A study in how Fox News made up a story

Even by the standards of the new Washington crowd, NPR reporter David Folkenflik’s scoop today on how a Trump booster and a Fox News consultant conspired to create a phony story about the “murder” of a young aide for the Democratic National Committee is shocking and frightening.

None of it, of course, would have worked without the gullibility of the American people, who will believe whatever they’re told if it’s what they want to believe.

Donald Trump supporter Ed Butowsky tried to pay Fox consultant Rod Wheeler to investigate the death of DNC aide Seth Rich. They met with Sean Spicer at the White House, Folkenflik reports, and the president reportedly reviewed Fox’s story before it aired.

“Rod Wheeler unfortunately was used as a pawn by Ed Butowsky, Fox News and the Trump administration to try and steer away the attention that was being given about the Russian hacking of the DNC e-mails,” said Douglas Wigdor, Wheeler’s lawyer. Wheeler has filed a lawsuit against Fox.

Wheeler’s story suggested Rich was killed in an inside job after he allegedly gave WikiLeaks the famous DNC emails.

He didn’t. And police say Rich died in a botched armed robbery.

But that wasn’t the story Butowsky wanted Fox to run.

“If this is true and Seth Rich gave WikiLeaks the DNC e-mails…this blows the whole Russia collusion narrative completely out of the water,” Sean Hannity declared.

Wheeler, a private investigator, is suing now, saying Fox defamed him when it pulled his story, and reporter Malia Zimmerman made up quotes like this one, used in the Fox story:

“My investigation shows someone within the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward. That is unfortunate. Seth Rich’s murder is unsolved as a result of that.”

The sequence of events leading up to the story is a study in lousy journalism.

Butowsky sends an email to Fox News producers and hosts coaching them on how to frame the Rich story, according to the lawsuit. Recipients included Fox & Friends hosts, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade, among others.

“I’m actually the one who’s been putting this together but as you know, I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility,” Butowsky wrote, as reflected in the Wheeler suit. “One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion” between “Trump and the Russians.”

The night before the story ran and the day of the story itself, Butowsky coached Wheeler on what to say on the air: “[T]he narrative in the interviews you might use is that you and [Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman’s] work prove that the Russians didn’t hack into the DNC and steal the emails and impact our elections.” In another text; “If you can, try to highlight this puts the Russian hacking story to rest.”

Folkenflik says the reporter on the story wanted to take the allegedly phony quotes from Wheeler — the only thing that gave the story the faint aroma of credibility — out of the story but Fox news bosses told her to keep them in.

It wasn’t long before even Fox News couldn’t ignore the fact the story was bogus, posting a retraction that did everything but take responsibility.

“The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting,” the statement reads. “Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.”

Butowsky, the man who orchestrated the story, suggested in emails that the DNC paid Wheeler off, a story FoxNews fans are most likely to believe.

Related: Read the lawsuit alleging Trump had a role in the Fox News story on Seth Rich (Los Angeles Times)

  • Just waiting for the “fake news” or “NPR is biased” folks to show up.

    • jon

      Maybe this time we should all just ignore them. Hit the downvote button on anything that is stupid and move on…

    • MikeB

      This crowd is just one giant exercise in projection. It’s uncanny.

      • Considering what I mentioned in my first post is precisely what is happening on the NPR FB post about this very topic I don’t think I’m “projecting” at all.

        • MikeB

          Not you. Fox News, Trump WH, Trump media, etc

          • theoacme

            I wonder how that “projection” would sound if FOX News had to do it in the old-school filmstrip form… {beep!}

            …this is Donald Trump… {beep}
            …his news can’t be cut… {beep}
            …because he’s duller than a Dollar Tree butterknife… {beep}…

          • Ah, yes. Carry on!


    • Jerry

      “Fake news” is the adult equivalent for f a child’s “nuh-uh”. How do you argue with that?

      • jon

        In a race to the bottom I guess the best way to argue with a debate strategy of a 6-7 year old would be to pull a 2-3 year old “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” until they give up and leave.

        • Nato Coles

          Ah, the Socratic method! 😉

      • Jeff

        I read somewhere that it’s normal for many people when confronted with facts instead of modifying their erroneous views they double down on them. The rest of us just shake our heads. I’m sort of wondering if facts really matter anymore.

        • It ‘s the manifestation of the migration of the advertising industry into politics and news. Things in advertising don’t really HAVE to be true. You should have to think they are.

          • Ralphy

            And political ads can be and often are flat out in your face lies.

        • jon

          Life is describe best via cartoon drawings that push the border of being socially acceptable…


      • Blasko

        There have been articles about this, most of them pointing to how important positive relationships are in getting people to agree to accept certain facts. I’ve had family members use this fake story as an attack on me as a Democrat. Basically, I have to point them to articles like this, and mention how sad it is when powerful people use lies to try and turn us against each other, when instead we could be focusing on real issues that face the country. I mention that I hope they’ll do the same for me if they see me spouting stuff that has no basis in fact. They may still believe this story, but I hope that strengthening the relationship and reframing a bit might limit how deep the propaganda can bury itself.

        • Ralphy

          There’s the rub.
          If someone has grown up on Rushbo, Sean et al; they are family. Nobody wants to acknowledge that a trusted family member has been lying to them for the past 25 years or more. Hence, mainstream news = FAKE NEWS.

  • MarkUp

    I can’t decide which Ed Butowsky quote is the quote of the article.

    “I’m actually the one who’s been putting this together but as you know, I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility.”

