ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

WND's Cynical Exploitation of Seth Rich

WorldNetDaily doesn't actually want to solve the former DNC staffer's murder -- that would mean it could no longer use his death as an excuse to bash the Clintons and push conspiracy theories.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/7/2017

Seth Rich

Let's be clear: WorldNetDaily doesn't give a damn about Seth Rich.

As with Vince Foster and Barack Obama's birth certificate, Rich's 2016 death is merely a cynical means to a partisan end as far as WND is concerned, something to exploit for political gain. That end: to feed WND's pathological hatred of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

WND made this clear when its first reaction to the death of Rich -- a staffer for the Democratic National Committee killed in July 2016 in an apparent botched robbery attempt -- was to add him to the "Clinton Body Count," a notorious and discredited effort, dating back to the 1990s, to document people associated with the Clintons -- however vaguely -- who met with purportedly suspicious fates.

An Aug. 9 article by Bob Unruh listed Rich among "three people with tangential connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton [who] have died in unusual circumstances over the last few weeks, sparking a renewed interested in the so-called 'body count' of people who allegedly got in the way of the 'Clinton machine.'"

Note Unruh's use of the word "tangental." That tells us he knows this is utter bull and he's only bringing it up to hurt Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, but WND utter hatred of all things Clinton clearly compelled Unruh to pretend said bull as legitimate.

Unruh quoted right-wing columnist Rachel Alexander asserting that “Some are speculating that Hillary Clinton is behind the murder, because Rich could have been the DNC staffer responsible for leaking the 20,000 damaging DNC emails to WikiLeaks." Unruh added that "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared to suggest" that Rich "was the source of the WikiLeaks-exposed DNC emails."

Unruh then tried to do a pre-emptive runaround of a Snopes item debunking various conspiracy theories around Rich's death by quoting Alexander ranting, "This is strange, since how does Snopes know that it is false? The police haven’t even completed their investigation yet, which Snopes admits. Many murders go unsolved, including several of the strange deaths of people associated with the Clintons.”

That was followed by an anonymously written Aug. 21 WND article that, in the midst of trying to yet again place Rich on the "Clinton Body Count" list, portrays Rich's family members asking that people stop spinning baseless conspiracy theories around his death as part of the conspiracy. How? Because "Brad Bauman, the man hired by Rich’s family to end the “conspiracy theories” surrounding the unsolved murder, is a public relations manager with the Pastorum Group and specializes in “crisis communications” for the Democratic Party." That claim was removed from the article when it was re-edited a couple months later to push the death conspiracies "as American voters cast their ballots for the nation’s next president on Election Day."

Hillary Clinton lost the election, so Rich's death lost its exploitation value for WND, at least temporarily.

The conspiracy resurfaces

In mid-May, WND published exactly one original article on the claims that President Trump shared classified information with the Russians and that Trump told ousted FBI director James Comey to end his investigation of onetime Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Bob Unruh desperately spun the former claim as a "report based on a leak from an unnamed source" and the latter as "purportedly based on a memo supposedly seen by two unidentified agents."

There was a conspiracy theory to revive, after all. By contrast, WND cranked out six articles on developments regarding the 2016 death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

First up was Chelsea Schilling asserting that Rich "was communicating with WikiLeaks before his death, according to the family’s private investigator," and had purportedly sent "44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments" to WikiLeaks. Just one problem: Rod Wheeler, the man Schilling described as "the family’s private investigator," well, isn't -- he was hired by and paid for by money manager and frequent Fox News guest Ed Butowsky, and the family has dissociated itself from Wheeler's claims. Schilling later edited her article to vaguely concede that Wheeler "was hired by a third party to investigate for the Rich family," but curiously did not identify his funder.

That was followed by a usual WND trope: an article by Garth Kant complaining that nobody else is covering the story, in this case "potentially explosive" allegations from private investigator Rod Wheeler that Rich purportedly "emailed 44,053 DNC emails to WikiLeaks" before his death in an apparent botched robbery attempt. That "could throw a wrench into the narrative that Russia hacked the Democratic Party’s emails during the 2016 presidential election in order to influence the presidential election," Kant breathlessly speculated.

