Fox News is Hiring Outside Lawyers to Defend Itself in the Seth Rich Lawsuit

A photo of former DNC staffer Seth Rich, whose death has sparked conspiracy theories from the far right, dressed in patriotic apparel. Twitter

Fox News has hired an outside law firm to defend itself (and, presumably, parent company 21st Century Fox) in a lawsuit filed on Monday by private investigator Rod Wheeler. That suit accuses employees of the network of concocting a conspiracy theory involving the unsolved 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich.

"Fox News has retained outside counsel on the matter," a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement released on Tuesday evening. "Given that this is pending litigation, there will be no further comment.” The statement did not provide details on which firm Fox News hired or how many attorneys were expected to work on the case.

A previous statement by Jay Wallace, president of news at Fox News, called Wheeler's accusations "completely erroneous."

Wheeler's complaint names as defendants Fox News, 21st Century Fox and Malia Zimmerman, a journalist who wrote about the Rich murder in May. Wheeler claims Zimmerman misrepresented and exaggerated his findings, which do not appear to have been conclusive, or even substantive. He further alleges that the White House explicitly sought to push the notion that Rich was murdered by Democratic operatives for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks. If that were the case, presumably the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump could not have colluded with Russia to throw the election in his favor.

NPR first reported on the suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan by attorney Douglas H. Wigdor, who has also represented plaintiffs in a racial discrimination suit against Fox News. 

Despite the dearth of details, the retention of an outside law firm suggests that Fox News is taking Wheeler's allegations seriously. The private investigator's lawsuit is only the most recent woe for a network that has endured more than a year of lawsuits and allegations of sexual misconduct by some of its most high-profile anchors and executives.

A media reporter for CNN describes the current mood at Fox News as one of exhaustion and dismay, an assessment based on several anonymous interviews with employees at the network. As one insider told CNN, "People need to start getting canned."