Who is Rod Wheeler? This Fox News contributor accused the network and White House officials on Tuesday of fabricating the conspiracy theory that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered because of connections to WikiLeaks.
Wheeler’s career goes back decades. According to his LinkedIn page, he got his start with Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department in 1990, becoming a homicide detective. He juggled a few gigs after leaving the force. Wheeler shifted onto the private sector with work at AIB International, a food safety company, and later founded the Global Food Defense Institute. Notably, he has appeared as an on-air contributor for Fox News for years. Here he is during a May appearance on Hannity.
The network and affiliates had run stories that Rich could have been shot and killed in June 2016 because he was allegedly the source of the Democratic National Committee emails published by WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign, hurting the chances of candidate Hillary Clinton.
Police say it was a botched robbery, and Rich’s parents have repeatedly asked people to stop peddling the conspiracy theory.
Fox News retracted their May 16 story, which carried quotes attributed to Wheeler, about Rich.
In his lawsuit, originally reported by NPR, Wheeler claims he was recruited by Trump supporter and donor Ed Butowsky to investigate the murder on the family’s behalf, but it turned out to be a ploy to shift blame of the DNC email hacking from Russia. With Butowsky’s support, Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman made up two quotes and attributed these to Wheeler, said the lawsuit. From the complaint [emphasis theirs]:
According to Butowsky, the statements were falsely attributed to Mr. Wheeler because that is the way the President wanted the article. Zimmerman, Butowsky and Fox had created fake news to advance President Trump’s agenda. Mr. Wheeler was subsequently forced to correct the false record and, as a result, lost all credibility in the eyes of the public. Mr. Wheeler has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and his career will likely never recover.
In NPR’s report, Fox News declined to allow Zimmerman to comment.
Fox’s president of news, Jay Wallace, told NPR Monday there was no “concrete evidence” that Wheeler was misquoted by the reporter, Malia Zimmerman. The news executive did not address a question about the story’s allegedly partisan origins.
Sean Spicer, who was also implicated by the lawsuit, told the outlet he met with Butowsky only as a favor, and was unaware of any contact with the president. Butowsky told NPR he was just joking about the president’s involvement.
Jay Wallace, President of News at Fox News, said the allegations were false.
“The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous,” he told LawNewz.com in a statement. “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.”
Update – August 1, 10:57 a.m. EST: Added information on the lawsuit.
Update – 12:14 p.m. EST: Added a statement from Fox News’ Jay Wallace.
[Screengrab via Fox News]