The latest embarrassment in a very bad year for Fox News is the network's publicizing of a dubious theory attempting to explain the 2016 murder in Washington D.C. of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee data director. Given the alleged importance of leaked DNC emails in deciding last year's presidential campaign, armchair detectives of a political bent, believing that there are no coincidences in politics, came to suspect that Rich may have had something to do with the leak. Julian Assange of Wikileaks may have thought the same thing, or some infer from his mentioning the Rich murder during an interview last year. In short, the popular theory (in some circles) is that Rich was killed in reprisal for leaking emails to Wikileaks or the Russians. Recently a former police detective who appears occasionally on Fox News appeared once more to claim that evidence of contacts between Rich and Wikileaks had been covered up. His claims were touted by Sean Hannity, Fox's most prominent host after the sacking of Bill O'Reilly. The detective subsequently threw Fox under the bus, claiming that one of their people had told him about suppressed evidence in the first place, while he had no relevant evidence of his own. Hannity and Fox have been blasted by Rich's family, and some advertisers reportedly have bailed out on Hannity's show. On May 23 Fox formally retracted its news report, while Hannity announced that he would no longer discuss the subject on his show.
None of this, of course, will deter hardcore conspiracymongers who, if anything, will see Fox's retractions as fresh proof of the enduring power of the Deep State or the Clinton family, while some cynics will continue to see political profit in the Rich mystery. Assuming that the conspiracy theory will be kept alive to benefit a particular cause, what if it didn't? For amusement purposes only, let's imagine that Rich was leaking DNC documents. The object of leaking emails and other documents, presumably, was to discredit the Clinton campaign -- but there's obviously more than one way to do that. So what if Julian Assange, from his lair in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, arranged to have Rich killed on the assumption that people would blame the DNC or the Clintons? What if the Russians were involved in the data transaction and then had Rich killed on the assumption that either the Clintons or Assange could be blamed, the former if elected, the latter should he prove unfriendly in the future? What if either Assange or the Russians had a random DNC guy killed, who had noting to do with them, on the assumption that people would jump to conclusions about the Clintons? Watch enough TV whodunits and you'll realize that Occam's Razor isn't as sharp as reputed. The simplest explanation isn't necessarily the best, and sometimes an explanation appears simplest and best only from a certain perspective. Meanwhile, the problem with many conspiracy theorists, strange as it looks, may be that they lack imagination, that their thinking runs through a limited number of set channels determined by prejudices and personal feelings. Despite an air of cynicism or worldly wisdom, they tend to think that only certain people or groups are capable of anything and so jump to blame one suspect while ignoring others. They assume that certain people are guilty of something (or everything) and reason backwards from that assumption. The way to defeat partisan conspiracymongering may well be to counter them with more imaginative and cynical conspiracy theories that may be no more true but could well prove more entertaining -- and that probably counts more than anyone cares to admit these days.