The name of Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman has been in the news much of late, for all the wrong reasons. Along with her employer and a Republican donor, Zimmerman was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed this week by the parents of Seth Rich, a 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer who was fatally shot in Washington in July 2016. Claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress, Joel and Mary Rich allege that Zimmerman and the donor — financial adviser Ed Butowsky — schemed to place a story at Fox News besmirching the memory of Seth Rich.
“Fox News, Fox reporter Malia Zimmerman, and […]* Ed Butowsky intentionally exploited this tragedy — including through lies, misrepresentations, and half-truths—with disregard for the obvious harm that their actions would cause Joel and Mary,” claims the suit. Whereas the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that Russia was responsible for stealing emails from the DNC that were distributed through WikiLeaks, Zimmerman’s report cited alleged links between Seth Rich and that whole operation. “Slain DNC Staffer Had Contact with WikiLeaks Say Multiple Sources,” read the headline; Fox News later retracted the story.
The Riches’ lawsuit — along with another filed by a former D.C. detective, Rod Wheeler, with whom Zimmerman and Butowsky consulted — leaves an unflattering picture of Zimmerman’s reporting methods, if they so qualify. To condense a great deal of emails, text messages and phone calls, Zimmerman and Butowsky sought to “have Wheeler plausibly corroborate the sham story based on the fringe conspiracy theory that Seth gave the DNC emails to WikiLeaks,” notes the Rich family complaint.
So what has happened to Zimmerman? Her Twitter bio reads, “Malia Zimmerman is an investigative reporter for FoxNews.com and covers news related to crime, terrorism, homeland security & government corruption.” A Fox News spokesperson this week emailed the Erik Wemple Blog indicating that she “remains employed,” presumably at Fox News.
From the exterior, however, it is a bit tough to determine what Zimmerman is doing. Her tweets, for starters, are protected. Her archive page on FoxNews.com records no contributions since Aug. 24, 2017, not long after the Wheeler suit lodged critical claims about her conduct in the Seth Rich story, including that she had fabricated quotes attributed to him.
So we asked Fox News: Is Zimmerman actually working on anything? No response from Fox News on that one. We put the same inquiry to Butowsky. “She is working on different stories and doing research,” says Butowsky, who says he got that information “through friends.” “Every person who’s in the business of investigative reporting or just regular reporting should be interested and trying to find out what did happen to Malia Zimmerman,” says Butowsky.
Before arriving at Fox News, Zimmerman ran the Hawaii Reporter, an “investigative news agency” in Honolulu. As Wheeler’s suit notes, the Hawaii Reporter received funding from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Before that, according to a 2001 story for the American Journalism Review, Zimmerman was fired from a previous position at the Pacific Business News over a dispute with then-Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano (D) of Hawaii, whose staff claimed she wrote one-sided stories; she claimed they were hard-hitting and thoroughly documented.
*Correction: The original post carried this excerpt from the Rich family lawsuit in its entirety, including its description as Butowsky as a Fox News contributor, which he is not. He has been a guest commentator.