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John Whitehouse

Author ››› John Whitehouse
  • YouTube removed a compilation of Alex Jones’ Sandy Hook lies due to “harassment." His own videos are still up.

    Why does YouTube hold Alex Jones to a lower standard than other users?

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Update: As of 1:50 p.m. ET, the video has been restored to YouTube. 

    On April 17, two Sandy Hook families announced defamation lawsuits against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. While Media Matters has long documented Jones’ claims that the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, CT, was staged, upon hearing the news of the legal action, my colleague Leanne Naramore made a compilation video of some of Jones’ attacks, which a cursory search showed no one had done before. Watch:

    At some point over the next five days, though, YouTube removed the video from its website. If you go to the link now, this is all you see:

    Upon logging into the YouTube account, we were greeted with this message:

    Yet here is a sampling of the Sandy Hook videos still live on Jones’ YouTube page, a number of which were used in making the compilation:

    In February, Jones’ YouTube page was reportedly one strike away from being banned. Shortly thereafter, a large number of advertisers pulled their ads from his channel; President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee kept airing ads on it, though.

    It is not clear why YouTube holds Alex Jones to a lower standard than it does other users. The Sandy Hook hoaxes are not the only example of harassment on his channel. It’s pervasive -- part of Jones’ entire brand.

    Meanwhile, research shows that YouTube’s algorithm directs users towards videos like the ones Jones posts, which the site then profits from. And while Facebook has undergone significant scrutiny in recent weeks, YouTube has thus far escaped significant criticism. There’s no better time than the present to change that.

  • After the Michael Cohen reveal, revisiting the time Hannity bragged about the dirt he was gathering on Media Matters

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    After news broke that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen provided legal advice to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Vanity Fair reporter Gabriel Sherman reported: “Hannity hired Michael Cohen to help defend him against left-wing groups that were calling for boycotts.” This is a clear reference to Media Matters’ efforts to hold Sean Hannity accountable.

    Hannity’s appearance on Mark Levin’s radio show on May 30, 2017, gives some relevant context. The Fox host talked at length about a secret investigation on Media Matters that would later be revealed.

    MARK LEVIN (HOST): And as these things develop, we see it more and more and more. Well, of a sudden, I was a conspiracy nut, Media Matters put out this -- this grotesque smear job, where they try and destroy who you are, they cherry-pick things you’ve said out of context, things -- and they sent it to all the media, and the media were regurgitating it. Here’s my question to you --

    SEAN HANNITY: Mark, let me -- let me say something --

    LEVIN: -- among other things. Yeah, go ahead.

    HANNITY: We’ve done a very deep dive, and I don’t know when I’m going to release it, but I’m coming out with it.

    Number one, where the money’s coming from, number two, you want to talk about outrageous, insane, incendiary, over the top, vicious, vile hatred of -- and things that have been done and said?

    Oh, this guy that’s been on TV all week, I don’t even know his name, Carusone or something -- oh, you should see the things that I have on him, and what he’s said, and what this group is, and who funds -- remember, Hillary helped found this group, this Soros-Clinton group --

    LEVIN: Media Matters.

    HANNITY: Soros, and all these other people, it’s -- this is a concerted effort to silence talk radio, they want to destroy now the Fox News channel.

    The next day, Hannity talked with Melanie Morgan about Media Matters, saying he had talked to Media Matters’ President Angelo Carusone’s high school teacher.

  • Hannity denies that he gave Trump questions in advance. Here are the questions he asked.

    Tldr: Hannity’s questions didn’t need to be provided in advance for it to be a bullshit propaganda show.

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE & JOHN KERR

    On November 4, The Hollywood Reporter published an “extracted column” by Michael Wolff based on reporting from his new book Fire and Fury in which Wolff claims that White House officials gave an interview to Sean Hannity because Hannity “was willing to supply the questions beforehand.”

    [Hope] Hicks' primary function was to tend to the Trump ego, to reassure him, to protect him, to buffer him, to soothe him. It was Hicks who, attentive to his lapses and repetitions, urged him to forgo an interview that was set to open the 60 Minutes fall season. Instead, the interview went to Fox News' Sean Hannity who, White House insiders happily explained, was willing to supply the questions beforehand. Indeed, the plan was to have all interviewers going forward provide the questions.

    The interview in question took place October 11. Matt Gertz described it at the time as “a lovefest” that was “a perfect marriage of burgeoning authoritarian leader and propagandist.” If anything, most of Hannity’s questions were barely questions at all. Instead, Hannity just prompted Trump to talk about how great he is and how bad he thinks the media is.

    Hannity issued a statement in response to Wolff’s column, denying his claims. On reviewing the questions, it seems less likely that Hannity actually provided them to Trump and more likely that Hannity, Trump, and White House advisers had a shared understanding that the interview topics would be the Fox News staples that Trump regularly tweets about anyway.

