Fox News seeks dismissal of suit by contributor who said he was used to deflect Trump-Russia story

Fox News has filed a motion to dismiss a defamation and discrimination lawsuit filed by a former contributor who said he was used by the network in a plot to downplay reporting on President Trump’s ties to Russia.

Rob Wheeler, a private investigator and former Washington, D.C., police detective, alleged in a suit filed Aug. 1 that Fox News fabricated quotes by him in an online story that suggested that the death of Seth Rich, a Democratic operative, was related to the leak of Democratic National Committee documents to WikiLeaks. Wheeler had been hired by Rich’s family to look into their son’s unsolved July 10, 2016, slaying.

The story published on FoxNews.com quoted Wheeler as saying that Rich had exchanged emails with WikiLeaks. The story was retracted and removed from the site with Fox News stating that it did not meet its standards.

Wheeler said the story was an attempt by Fox News and Ed Butowski, a Trump supporter also named in the suit, to “shift the blame from Russia and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.”

Fox News host Sean Hannity and other conservative commentators have raised the unconfirmed circumstances of Rich’s death as an alternative narrative to government assertions that the Russian government was responsible for the leaked DNC emails.

Fox News said that Wheeler was not misquoted or defamed in the online story. The network said Wheeler repeated his comments in several TV interviews before and after the story appeared.

Wheeler made the allegations in a lawsuit that claims he has faced racial discrimination at Fox News and received less money and airtime than his colleagues.

In its motion filed Monday in federal court in New York Fox News said that Wheeler is contractually required to take his discrimination claims to a mediator. The 21st Century Fox unit says the court complaint is “overloaded with sensationalistic claims that have nothing whatsoever to do with his action.”

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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