Lawsuit accuses Fox of concocting 'fake news' for Donald Trump

A reporter films outside the News Corporation building, which houses the Fox News studios, in New York, May 2017.
A reporter films outside the News Corporation building, which houses the Fox News studios, in New York, May 2017.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Fox News contrived with a Donald Trump supporter and the White House to fabricate "fake news" to advance the President's agenda and try to bury speculation that his campaign colluded with Russia, a lawsuit claims.

The suit, filed at the US federal court house in Manhattan on Tuesday (Aug 1), is brought by Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor and retired police detective, against the TV network, one of its journalists and another of its contributors.

It alleges a May 16 article sought to promote a claim that a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer was the source of leaked DNC e-mails during last year's election campaign, and not Russian hackers as the US intelligence community has said.

To bolster that claim, the lawsuit alleges that the article included "fabricated" quotes from Wheeler that he never said.

"The motivation... 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," the 33-page suit alleges.

It quoted one of the defendants - wealthy Trump supporter Ed Butowsky - as claiming that the President reviewed the article "prior to its publication and sought to get the article published 'immediately.'"

The lawsuit says that when Wheeler complained, he was told by Butowsky "that is the way the President wanted the article."

The White House hit back, saying Trump had "no knowledge" of the story.

"It's completely untrue that he or the White House were involved in the story. Beyond that, this is ongoing litigation and I will refer you to the actual parties involved," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Saunders told reporters.

Fox News denounced as "completely erroneous" accusations that it published the article "to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue."

"The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted," said president of news Jay Wallace.

The suit also alleges that Butowsky kept Sean Spicer, then White House spokesman, and senior Trump aide Steve Bannon, informed about his efforts.

Fox retracted the article on May 23, but the lawsuit accuses the channel of not clearing Wheeler's name and never admitting that he had been misquoted.

Seth Rich, a 27-year old DNC staffer, was shot dead on July 10, 2016. Police said he was killed in the course of a botched robbery.

The defamation lawsuit alleges that Wheeler "lost all credibility in the eyes of the public" and "suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and his career."