Let’s dispense with calling the frenzy of reports about Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich’s death last summer fake news. So overused and misused is the phrase — by those seeking to disparage things they simply dislike or disagree with — that it risks losing real meaning. And there must be no ambiguity or confusion about the recent reports about Rich. They are lies. They do great harm. And those peddling them, including most recently former House speaker Newt Gingrich, are either ignorant of the facts or without scruple.

Gingrich on Sunday during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” gave a boost to conspiracy theories that Rich was not killed during a botched robbery — as Washington, D.C., police believe based on all available evidence — but rather was “assassinated” to cover up how tens of thousands of internal Democratic Party emails were leaked to WikiLeaks. Never mind that U.S. intelligence officials have conclusively determined that Russia hacked the accounts. The absurd notion that operatives working on behalf of Hillary Clinton killed the 27-year-old staffer has been a staple of far-right websites but given little acknowledgment or credence from mainstream media. That changed last week when local Fox affiliate WTTG 5 aired a report claiming Mr. Rich had been in touch with WikiLeaks before his death.

Within a day, the story had been thoroughly debunked by reporters at NBC News, CNN and The Post. The lone “source” for the report — a contributor whose previous claim to the national spotlight was his report that pink-pistol-packing lesbian gangs were terrorizing the nation- recanted and the station issued a clarification. None of that, though, stopped Sean Hannity and then Gingrich, with no pushback from Fox News hosts, from trying to peddle the bogus story. (Fox News retracted the story on Tuesday.)

“Pizzagate,” the insane conspiracy theory that Clinton was operating a child-abuse ring out of a popular family pizzeria in northwest Washington, demonstrated the damage that can be caused by lies. A North Carolina man believed the reports on social media and stormed the restaurant with an assault-style rifle. The cost this time is anguish for a grieving family as attempts are made to sully their son’s memory. They have made clear they have confidence in the D.C. police. Does anyone really think that this mother and father don’t want their son’s murderer brought to justice or that they would be willing to look the other way to give someone political cover?

It is preposterous. Those suggesting otherwise should apologize.

Editorial by The Washington Post