Malia Zimmerman, a reporter at Fox News, fabricated two quotes for a bogus story that connected now-deceased Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich to Wikileaks, according to a lawsuit filed this morning on behalf of the source those quotes were attributed to.
The lawsuit, which accused Zimmerman and Trump supporter Ed Butowsky of inventing a story to shift the blame away from Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election, also says that President Trump was allowed to review a Fox News story before it was published.
In a statement, Fox News pushed back against allegations it published the story to advance the Trump administration’s agenda and acknowledged the retraction of the story is still being investigated:
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.
The plaintiff in the case, private investigator Rod Wheeler, says that he was forced to retract the fabricated statements after Zimmerman’s (since retracted) article was published.
Mr. Wheeler — who was the only named source quoted in the article — did not make these statements. 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.
The lawsuit includes a text message, allegedly sent from Butowsky to Wheeler, that indicates the president had reviewed the article before it was published:
“Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article,” the text message reads. “He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. But don’t feel the pressure.”
In an interview with NPR, which broke the story, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged that Butowsky and Wheeler briefed him on the Seth Rich story a month before it was published.
The lawsuit cites several statements from Butowsky, a financial adviser who has appeared on Fox News, that the story was politically motivated. After Butowsky was told by journalist Seymour Hersh that there was an FBI report establishing that Seth Rich sent emails to Wikileaks, he allegedly said, “The most important thing is this. Everyone, there’s so many people throughout Trump’s four years and maybe eight years are always going to fall back on the idea that he is not legitimate and the Russians got him elected. This [information about Seth Rich providing emails to Wikileaks] changes all of that. He also said, according to the lawsuit, that the story “solve[s] the problem about Russians are the ones that gave the emails because that did not happen. I know that did not happen.”
After the article with the fabricated quotes was published, according to the lawsuit, Wheeler met with executives at Fox News and “explained to Ms. Brandi and Mr. Wallace that he had not provided Zimmerman with the quotations she used in her article.” Despite this, according to the lawsuit, “Fox has not issued any statement admitting that the quotes attributed to Mr. Wheeler were not made by him.”
Wheeler is represented by Wigdor LLP, the same firm that has brought numerous complaints of discrimination against Fox News on behalf of former employees.