Fox News star Sean Hannity is set to be deposed over what he knew about his network’s admittedly faulty report on the murder of former Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich.
The testimony is part of a lawsuit that was filed by the deceased’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich, against Fox News and others in early 2018.
In the summer of 2016, Rich was killed during what police in Washington, D.C. chalked up to a robbery gone bad. Soon thereafter, right-wing elements began to speculate that Rich was gunned down over his alleged–but never substantiated–connection to the 2016 DNC email scandal that is widely considered to have harmed Hillary Clinton’s failed bid for the presidency.
In this baseless version of the story, Rich provided WikiLeaks with a huge array of damaging emails and was subsequently taken out by unnamed actors to ensure his silence–or something like that.
Those allegations spread far and wide on social media and startup media outlets dedicated to then-candidate Donald Trump. Rich’s own family provided the false claims an ounce or two of oxygen when they enlisted the help of third-party investigator and former homicide detective Rod Wheeler.
In May 2017, Fox News gave the conspiracy theory a new aura of legitimacy by publishing a Malia Zimmerman story titled, “Seth Rich, slain DNC staffer, had contact with WikiLeaks, say multiple sources.”
The article’s first paragraph is generally illustrative:
The Democratic National Committee staffer who was gunned down on July 10 on a Washington, D.C., street just steps from his home had leaked thousands of internal emails to WikiLeaks, law enforcement sources told Fox News.
The controversial story was retracted less than a week later. Fox News put a statement in its place saying the piece “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting” and had “since been removed.”
Various interested parties filed various legal claims in various cases–including the Joel and Mary Rich lawsuit currently before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) which names Fox News, Zimmerman and GOP donor–as well as former Fox News guest–Ed Butowsky as defendants.
The lawsuit, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, aiding and abetting the intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy to intentionally inflict emotional distress, tortious interference and negligence, is seeking various forms of monetary damages–including typically high-figured punitive damages–as well as attorney’s fees (which are also likely to be substantial for the losing side).
A discovery schedule was proposed by the Rich family’s attorney in early August and the parties have been litigating over myriad discovery issues since then. A conference held on September 11 to hash out some of those issues resulted in the SDNY’s decision for the proposed schedule to more or less run its original course.
“For reasons stated on the record at the Friday, September 11, 2020 discovery conference, the court modifies the interim discovery deadlines endorsed as set forth by the parties’ August 7, 2020 Letter, solely to allow all fact discovery to be completed by December 31, 2020,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn noted in her order. “All other deadlines as set forth by that Letter remain in effect. The parties are directed to file a joint letter by November 6, 2020, updating the Court as to the status of discovery and outlining any outstanding disputes.”
Per the terms of the original discovery schedule, that means Hannity and others–including Fox Business host Lou Dobbs–are slated to be deposed by the end of October. Hannity’s deposition is scheduled for Oct. 30, while Dobbs’s is set for Oct. 7.
A representative for Fox News declined to comment due to pending litigation.
[image via Theo Wargo/Getty Images]
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