    “One day you’re going to win an award for having said those things you didn’t say.”

  • Jerry

    I guess ’90’s nostalgia has hit Fox News because it is Vince Foster all over again.

  • lindblomeagles

    Curiously enough, since Donald Trump ran for President, Fox News has been hit by scandals. Roger Ailes, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and now this. Is it time for Fox News to break ties with Trump too?

    • Veronica

      Maybe it’s best if they just close down.

  • Gary F
    • Angry Jonny

      Your source being a bunch of right wing Bush-era Iraq war apologists?

      • Gary F

        Shoot the messenger? You mean the NY Times isn’t libel?

        • Angry Jonny

          I think my point has been made already.

    • Chris

      At the time of the Giffords shooting a lot of people did think that things like Palin’s reload comment did contribute to a toxic environment, perhaps Steve Scalise would agree.

      Fox news manufacturing an entire story with white house collusion is a lot different from the NYT characterizing something as a direct link, when it was only ever recognized as indirect. Try again.

    • Jerry

      Why do you have such a hard time telling the difference between an editorial and reporting

      • Dan

        False equivalence, tu quoque, two wrongs make a right, deflect, distract, anything to pull attention off the issue at hand… c’mon, this isn’t your first day here, engage and you’ll just get more of the same.

    • Nato Coles

      C’mon, Gary, you know the difference between an editorial and straight news.

      • Gary F

        Ask Dan Rather.

        • Ralphy

          Dan Rather was set up by the Bush administration and you know it. Let’s stick to this story – a pure out and out lie put together in collusion with the White House and a very sympathetic media machine. Your thoughts?

          • Gary F

            Wow, and Bush was behind 9/11 too? Huh?

          • RBHolb

            “And the 2017 award for best deflection in a comment thread goes to . . .”

          • Ralphy

            C’mon Gary. Back on topic, please. You’re just killing puppies here.

          • Rob

            He wasn’t in front of it. If he was, he’d have attacked Saudi Arabia, given that that’s where most of the 9/11 terrorists were from.

          • Dan

            Sarah Palin’s “gunsight” ads and the Gabby Giffords shooting, Rathergate, now Bush, etc. etc. Have you ever gotten close to a robin’s nest? One of those robins will fly away from the nest, and just start chirping at you. If you get closer, it’ll back up a little more, turn around, and keep chirping. Anything to get you farther from the nest…

            Chirp, chirp, chirp.

      • Rob

        Does he?

    • Using Powerline blog to prove a point is…..

      …. ummm…

      …. is…..

      ah, never mind.

      • Gary F

        The same people that exposed Dan Rather and CBS News. When the media gets too close to one side of the political spectrum, its nice to have the alternative media to show the biases of the big boys.

        • Even a broken watch is right twice a day.

        • RBHolb

          One story. Hooray for them.

          I don’t want to hijack the thread here, but that episode, too, was deflection, albeit highly successful deflection. The memo that supposedly proved GW Bush shirked his duty with the TX Air National Guard was fake. That’s a terrible thing, especially since it took attention away from the real question of whether he did in fact show up for duty.

          • OK, let’s move on. Bush-Rather is well tilled ground.

          • Did we ever figure out from Kenneth what the frequency actually was?

    • Dan

      Gary, you peddled the Seth Rich conspiracy story right here on this blog. How does it feel to be fooled by a source you trusted? Do you feel any sort of regret for being a tool in the exploitation of a young man’s recent murder to advance a political agenda?

  • Rob

    I don’t care what anyone says; I’m still convinced that Hillary was running a child sex ring out of the basement of that Washington, D.C. pizza shop…

  • X.A. Smith

    I’m shocked—shocked, etc.

  • Dan
  • William Hunter Duncan

    A botched theft, except nothing was taken from Seth Rich? Evidence?

    Now show some actual evidence that Russian State actors hacked the DNC and Podesta, rather than just the repeated 10,000+ times “Russia did it!!! TRUMP COLLUDED!!!!” Then maybe some actual journalism about what was in those emails, rather than the white-wash passover lightly given by Mockingbird coached Washington Post, CNN, NYT etc….

    • “Sad”

    • Dan

      Botch, verb: 1. to spoil by poor work; bungle

    • Chris

      Don’t go to the pizza restaurant!!11!

    • William Hunter Duncan

      I know, maybe the Seth Rich story is bunk….but one can’t question the prevailing Russia madness either without being treated like a Russian agent/crackpot

      • Bridget L.


      • Dan

        You realize you’re replying to yourself? Maybe you meant to do that with an alt account?

      • Rob

        Are you referring to Little Don’s “I love it!” meeting with the Russians, and T.Rump’s statement for Little Don about what happened at the meeting — which, BTW, was patently false — or are you referring to other Russia “madness?”

        • William Hunter Duncan

          The witless rush to war, particularly among Dems, is what I was referring to

  • Ralphy

    Anyone want to take a bet that a year from now a poster to this site will reference the Seth Rich murder as a politically motivated murder?

    • wjc

      No bet. It’s a sure thing. I don’t think you’ll have to wait a year.

      • Ralphy

        Dang. I was hoping for some easy money. ;-/

  • Weak. Listen to the No Agenda Show instead.

  • Peter

    “Folkenflik’s description of events leading up to the story is a study in lousy journalism.”

    Had to read this a few times before I realized the events are a study in lousy journalism, and Folkenflik’s description of them is not a study in lousy journalism.