Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s obsession with defending Russian President Vladimir Putin and former president Donald Trump hit a new low on Monday’s edition of Carlson’s nightly show. During his opening monologue, Carlson recycled a baseless conspiracy theory that it wasn’t Russia that carried out a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign, but instead a Democratic insider who stole DNC emails “from within the building” and “who wanted to show the world how Bernie Sanders was being shafted by the very same corrupt forces in Washington that later shafted Donald Trump.”
Although Carlson didn’t mention that supposed DNC insider by name, the theory he described is commonly associated with Seth Rich, a DNC employee who was murdered in the summer of 2016. Police say Rich’s murder happened during an attempted armed robbery in a neighborhood grappling with a rash of crime. Rich’s killer has yet to be arrested, and in the absence of solid leads in the case, various theories proliferated online that tried to say Rich, not Russia, pilfered tens of thousands of internal emails from the DNC and gave them to WikiLeaks, which published the emails in late July 2016.
In the five-and-a-half years since Rich’s death, separate investigations by the Trump-era Justice Department and the Republican-led House and Senate intelligence committees have confirmed what the cybersecurity experts originally concluded about the DNC hack: it was the work of Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the GRU. An indictment secured by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe alleged 12 Russian agents who worked in Units 26165 and 74455 of the GRU planned and carried out the cyberattack on the DNC — as well as the successful hacking operation that targeted 2016 Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal email account.
Tucker Carlson pushing the Seth Rich conspiracy theory pic.twitter.com/6iIh8qZfJm
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) February 15, 2022
In May 2017, Fox News published an explosive story on its website that said Rich, not Russia, had supplied the stolen DNC emails to WikiLeaks. The FBI and Washington, D.C. police immediately disputed the story, and the article’s only named source, a former D.C. cop turned private investigator named Rod Wheeler, distanced himself from it. Despite the scrutiny, some of Fox’s biggest primetime hosts, including Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, amplified the Rich-WikiLeaks story. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Fox talking head, took the story even further, commenting during a Fox appearance that Rich “apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 — I’m sorry — 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments,” later adding, “Nobody is investigating that. And what does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn’t the Russians.”
Fox eventually retracted its original story about Rich and WikiLeaks. But the network issued no apology or explanation for what went wrong. In March 2018, Seth Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich, sued Fox News, a Fox investigative reporter, and an unpaid on-air Fox guest for the erroneous reporting about their son and for the emotional harm they suffered as a result of Fox’s actions. After several years of litigation, the Riches advanced their case far enough to schedule depositions with Hannity, Dobbs, and top executives at the network. Not long afterward, Fox agreed to settle the case, paying the Riches a reported seven-figure settlement.
The blowback felt by Fox makes Tucker Carlson’s latest rant all the more perplexing. Carlson doesn’t hedge his comments on the facts of the 2016 Russian hack-and-leak operation. “Here’s the interesting thing: It was not true,” he said on his show. “It has never been true. Vladimir Putin did not hack the DNC, there was never any evidence that the Russians hacked the DNC.” Yet, investigators working for Special Counsel Mueller, the GOP-led House intelligence committee, and the GOP-led Senate intelligence committee devoted hundreds of pages to describing exactly how the Russians GRU agents broke into the DNC and extracted all those emails.
Carlson then goes on to say that “the DNC emails were very clearly stolen from within the building, most likely by a Bernie Sanders supporter who wanted to show the world how Bernie Sanders was being shafted by the very same corrupt forces in Washington that later shafted Donald Trump.” There is no actual evidence that Carlson’s claims are true — aside from the DNC’s dismissive treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016, which was outlined in the WikiLeaks DNC email dump. Based off of his remarks on Monday night, Carlson has no new reporting or insight to bring to the story of what happened in 2016.
When Fox settled the lawsuit brought by Seth Rich’s parents in Nov. 2020, the network issued a short statement that said, “We are pleased with the resolution of the claims and hope this enables Mr. and Mrs. Rich to find a small degree of peace and solace moving forward.” Peace or solace is that much harder to find when Fox’s most-watched host is regurgitating a stale theory that’s been discredited over and over again.