NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Fox News' Seth Rich Story Echoes Previous Problems For Owner Rupert Murdoch


Six years ago, media mogul Rupert Murdoch shut down one of Britain's largest newspapers. It was because of a scandal over its coverage of a girl's murder. And he made that move to protect a huge business deal in the U.K. which later collapsed. He's since resurrected that deal, but a new journalistic scandal involving Murdoch's Fox News channel and a murder in the U.S. could damage his prospects in London once again. NPR's David Folkenflik has the story.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The headlines could hardly come at a worse time. Murdoch hopes to take full control of the British satellite TV company Sky in a deal worth more than $14 billion. Last week, NPR broke news of allegations that Murdoch's Fox News concocted a story on the killing of a young Democratic aide in order to help President Trump. Seth Rich was 27 years old. His killing last summer in Washington, D.C., has not yet been solved.

MARY RICH: When it all - when all this disaster came about, it tore our lives apart.

FOLKENFLIK: Seth's parents, Mary and Joel Rich, spoke last week to NPR.

JOEL RICH: It tore them apart again. You know, the actions, you know, when Mr. Wheeler and Fox News published this were almost as bad for us as when we first learned of Seth's death.

M. RICH: Literally.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox News reported in May that evidence showed Seth Rich had leaked tens of thousands of emails from senior Democrats despite the conclusion of U.S. intelligence chiefs that the Russians were behind the hacks. The story came under fire and Fox retracted it. The toll the story took on the Rich family echoes the pain suffered by the family of Milly Dowler. Milly was a 13-year-old English girl who went missing in 2002. Her body was found six months later. Six years went by before the Dowlers learned that a British Murdoch tabloid illegally hacked into their daughter's cell phone. Her mother, Sally Dowler, testified that the revelation rekindled the family's anguish.


SALLY DOWLER: I didn't sleep for about three nights 'cause you're replaying everything in your mind and just thinking, oh, that makes sense now. That makes sense. Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: Outrage built. Murdoch closed down the 168-year-old News of the World to try to salvage his bid for Sky. The Murdoch family already controlled roughly 40 percent. But the bid was doomed. Murdoch apologized in person to the Dowlers and later testified before Parliament.


RUPERT MURDOCH: I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of my life.

FOLKENFLIK: Gemma Dowler, Milly's sister, later appealed to then-Prime Minister David Cameron to look beyond hacking.


GEMMA DOWLER: Something needs to be done to make sure what happened to my family doesn't happen again. But there are other equally worrying problems. And most important and damaging of all is the incestuous relationship between our top politicians and the press.

FOLKENFLIK: Cameron had forged a tight relationship with Murdoch and his papers. Later revelations showed Cameron's ministers were intent on approving the Sky bid until the scandal broke. The Murdochs are now once again seeking to acquire Sky. The deal is being delayed over concerns the Murdochs control too much of the British news media. Following NPR's reporting, several members of Parliament are now asking government officials and regulators to review whether Fox's handling of the Seth Rich story meets standards required for British broadcasters. Here in the U.S., Mary Rich tells NPR she's heartbroken that Fox's story has distracted people.

M. RICH: This whole blown-up BS has taken the eye off the ball. And that's just - buckles me to my knees that they've damaged so much of trying to find who his murderer is.

FOLKENFLIK: To date, the Rich family has received no apology from Fox or from Rupert Murdoch. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.