Death in the public interest: the strange case of Seth Rich
WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2016 — On a hot summer day in 1976, the Arizona Republic’s investigative reporter Don Bolles was at the Hotel Clarendon to meet a man claiming to have information regarding corrupt Copper State officials.
The source never showed.
When Bolles got back to his car and started the engine, the bomb that detonated under his seat severed a leg. Before slipping into unconsciousness, he told a concerned bystander, “They finally got me. The Mafia.”
He died 11 days later, never having regained consciousness. Bolles’ killers were eventually arrested and convicted, but the man suspected of ordering the hit never served a day in prison.
Bolles gave his life upholding journalism’s creed: “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
It’s a job that once served the public interest.
Today, WikiLeaks exists because many journalistic watchdogs are as comfortably corrupt as the institutions they claim to scrutinize in the public interest.
And it is in the public interest that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for Seth Rich’s murder. Rich was shot in the back while walking home, just 10 days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
He was the Democrat National Committee staffer believed to have leaked some of the emails proving party officials colluded to deny candidate Bernie Sanders the Democratic presidential nomination in favor of Hillary Clinton.
“Whistle-blowers go to significant efforts to get us material,” Assange said in an interview with the Dutch television program Nieuwuur, “and often very significant risks. As a 27-year-old that works for the DNC, who was shot in the back, murdered … for unknown reasons as he [Rich] was walking down the street in Washington…”
Newsman Jeroen Overbeek quickly interrupted: “That was just a robbery, I believe, wasn’t it?”
“No,” Assange insisted, “there was no finding.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked Overbeek.
“I’m suggesting that our sources take risks and they become concerned to see things occurring.”
“Was he one of your sources then?”
Assange hedged, “We don’t comment on who our sources are.”
“Then why make the suggestion about a young guy being shot in the streets of Washington?” Overbeek asked pointedly.
“Because we have to understand how high the stakes are in the United States. And that our sources … face serious risks, that’s why they come to us. We can protect their anonymity.”
An incredulous Overbeek barked, “But it’s quite something to suggest a murder. That’s basically what you’re doing.”
“Well, others have suggested that. We are investigating to understand what happened in that situation with Seth Rich. I think it is a concerning situation. There’s not a conclusion yet … a variety of WikiLeak sources are concerned when that kind of thing happens,” said Assange.
Mimicking his U.S. media counterparts, Overbeek attempted to undercut the contribution of the late Seth Rich to the public good by associating him with a sinister foreign actor. “If you’re so fond of democracy … does it matter that the source of these emails, or the source of the hacking at least, is most likely from a country that doesn’t take democracy very seriously, Russia?”
Assange then linked Overbeek and the Western media with a force more sinister than Russia’s Vladimir Putin. “It is a serious claim by the Clinton campaign … they have now said that an electoral candidate, [Donald] Trump, is somehow an agent of the Russians … that WikiLeaks is. This harkens back to a very grim period in U.S. history—of McCarthyism. Where anyone you’re politically opposed to you say is an agent of a foreign government.”
Overbeek couldn’t help himself. “You’ve spoken about Hillary Clinton in the past, many times. You don’t want to see her even near the White House. You’ve made that very clear. Is this pure journalism or is this also a personal vendetta, because it sometimes seems like it. You’ve said you like to ‘crush bastards.’”
Assange then got to the nub of the issue by asking his own questions, “What’s the allegation here? That CNN wouldn’t publish it? The New York Times wouldn’t publish it? I think that’s a very interesting question. And I actually think perhaps they wouldn’t publish it. But [our] sources trust that we will publish as long as it’s of interest to the public.”
A cursory search of the New York Times turned up no mention of Seth Rich.
But CNN did note that DNC chairwoman Debby Wasserman Schultz issued a statement describing the murdered DNC staffer as a “dedicated, selfless public servant who worked tirelessly to protect the most sacred right we share as Americans—the right to vote.”
A few days later, Schultz resigned as chairwoman after WikiLeaks released internal DNC emails proving her complicity with the scheme to rig the Democratic primaries in Clinton’s favor.
Assange added that WikiLeaks sees its job as “trying to educate our audience to understand how the world works in practice.”
Funny, that used to be the job of the press, a corrupt and dying institution that has become a very interested party in the careers of favored politicians and the corrupt party apparatus that supports them.
So, keep an eye on WikiLeaks in the weeks to come. Assange said he has “a lot of material related to the U.S. [presidential] election campaign, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to the Clinton Foundation and to the DNC.”
Whatever that material is, you can bet you won’t read it in the New York Times.
That might afflict a certain someone’s, well, comfort.