Fox News retracts story amid conspiracy theories over Washington DC murder

The network said its controversial story about Seth Rich did not meet its "high degree of editorial scrutiny"

Fox News retracts story amid conspiracy theories over Washington DC murder

File photo. Picture by: Richard B. Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images

The US network Fox News has retracted a story on its website which sparked a conspiracy theory linking a murdered employee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to WikiLeaks.

Seth Rich (27) was shot and killed in Washington DC last July. The murder remains unsolved, with police indicating they are continuing to investigate the possibility that it was the result of a robbery gone wrong.

Given Mr Rich's connections to the Democratic party, the unsolved murder became a focus for conspiracy theorists and some of those opposed to Hillary Clinton during last year's election campaign.

Among the claims was that Mr Rich was involved in leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks - a theory that gained traction when WikiLeaks themselves offered a reward "for information leading to conviction for the murder" of Mr Rich (Julian Assange has insisted his organisation will not disclose the identity of any source).

The story escalated earlier this month when commentator Rod Wheeler, speaking to a Fox affiliate station, claimed that there was evidence linking Mr Rich with WikiLeaks.

That story quickly fell apart, however, when other US media outlets followed-up on the claims, with Wheeler telling CNN he did not have any evidence.

"I only got that [information] from the reporter at Fox News," he noted. 

By that stage, the story had been picked up and republished by several other prominent right-wing publications - and it also continued to receive publicity from one of Fox's biggest stars, Sean Hannity.

Meanwhile, the Rich family themselves led calls for Fox News to retract the story from their website.

In a statement today, Fox News said: "On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.

"Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed. We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted," the network adds.

The retraction came as CNN published a letter from Seth Rich's brother to the executive producer of Sean Hannity's show again urging the anchor to stop spreading the story.

Aaron Rich argued: "Think about how you would feel losing a son or brother. And while dealing with this, you had baseless accusations of your lost family member being part of a vast conspiracy."

Hannity, as of this evening, has continued pushing the story - encouraging his Twitter followers to read a statement from Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom claiming he knew Rich was involved in the DNC leak.

Dotcom is currently living in New Zealand, but is battling extradition to the US over charges including copyright infringement and money laundering.

He did not offer any evidence to support today's claims, instead saying he will provide evidence if he receives a "guarantee [...] of safe passage from New Zealand to the United States and back".