Since writing about the conspiracy theories that have dogged the family of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, I've had a perfectly lovely 48 hours of swatting away Twitter users -- real and robotic -- who see a massive media conspiracy to cover up ... something. The following questions have come up again and again, and rather than wasting even more time on Twitter answering them, I thought it made sense to throw the answers into one place.
Is the Rich family spokesman paid by the DNC?
Nope. Brad Bauman, a communications consultant who works on Democratic and progressive causes, became the Rich family's representative last July. "They asked some of Seth's best friends who they could get to help them, and those friends suggested me," said Bauman when I asked. He agreed to do it pro bono -- and as a simple perusal of the DNC's expenses will show, he has never been paid by the committee. He has actually never worked for the DNC at all, despite persistent online fulminating about how the Rich family hired a "DNC handler."
Did John Podesta threaten to "make an example" of leakers?
Not the way the conspiracy theorists think he did. On Feb. 21, 2015, The Washington Post published a look at the branding of Hillary Clinton. John Podesta, who would become the chairman of Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, was part of an email thread with others who'd joined that campaign. They didn't like the story.
"This is by far the most damaging story and most damaging type of story we can have," wrote pollster Joel Benenson. "The press will love writing these. I did when I was a reporter."
Podesta agreed, and he worried that someone with knowledge of the nascent campaign was blabbing to reporters. "The only thing in the story that indicated that someone on the inside was talking was the reference to the H, although one of Peter Sealey's big clients is Coke so we probably know where that came from," he said.
Benenson agreed. "I think we have to make examples now of people who have violated the trust of HRC and the rest of the team," he wrote. "People going forward need to know there are stiff consequences for leaking, self-promotion, unauthorized talking with the press. No one – literally no one talked to the press in either Obama campaign without clearing it with campaign brass."
Podesta, finally, approved of Benenson's idea. "I'm definitely for making an example of a suspected leaker whether or not we have any real basis for it," he wrote.
The exchange came more than a year before Rich was killed. It had nothing to with the DNC. And -- it seems ridiculous to even note this -- it was not suggesting murder as a way to stop leaks.
If the theory is right, does the "Trump/Russia" story implode?
That's pretty clearly what Sean Hannity thinks. "If Seth was wiki source, no Trump/Russia collusion," the Fox News host tweeted this past weekend, as he promoted the out-of-almost-nowhere arrival of Internet celebrity Kim Dotcom to the story. The theory is simple: If someone could prove that WikiLeaks had a mole inside the DNC, the table-banging about Russia-linked hacking would be debunked, whoosh, just like that.
The problem, which really should be more obvious, is that the DNC wasn't the only Democratic campaign organization hacked in 2016. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was hacked. Podesta's email was hacked. In the fantasy where the Rich obsessives are vindicated, they end up with no rebuttal to the federal investigators who say that hackers penetrated the DCCC and Clinton's campaign chairman. And, not incidentally, the emails that did the most intra-Democratic Party damage, like the proof that then-DNC Vice Chair Donna Brazile shared two questions that were going to be asked at Clinton-Sanders televised events, came from the Podesta hack.
Can Kim Dotcom crack this story wide open?
Again, that's what Hannity -- by far the most prominent advocate for this conspiracy theory -- is betting on. Dotcom, a hacker-turned-businessman who is in the running for World's Most Colorful Internet Personality, has a record for making incredible claims about Hillary Clinton, and his latest is that after speaking to his lawyers, he will reveal everything he knows that connects Rich to WikiLeaks.
Dotcom's new fans point to one claim that eventually paid off, that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks would cause trouble for Clinton. Of course, he was saying what Assange himself had been saying for years. The more relevant Dotcom razzle-dazzle might be his occasional 2016 promise for a mega-scoop -- a key to open the emails Clinton had deleted while serving as secretary of state.
Yes. Well. That didn't happen. What did -- a lesson, which Dotcom surely took to heart, about how much traction you can get if you promise people you're about to release the information that will finally take down Hillary Clinton.