- YouTube ScreenShot (Fox News)
A longtime Fox News commentator has sued the network, claiming it used him to deflect attention from investigations about the Trump campaign’s ties with the Russian government by publishing a “fake news” story about the death of a Democratic National Committee staffer.
Rod Wheeler, who says he has worked as a contributor for Fox News since 2002, claims in the suit that Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman fabricated quotes from Wheeler with the “knowledge and support” of Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Dallas investor and supporter of President Donald Trump. The lawsuit, which was obtained by Business Insider, also claims that the story garnered the “full … attention of the White House,” including Trump.
The July 2016 fatal shooting of the DNC staffer, Seth Rich, remains under investigation, but it has become the target of numerous right-wing conspiracy theories. In a May 16 article that was later retracted, the quotes attributed to Wheeler suggested that Rich had communicated with WikiLeaks before his death.
In the lawsuit, Wheeler claims that Butowsky sent him a text message telling him Trump had “just read the article” and “wants the article out immediately.” The lawsuit included a photo of what Wheeler says is the text message.
- Wheeler Lawsuit
Wheeler claims Butowsky also left him a voicemail that said: “A couple minutes ago I got a note that we have the full, uh, attention of the White House, on this. And, tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we’ve got to do. But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now.”
Less than 36 hours later, the article was published. Wheeler claims it included two quotes incorrectly attributed to him:
- Wheeler Lawsuit
“Mr. Wheeler was subsequently forced to correct the false record and, as a result, lost all credibility in the eyes of the public,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Wheeler has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and his career will likely never recover.”
Jay Wallace, the president of news at Fox News, told NPR, which first reported the lawsuit, that there was no “concrete evidence” that Robinson misquoted Wheeler.
In a statement Tuesday, Wallace called the claims contained in the lawsuit “completely erroneous” and said a review of the retraction was ongoing.
“The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous. The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, FOX News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit – the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race.”