Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, during an appearance on CNN Wednesday morning, offered what seemed to be a wink and nod to the debunked conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
FARENTHOLD: “My fear is our constant focusing on the Russians is deflecting away for some other things that we need to be investigating. There’s still some question as to whether the intrusion of the DNC server was an insider job or whether or not it was the Russians.”
BERMAN: “What evidence – I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The insider job, what are you referring to here? Because I hope it’s not this information that Fox News just refused to be reporting.”
FAHRENTHOLD: “Again, there’s stuff circulating on the internet.”
BERMAN: “What’s circulating on the internet that you think is worthy of a congressional investigation? Because the DC police are investigating this, and so far they haven’t said there’s any there there.”
FARENTHOLD: “Yet the DC police nor no federal investigator has ever had a look at the DNC computer. We’re relying only on the report that someone that the DNC contracted to examine their computer rather than having federal officials. To me, we need to let the feds look at it.”
At issue is a since-retracted report last week from Fox News Channel and the local Fox affiliate in D.C. alleging that evidence had been uncovered showing that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks prior to his murder. (I’m not linking to the report because it has been retracted. More on that below.)
Those reports added fuel to an ongoing and unfounded conspiracy theory in a corner on the Internet that the hacking of the DNC was an inside job – that Rich was an informant exposing the corruption of the party committee and had been killed for it. (This also assumes the CIA and FBI were wrong in their assessment that the hack of the DNC server was perpetrated by the Russians.)
Problem is, the FNC report isn’t right. The key source for the article said he has no knowledge of any contact between Rich and WikiLeaks and added that he only heard of possible evidence from a Fox News reporter. And Fox News, on Tuesday, retracted the story entirely: “The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed,” Fox said in a statement.
The facts of the case haven’t stopped conspiracy theorists – aided by a major push on the story from Fox News star Sean Hannity – from insisting that the initial Fox report on Rich and WikiLeaks was accurate and is now being pushed aside by the very forces they claim murdered Rich in the first place.
“We know that Seth’s personal email and his personal computer were both inspected by detectives early in the investigation and that the inspection revealed no evidence of any communications with anyone at WikiLeaks or anyone associated with WikiLeaks. Nor did that inspection reveal any evidence that Seth had leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks or to anyone else.”
Hannity made a small concession to the wishes of Rich’s parents and brother on his show Tuesday night, not spending time fomenting a conspiracy theory. But, he tweeted soon afterwards: “Ok TO BE CLEAR, I am closer to the TRUTH than ever. Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder. Updates when available. Stay tuned!”
Farenthold appears to be swimming in those Hannity-filled waters with his comments to Berman and Harlow Wednesday morning. “There’s stuff circulating on the Internet” is not a responsible way to deal with the murder of a young man. Compare Farenthold’s “stuff floating around the Internet” with the assertion from Rich’s parents that they’ve seen no evidence that suggests a connection between their son and WikiLeaks. Which is more credible to you?
To believe what Farenthold is saying, you have to believe that Rich’s family is in on the “inside job” DNC hack. Which, on its face, is ridiculous.
As an aside, Farenthold also appears to equate his conspiracy theory spinning with the news media’s use of anonymous sources, despite the fact former CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday at a public congressional hearing that he’d seen evidence of contact between Russians and President Donald Trump’s campaign.
“I think the same is true with what the media is doing with Trump,” Farenthold told CNN. “We’re basing allegations on anonymous sources.”
The problem with what Farenthold – and Hannity – are doing is that by acting as though this is some sort of grand conspiracy theory with real evidence supporting it gives cover and fodder to the Internet kook crowd who believe that the DNC is evil and of course they would murder a leaker in their ranks.
What that forgets is this: Two parents lost a son. Someone lost their brother. That’s hard enough. To watch his death transformed into a political football must be excruciating.