Sean Hannity has hit a new low, but grasping the depths the Fox host is willing to go will take some explaining.
On July 10 of last year a DNC staffer named Seth Rich was shot and killed near his home in Washington, DC, in an as-yet unsolved incident that police speculate was a botched robbery. During the presidential campaign, online conspiracists pushed the false claim Rich was the source of the DNC hacks which were being periodically released by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks.
Once it was revealed Russia was behind the DNC hack, the Rich conspiracy largely died down online—until last week. On May 16, those same online communities were flooded with posts resurfacing the conspiracy. Twenty of the top 26 posts on r/the_donald, Trump supporters’ de facto base of power on Reddit, pertained to Rich, with figures such as Scott Adams, Gavin McInnes, and yes, Sean Hannity, lending credence to the baseless assertion that Rich, and his slaying, were in any way related to the DNC leaks.
That this deluge of samethought occurred shortly after a memo from James Comey came to light regarding the president’s attempts to influence an ongoing FBI investigation seemed to be no accident.
Fox News and Hannity in particular, seeing an opportunity, have since jumped on the Rich conspiracy bandwagon, devoting programming time to this hogwash and using its TV network’s influence to bolster the theory. This, even though Rich’s parents have asked for an apology and a retraction and have all but begged Hannity to stop using their son’s death as a political talking point. Just today, Rich’s brother reiterated his parents’ plea and wrote a letter to Hannity’s producer, stating:
Think about how you would feel losing a son or brother. And while dealing with this, you had baseless accusations of your lost family member being part of a vast conspiracy.
After all that, about three hours ago, Hannity upped the ante of his Seth Rich trutherism by tweeting out a link to possibly insolvent pirate Kim Dotcom’s spurious claim to having known Rich since back in 2014, as a then-nameless source going by the alias “Panda.” Give me a fucking break.
Dotcom, the egg-faced Megaupload founder-cum-musician claims to have “communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics,” and that he’ll provide a full statement to the authorities. This is almost undoubtedly horseshit. But Hannity, having done nothing to verify the claim, went ahead and helped amplify the LARPing of a known troll anyway.
To some extent Hannity is just being Hannity, and the onus lies on his handlers at Fox—in the name of ethical newsgathering, or just empathy—to pull the plug. Clearly the corporation knows there’s no basis for these assertions, as their politics post “Slain DNC staffer had contact with WikiLeaks, investigator says” (archived here) was retracted in full about an hour ago, with a note stating that the piece was “not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.” One assumes the same level of scrutiny has also not been afforded to Hannity’s coverage.
Presently, Hannity’s tweet (and his self-retweet) remain available and has accrued over 2,500 retweets.
We reached out to multiple sources at Fox News asking for comment, and we’ll update if we hear back.
Update 5/23/17 5:08pm ET: Reached by email a former Fox News producer who requested not to be named told Gizmodo the following:
Hannity has clearly gone off the rails, and is embarrassing himself on an hourly basis. In the past when this happened, an ‘adult’ would step in and put a stop to it. That adult was usually Bill Shine or Roger Ailes. I don’t think there’s anyone left in the executive suite who can rein Hannity in. Wallace is Shep’s guy, Abernathy is a pencil pusher and Scott is a woman—Hannity has no respect for any of them.
This is eerily reminiscent of what happened to Glenn Beck near the end of his Fox career. He was off in looney tunes conspiracy land. Roger told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. Advertisers started fleeing, and he was off the network a few months later.
It’s certainly a theory, and one with more grounding in reality than Seth Rich ferrying information from the DNC to Julian Assange. But as stated, this informed speculation comes from a former Fox News producer, and as Hannity was happy to point out on his show today:
I am not Fox.com or Foxnews.com—I retracted nothing.
A list of Hannity’s advertisers can be found here.
Update 5/23/17 10:19pm ET: On this evening’s episode of his Fox News program, Hannity went on a rambling monologue about the “destroy-Trump media’s narrative” and the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. At the beginning and end of the rant, he mentioned the controversy surrounding the Seth Rich conspiracy and said that he’s spoken with Rich’s family. Hannity said that he won’t be talking about this story for now, out of respect for the family.
Before saying that he’ll continue the fight and keep digging, he said, “please do not interpret what I’m saying tonight to mean anything.” He went on to mention that liberals are trying to get him fired, but he’ll be staying on as long as Fox News wants him. Just before going on air he tweeted:
Additional reporting by Dell Cameron