Next came a similar complaint from Leo Hohmann that "The story that many conservative media considered a 'bombshell' Tuesday didn’t even register as a blip on the screens of CNN, ABC and CBS."

Bob Unruh then weighed in with an article purporting to recount the history of the case, adding that Rich's murder "took place the same month emails released by WikiLeaks on the eve of the Democratic National Convention revealed the Democratic National Committee was manipulating the party’s primary to ensure Hillary Clinton defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the party’s presidential nomination." He too falsely claimed that Wheeler was "hired by the Rich family."

Unruh followed that with a profile of Rich that also recounted the conspiratorial allegations.

WND reporter Alicia Powe touted how "private investigator" Rod Wheeler complained that the DNC allegedly contacted Washington, D.C. police regarding his investigation into Rich's death, while continuing to perpetuate the false claim that Wheeler was working for Rich's family.

Then WND fully goes there in an anonymously written article rehashing for the umpteenth time the "Clinton Body Count," declaring that "Seth Rich’s death shares some eerie similarities with many mysterious deaths of individuals linked to former President Bill Clinton and twice failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton."

While WND was going all in on the Rich story, however, that story was falling apart. Wheeler lacks credibility as an investigator -- ConWebWatch flagged him in 2007 pushing the claim (which WND enthusiastically repeated) that there were "lesbian gangs" in Washington, D.C., who used guns painted pink. Wheeler had to walk back that claim, and he soon walked back his claims about Rich as well -- to the point that he is admitting he has no evidence Rich ever contacted WikiLeaks and that he has never seen Rich's computer, let alone any emails he might have sent from it. Wheeler also admitted he never talked to the "federal investigator" he cited as evidence for his claims.

Needless to say, WND can't be bothered to do a story on that.

Instead, WND decided to do a little narrative-massaging. A new article by Powe led with Rich family representative Brad Bauman -- whose name Powe misspells early on and whom she makes sure to identify as a "professional Democratic crisis public-relations consultant -- denying Wheeler's claims.

Powe insisted that "Wheeler has emphasized in interviews with WND and Fox New [sic] that he is not a spokesman for the Rich family," despite the fact that at least one WND article specifically portrayed Wheeler as a family spokesman and Powe's own earlier article definitely hinted that Wheeler was working on the family's behalf while failing to explicitly state he is not a family spokesman. Powe also failed to mention who actually is paying Wheeler, or that the original story Wheeler (and, thus, WND) peddled has been discredited.

WND followed that up with a May 21 article by Liz Crokin -- a right-wing columnist who has pushed the Pizzagate fake-news conspiracy and, thus, lacks any credibility whatsoever -- claiming to have talked to a manager (anonymous, of course) of a bar where Rich "was last spotted hours before he was shot and killed last summer" irrelevantly complaining that police never talked to any bar employee regarding Rich's death. Crokin also claimed that Wheeler was "hired to independently investigate Rich's murder" while omitting the crucial information that the Rich family did not hire him and who actually did the hiring.

WND editor Joseph Farah endorsed the conspiracy-mongering in his May 22 column raging at the Washington Post for pointing out that conspiracy theories about Rich's death are no different than right-wing conspiracy theories about the death of Vince Foster -- which, of course, Farah and WND have been promulgating for decades. after huffing that the Post takedown was "textbook crap,"adding: "Apparently, the gullible reporters and editors at the Post believe politicians are incapable of evil deeds – especially Democratic politicians. And anyone who pokes around at stories about such the murder of Seth Rich is a 'conspiracy theorist.'"

Funny how a guy who mocks an invented belief "politicians are incapable of evil deeds" has no interest in pursuing the story of Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials, which most people might consider a liiiiiittle bit evil.

Farah laughably calls himself an "independent journalist" -- not true; he has always been motivated by his right-wing agenda, which is anything but independent -- and scorned criticism of WND and other right-wing outlets that "reported on a private investigator’s revelations about what he found when he was hired to look into the murder after a year of zero progress by the Keystone Kops of Washington, D.C." Farah didn't mention that said "private investigator," Rod Wheeler, retracted most of his claims.

