After several days of promoting a debunked theory surrounding the death of Democratic National Committee staffer, Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity said he would cease discussing the matter out of respect for the man’s family.
During Tuesday night’s broadcast of his regular primetime show, Hannity told viewers he had been in contact with the brother of former DNC Staffer Seth Rich and had expressed his condolences. Hannity had on a few recent occasions begun to take up a discredited story that has been promoted in other right-leaning publications suggesting that Rich, who was murdered in Washington D.C. in July had been targeted in retaliation for the leak of internal DNC documents to Wikileaks. There has been no credible evidence to date supporting the allegations, and Hannity’s broadcasts prompted outcry from Rich’s family.
“Out of respect for the family’s wishes, for now, I am not discussing the matter at this time,” Hannity said. Fox News earlier on Monday retracted a story about the debunked theory online – believed to be one of the first times the 21st Century Fox-owned outlet has withdrawn an article over its more than 20-year history.
The episode is the latest controversy to swirl around Fox News Channel in recent months. The network has seen the departure of three of its top staffers since last summer: former chief executive Roger Ailes; anchor Bill O’Reilly; and former co-president Bill Shine. Now the network is working under a new combination of senior staffers and a recalibrated primetime lineup. Fox News continues to draw more viewers overall month to date as of May 21. according to Nielsen, but it did cede ground last week to MSNBC and in the viewer demographic most desired by advertisers – viewers between 25 and 54.
Right-wing outlets including Breitbart and The Drudge Report have suggested with items and links, but little credible evidence, that Rich could have been killed for the leak of DNC emails during last year’s presidential campaign, an act that has largely been attributed to Russian interference.
Fox News lent the story new momentum last week when it posted an item about the story after Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor who is also a private investigator Rich’s family has hired, was shown on Fox affiliate WTTG suggesting he had evidence linking Rich to Wikileaks. Subsequently, Wheeler told CNN he had no evidence.
Hannity vowed to viewers that he would continue to investigate the circumstances of Rich’s death. “I promise you I am not going to stop trying to find the truth,” he said. Earlier in the day on his regular radio broadcast, Hannity said he would not retract his statements on the story, even though Fox News Channel had. “All of you in the liberal media: I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,” Hannity said on his Tuesday radio show.
After teasing viewers earlier in the day that he would also discuss his “future at Fox,” Hannity reassured fans that he would be staying. It’s the second time in recent weeks he has hinted that he might drop a bombshell about his employment at the network, only to reiterate his desire to stick around for the foreseeable future. Hannity is believed to be working under a contract that expires sometime around 2020. He is one of Fox News’s most-watched and best-known personalities.