Sean Hannity Can't Stop Repeating One of Trump's Biggest Lies

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Sean Hannity and Donald Trump

The Fox News host and Trump pal has accused Hillary Clinton of "acid-washing" her emails 74 times on television this year, a claim that's been disproven.

President Donald Trump has on several occasions publicly accused his former campaign rival Hillary Clinton of "acid-washing" her emails after receiving a congressional subpoena in early 2015.

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who regularly speaks with the president and has been described as his "shadow chief of staff," has taken it one step further. He's accused Clinton of "acid-washing" her emails 74 times on Fox News this year, on about 40 percent of his primetime television shows, according to a Hollywood Reporter review of online transcripts.

In fact, Hannity has made the "acid-washing" claim more frequently in 2018 than in 2017. In the second half of 2017, he made the claim 38 times.

Yet there is no evidence that Clinton's campaign "acid-washed" anything. Both NBC News and FactCheck.org have ruled the claim to be false. Hannity, who works for a news organization, has continued making the claim despite evidence to the contrary.

Trump first made the allegation in a tweet on Sept. 4, 2016, when he wrote: "The polls are close so Crooked Hillary is getting out of bed and will campaign tomorrow. Why did she hammer 13 devices and acid-wash e-mails?" He repeated the claim three days later in a speech on military readiness, and then lobbed the allegation at Clinton during the second presidential debate, leading her to retort that "everything he just said is absolutely false." Even after winning the election, Trump hasn't stopped making the claim, saying as recently as April that Clinton "acid-washed and deleted" her emails.

Hannity's claim is "at best misleading," said Joseph Peyronnin, a Hofstra University journalism professor and early Fox News executive (he left before the network launched). "Hannity is pandering to his audience in the worst way, but his persistent anti-Hillary agenda is clearly intended to divert attention away from the Trump investigations," he added.

The FBI, in a report released in September 2016, two days before Trump's first reference to acid-washing, explained what happened: an unnamed employee of the company that maintained Clinton's private server, Platte River Networks, forgot to comply with a December 2014 request from a Clinton aide to delete emails older than 60 days. In late March 2015, the employee realized the mistake and "sometime between March 25-31, 2015, deleted the Clinton archive mailbox from the PRN server and used BleachBit to delete the exported .PST files he had created on the server system containing Clinton's e-mails."

BleachBit sounds like a chemical product but is actually a free, online file-deletion service. Or, as the company puts it: "BleachBit is neither a chemical nor a physical device. BleachBit is an anti-forensics software application."

FactCheck.org, in ruling Trump's acid-wash claim "FALSE," included an on-background response from the Trump campaign, which said he "didn't literally mean that Clinton 'acid washed' her emails. It said that he was using a play on words, referring to Clinton's joke a year ago about 'wiping' her server with a cloth." (Eugene Kiely, who authored the Trump fact-check and directs the nonpartisan organization, stated that Hannity's description of events is "wrong.")

Trump — and Hannity — don't seem to be simply making a play on words. Trump said on the campaign trail that Clinton's team used "chemical." On his June 13 radio show, Hannity said that Clinton's campaign used a "product," rather than a service, to "acid-wash the hard drive."

A former spokesperson for Clinton's presidential campaign, when asked to comment on this report, professed to be "not remotely" surprised that Hannity his continued making the claim, "a Trump favorite." "It’s not only a disservice to his viewers, it is actively hurting our democracy and degrading our country," the ex staffer said.

The claim is a huge part of Hannity's oeuvre, on both television and his daily radio show, and his usage has not wavered despite lacking supporting evidence. That presents a problem for Fox News, an organization that adheres to editorial standards for both news programming and opinion programming (Hannity's show included). Hannity's words carry weight — his show is generally the most watched in cable news, and his broader political influence has seemingly never been larger.

"The fact that the Hollywood Reporter is debating semantics on how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deleted her emails speaks volumes about its current direction," Fox News said in a statement when asked if Hannity's usage complies with the company's policies. (The network also criticized Peyronnin in a statement, attacking his early work for Fox News and saying that he "embarrasses himself by claiming to be an authority on the network.")

In contrast to his presentation this year, Hannity hinted several times on TV last year that he understood that "acid" was not literally used by Clinton's camp.

On his Nov. 14, 2017 show, he said that a Platte River Networks employee "deleted, what, over 30,000 emails using something that is called BleachBit — it's like acid washing your hard drive." He also hinted at a comparison on his Sept. 12, 2017 show, saying that Clinton's team "deleted 33,000 emails using BleachBit — in other words, acid wash."

But, in more than 100 other references to "acid-washing" over the last year, Hannity has led his viewers to believe that Clinton's camp (and, sometimes, Clinton herself) literally "acid-washed" a hard drive, which paints Clinton — who remains a popular topic of conversation on Fox News — in a very negative light.

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen said he thinks Fox News has "no problem" with Hannity's widely debunked claim. "Fox is a commercial empire that captures eyeballs and attention — and generates power — through resentment programming styled as news and commentary," he said.