Farah also complained about the lack of "standards" in the "so-called 'mainstream media,'" but didn't mention his own lack of standards in continuing to cling to discredited claims -- like hiring discredited Pizzagate promoter Crokin to write about Rich.

Speaking of which, WND once again called on Crokin, who paired up with Powe to claim that "Former Democratic National Committee interim chairwoman Donna Brazile is the high-ranking DNC representative who allegedly called police and the family of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich and demanded to know why a private investigator was 'snooping' into Rich’s death." Their source? The discredited investigator himself, Rod Wheeler. Needless to say, Crokin and Powe don't tell their readers that Wheeler has retracted most of his earlier claims about Rich.

Crokin and Powe also touted a claim that Rich was a WikiLeaks source by Kim Dotcom, whom they describe as "the hacker described as an 'entrepreneur, innovator, gamer, artist, Internet freedom fighter & father of 5.'" They don't mention that Dotcom is a con artist and fugitive from justice, facing racketeering and money-laundering charges for operating and hiding in New Zealand to avoid extradition to the U.S. -- all of which makes Dotcom even less trustworthy than Crokin.

On May 23, Powe followed up by speculating that the Rich family's spokesman, Brad Bauman, is being paid by the Democratic National Committee, where Rich was working when he was killed in an apparent botched robbery. It's an absurd fixation, since Powe and WND have refused to tell its readers who's paying discredited investigator Wheeler.

Powe hinted at it by mentioning Ed Butowsky as "a Texas businessman who hired a private eye to look into Rich’s murder" -- but for some reason didn't explicitly state that Wheeler was the "private eye" Butowsky hired.

WND also posted an anonymously written article with another of its usual tropes: a "big list" of conspiracy mongers who also question the circumstances of Rich's death. Strangely, in the midst of this article is where WND decides to dump all the negative stuff it's been avoiding all this time, including the "bombshell retraction" by Fox News of its Rich story and an admission for the first time anywhere at WND that Wheeler has backtracked on his original claims about Rich.

But because this is an infodump rather than actual news account, WND can't be bothered to separate fact from fiction -- there's no explanation of what WND is continuing to cling to and what information, if any, it considers discredited because Wheeler backtracked.

WND whines about getting busted by Twitter

Bob Unruh spent a May 24 article complaining that Twitter suspended WND's account for 12 hours over its tweeting of another dubious Seth Rich story. But Unruh's story is loaded with dubious claims and outright falsehoods:

  • Unruh falsely claims that private investigator Rod Wheeler was "hired by the Rich family." He wasn't.
  • Unruh wrote that "Wheeler said in several interviews last week that a federal investigator has elaborate details of Rich’s connection to WikiLeaks and is a credible source." In fact, Wheeler has since admitted he never talked to that "federal investigator" and that he has no firsthand knowledge of any link between Rich and WikiLeaks.
  • The tweet that prompted Twitter's suspension was of a the article by Powe and Crokin about Wheeler's claim that "Donna Brazile is the high-ranking DNC representative who allegedly called police and the family of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich and demanded to know why a private investigator was “snooping” into Rich’s death." Given that Wheeler has retracted pretty much everything he has said about the Rich case so far, there's no reason whatsoever to treat him as credible now -- something Powe and Crokin didn't tell their readers.

WND's tweet included the hashtag #SethRichCoverUp, which is probably the thing that set off Twitter's policing mechanism.

Because WND can't ever tell a straight news story, Unruh felt the need to take shots at Twitter co-founder Evan Williams for apologizing if Twitter made Donald Trump's presidency possible. Unruh provided no evidence whatsoever that Williams had anything to do with WND's suspension.

Through all the whining, though, Unruh admits: "A WND company official confirmed the tweet was deleted per the company’s instructions." Remember, WND does back down when it's directly threatened; it heavily toned down its race-baiting after Google threatened to pull ad revenue over that.

