organization, Media Matters. In 2008, Folkenflik told the New York Times that Media Matters was a “useful source of information.” That the reporter who launched the story on the Wheeler suit has been supportive of Media Matters is concerning, as the organization has been described by The Nation as using “poisonous” methods. The Nation wrote that “Brock’s empire, including Media Matters, American Bridge, ShareBlue, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, served as a hit squad for the Clinton campaign last year. ” Folkenflik’s story on the Wheeler suit was referenced directly by Media Matters.