Fox News Retracts Murdered DNC Staffer Story as Hannity Pushes Conspiracy Theory
"The article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed," the cable news network said.
Fox News has retracted a story insinuating that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered last year because he leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks.
Tuesday's retraction, though, did not appear to have an immediate effect on Sean Hannity's coverage of Rich's death. The host has been aggressive about covering Rich on his show and on social media. The Fox host's coverage appears to have led to a call for a boycott, of sorts, by the progressive group Media Matters for America.
"Hannity is a professional propagandist for President Donald Trump, as well as a bigot, a sexist, and a conspiracy theorist," Media Matters said Tuesday in a missive on its website. While the text doesn't explicitly call for a "boycott," it is followed by a list of more than 100 companies that advertise on Hannity, his FNC television show. Some of the advertisers include media outlets like DirecTV, Hulu, Reelz and SiriusXM Radio.
Rich was killed last July in what authorities call a robbery gone wrong, but the retracted online Fox News story on May 16, which did not carry a byline, cited private detective Rod Wheeler speculating that the truth to the murder lies on Rich's computer.
"The police department nor the FBI have been forthcoming," Wheeler says in the retracted article, which also says that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange implied Rich was the leaker by offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the killer. Assange also said on Dutch TV that the Rich murder was an example of the "very significant risks" that "whistle-blowers" take.
Fox retracted the article Tuesday, but Hannity has been promoting the same storyline on his TV show, making him a top target at Media Matters, which in the past has similarly encouraged advertisers to ditch FNC shows hosted by Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, as well as Rush Limbaugh's radio show.
"Hannity is engaged in a cynical game for political and financial gain," reads one of many recent Media Matters notes on the subject.
"Perhaps Hannity doesn't really believe that the Democratic Party has John Wick on retainer and uses him only to eliminate low-level employees. Instead, he might simply be playing his audience to protect the president and boost ratings," says the article, invoking a Keanu Reeves movie where the actor plays a retired hitman.
While FNC retracted the May 16 article on its website, it hasn't commented on Hannity's reporting about Rich from that same night, when he said: "Newly discovered evidence shows that the 27-year-old former DNC employee was, in fact, communicating with WikiLeaks before he was gunned down in Washington, D.C."
Later in the show, Hannity says that authorities have been less than forthcoming when it comes to the robbery theory.
"Here's the problem, and that's an odd explanation," says the host, "because the assailant didn't take anything from Rich. They didn't take his phone, his wallet, his watch, his necklace. They were still on his person at the scene of the crime."
Rich's family, meanwhile, has asked FNC to stop reporting the theory that their loved one was killed over DNC leaks, though it was the family, according to The New York Times, who employed Wheeler to research the murder in the first place.
"On May 16, a story posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich," reads the FNC retraction issued Tuesday.
"The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed," the retraction continues.
"We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted."
Hannity did not respond to a request for comment.