Through all of this, however, at no point does Unruh concede that the Seth Rich conspiracies it has been heavily promoting over the previous week have been repeatedly discredited. That's needlessly dogged devotion to a story they know is false.

Having gotten its Twitter account reinstated, WND was free to continue pushing its Rich conspiracies. Jack Cashill -- who never met a conspiracy theory he didn't like -- glommed onto Rich in his May 24 column, referencing his previous conspiratorial obsessions: "There are precedents for this curious media indifference. The death of White House counsel Vince Foster in 1993 comes quickly to mind. So, too, does the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown during the presidential campaign of 1996."

Pizzagate promoter Crokin got the call from WND once again, this time for an article on how a self-proclaimed "investigator" is spreading his conspiracy theories about Rich. In fact, the "investigator" is Jack Burkman, who Crokin later admits is a "Republican lobbyist" (also, a bit of a homophobe) who has falsely passed himself off to at least one right-wing outlet as the Rich family's attorney. Crokin curiously didn't bother to ask Burkman who was paying him to pursue his investigation.

Powe, meanwhile, complained that a Republican congressman who tried to bring up the conspiracy theories on CNN was shut down by the other guests. Powe mentioned one "private investigator" who made claims about the case, she didn't identify him by name -- perhaps because that was Rod Wheeler, who has retracted most of the headline-generating claims he made about Rich's death.

-- Joseph Farah's May 25 column pretends that no claim it has reported about Rich's death has ever been retracted; instead, he's desperate to keep the conspiracy alive. He huffs that "the DNC seems to be attempting to guide the police investigation from even considering the possibility that Rich’s murder could have anything to do with his work. That’s a huge red flag and borders on obstruction of justice considering the total political control Democrats wields over the city." He continued:

Is it possible Seth Rich could have been involved in leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks, as even Julian Assange has broadly hinted? Could it be that Rich, and possibly others at the DNC, risked their lives as whistleblowers to reveal scandal within the DNC – only to see their heroic work attributed to Russia for political reasons?

I’m not certain. But I am curious. And I can’t understand why others would attempt to thwart an open and honest murder investigation by narrowing the parameters of the probe. What would be their motivation?

Does that make sense?

That’s my case for a truly independent counsel investigation. This shouldn’t take a year to conduct. After all, it’s a murder case. The focus should be on who was responsible – like any other murder case. Who had the motive, means and opportunity? And all the evidence should be examined without regard to where the investigation leads.

Remember: Farah doesn't understand why Trump's apparent collusion with Russia during the election is a big deal, so his news judgment is not exactly what one would consider functional.

New conspiratorial compatriots

WND had a busy holiday weekend of trying to perpetuate those Seth Rich conspiracies. First, its served up a Seth Rich timeline from birther dead-ender and former WND columnist Diana West -- another credibility-deficient writer -- that tries to wrap in other conspiracies like the death of John Ashe, whom WND writes "had been scheduled to report to court shortly after this date, along with Ng Lap Seng, as part of a fraud case alleging payola"; Seng was linked to alleged Clinton administration corruption, which somehow makes this an entry on the discredited "Clinton Body Count." In fact, the pending legal action against Ashe had nothing to do whatsoever with any Clinton. (Another Clinton Body County entry debunked? Shocking, we know.) The article also touted claims made by "private detective" Rod Wheeler without mentioning the important fact that Wheeler has since retracted much of what he has said about the Rich case.

Another article, by Powe, pushed unsubstantiated speculation by agenda-driven "private investigators" like Burkman that Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser "has ordered a halt to the investigation" into Rich's death.

WND columnist Gina Loudon then jumped aboard the Rich conspiracy train, asserting that "I am beginning to change my mind upon studying the behavior and psychology of the left." Loudon once made an armchair diagnosis of Barack Obama as a mentally ill psychopath but proclaimed Trump's narcissism and egocentricism to be "great attributes for a true leader" and that he "seems mentally sound," so her musing about the "psychology of the left: aren't exactly based in reality.

WND then took comfort that a fellow fringe-right media outlet has joined the conspiracy, touting how tiny cable TV channel One America News is "boosting the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the slain Democratic National Committee employee’s killer or killers by an additional $100,000 and issuing a step-by-step report on why the mysterious death is more than a 'conspiracy theory.'"

WND also cheered the appearance of another right-wing conspiratorial ally, with Bob Unruh happily writing that "The chief of the government-accountability group Judicial Watch contends there’s 'credible evidence' that needs to be addressed in the murder investigation of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich." This from an organization obsessed with President Obama's vacation expenses but are markedly less concerned with the mounting costs of Trump's weekends at Mar-a-Lago.

So the conspiracy continues -- as does the plunging of whatever credibility WND and Judicial Watch might have at this point.

Trying to cash in

WorldNetDaily's latest round of Seth Rich conspiracy-mongering start with a pair of meaningless stories:

  • An article by Powe complained that Washington, D.C., hospitals wouldn't release any information about Rich -- an outcome she certainly knew would happen because federal law bars hospitals from publicly releasing data about any patient. Powe grudgingly admits this, even quoting the right-wing ambulance-chasers at Judicial Watch pointing out that hospitals must follow "strict patient privacy regulations."So there was no legitimate journalistic value whatsoever in this story -- it's just to pad out WND's story count on Seth Rich.
  • Powe also reported on a completely unrelated gun-theft case around the time of Rich's death, uncritically repeating the assertions of politically motivated lobbyist Burkman, who surprisingly admits he has no information linking the case to Rich. Powe also quoted Burkman whining: “I don’t understand why they are withholding key information. We simply don’t know what their motives are. Is there a cover-up? Is there something they don’t want out? They seem to want this in the cold-case file. No new information has been released in this case since late October.” Powe seems not to have considered the possibility that the police know Burkman is a political hack seeking to exploit Rich's death for his own partisan purposes.

Speaking of exploiting Rich's death, WND has now reached the begging-for-money stage of the Rich story. A May 31 article announced that WND has started a GoFundMe page "to raise support for rewards for new evidence that would lead to a conviction, for funding for a private investigator to uncover the truth and for more resources for investigative reporting."

But on that GoFundMe page, WND is dishonestly suggesting it has the blessing of Rich's family. It states (boldface in original):

We support the GoFundMe campaign of the Rich Family and commend anyone to donate to that cause. Seth Rich’s brother, Aaron, is right when he writes: “One thing that no one tells you, and something we weren’t prepared to hear when we lost Seth, is that if a case isn’t solved immediately, it could take months or years before justice is served. Worse, to keep the investigation active, to seek leads and to follow up on investigations, to make sure that every possible angle is covered – it’s expensive.”

Like that campaign, we seek “to raise and maintain public awareness of Seth's unsolved murder.” Most of all, we want to see this case solved.

WND gave no indication it sought Aaron Rich's permission to quote him, let alone that the Rich family WND's efforts. In fact we can assume quite the opposite: Aaron Rich begged Sean Hannity to stop spreading conspiracy theories about Seth's death, so it's highly unlikely that the family would want anything at all to do with WND, which has spread even more conspiracy theories about it and will use any money it raises in this campaign to spread them further.

Further, WND's history in seeking money from the public is one of complete lack of transparency -- and WND offers no specifics about how much money it needs to accomplish what it claims to want to do -- so there's no reason to trust WND to be accountable.

Smart donors are much better off donating directly to the Rich family's GoFundMe campaign than giving any money to WND.

Again: WND is simply exploiting Rich's death to feed its lengthy history of anti-Clinton animus. Nothing more, nothing less. There's no need to pretend that WND actually cares about Rich.

And don't believe WND when it claims that "we want to see this case solved" -- actually solving Rich's death would deprive WND of an anti-Clinton propaganda tool, and it's certainly not about to let that happen when it can turn Rich into the Vince Foster of the 21st century. After all, the fact that all credible research showed no issues with Obama's birth certificate never kept WND from spending eight years claiming otherwise.

Send this page to:

Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-2017 Terry Krepel