    Legitimate questions have been raised about Wolff’s past reporting practices; Wolff says that he has hours of tape to back up what is in the book. And yet it’s hard to disagree with this prediction by Julian Sanchez.

    Or, to put a finer point on it, this from Brian Beutler on Wolff and Breitbart chairman Stephen Bannon:

    One of Bannon’s former subordinates, Ben Shapiro, likes to say that Bannon’s “priority” has always been “narrative truth…rather than factual truth.” This is a delicate way of saying Bannon is a propagandist, always tugging at his audience’s sense of what is emotionally correct in their hearts, rather than what is empirically accurate. But it is a useful euphemism for the purposes of discussing Wolff’s book because it captures the karmic nature of this new reporting so perfectly: An unreliable reporter and a propagandist have sent Trump world into a state of upheaval by harnessing the power of “narrative truth” and turning it inward.

    The joke here, then, is that an unreliable narrator is calling into question Trump’s relationship with his chief propagandist. So begins 2018.

  • Video: The conspiracy theories of Alex Jones and Infowars

    Donald Trump praised Alex Jones’ “amazing” reputation when he appeared on his show

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR & JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Alex Jones and Infowars have pushed numerous conspiracy theories over the years. Media Matters has compiled a vast number of them into one video:

    Some of the conspiracy theories in the video that Jones, his coworkers, and guests have pushed:

    • Jones claims that “Pizzagate” (that hacked Clinton emails referring to pizza orders were secretly about an underground child molestation ring) is real.

    • Jones claims that the Oklahoma City and 9/11 terror attacks were false flag attacks. Flight 93 was shot down by someone who refused to go along with the false flag attack; (Jones also claims that the person who disclosed that to him was subsequently murdered.)

    • Jones claims that mass shootings in Newtown, Las Vegas, and Orlando were either faked or part of elaborately covered-up conspiracies.

    • Jones claims that though American astronauts did go to the moon, there is secret technology there that has never been disclosed. Jones also agrees with his guest that the real moon landing was never shown to the public.

    • Jones claims that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both smell like sulfur.

    • Jones claims that the Rockefeller Foundation is secretly poisoning America through vaccines.

    • Jones claims that young women get breast cancer from being hyper feminized by artificial chemicals in the food and water.

    • Jones claims that Charles Manson was part of a secret CIA mind control program.

    • Jones claims that Donald Trump is being secretly drugged at night (and that he is risking his life by saying so).

    • Jones amplifies Chuck Norris’ claim in WND that “sky criminals” are using chemtrails to wage war on Americans.

    • Infowars’ Owen Shroyer claims that Adolf Hitler is still alive.

    • Jones claims that Democrats are going to kill people; he also claims that liberals want to put people in dungeons, cut skulls open, and eat their brains.

    • Jones claims that Google is going to force Americans into “self-contained bubble cities.”

    • Jones claims that “there is a signal being sent by women that is controlling men.”

    • Jones claims that Al Gore flies around with a refrigerator full of blood.

    • Jones claims that there are humans crossed with fish; he further claims that there are humanoids that are 80% gorilla, 80% pig and are talking.

    • Infowars contributor Mike Cernovich claims that we are approaching the singularity because time is becoming dilated.

    • Jones claims that the government has secret weather weapons that can cause natural disasters like hurricanes. He also claims that there is a secret volcano/earthquake weapon.

    • Jones claims that top Democrats are “into black magic.”

    • Jones claims that the Obama White House chiefs and chefs used satanic rituals.

    • Jones claims that the Canadian Parliament building was built to carry out Satanic rituals.

    • Jones claims that the Vatican is anti-Christian, and Pope Francis is “an upside down cross.”

    • Jones claims that the “black pope, the Jesuit general” is now in control.

    • An Infowars guest claims that the Rothschilds, the Jesuit black pope, the city of London, and Wall Street -- as part of the deep state -- use pedophilia and mind control to control the Free Masons, the Knights of Malta, and other secret societies.

    • Jones claims that Ted Cruz’s father is linked to the JFK assassination.

    • Jones claims that there is an alien force attacking humanity. He further says that while he does not bash those who do endorse UFOs, he personally sees it as an interdimensional force telling everyone to kill themselves.

    • Jones claims that what many people think are flying saucers are actually three jumbo jets projecting an image downwards to the ground.

    • Jones claims that Michelle Obama is actually a man and that Joan Rivers may have been murdered for revealing it.

    • Jones claims that there are secret death panels for veterans.

    • Jones claims that U.N. wants to bring back human sacrifice.

    • Jones and Infowars guest Billy Corgan allege that elites and mega-wealthy are preparing to secretly go off world.

    • An Infowars guest claims that children are kidnapped from Earth, transported secretly to Mars where they are enslaved in a Martian colony.

    • Jones and an Infowars guest allege that stargates are being built, including at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland (and that it is dedicated to Shiva).

    • Jones claims that exposure to artificial chemicals are turning people gay.

    • Jones claims that the Pentagon successfully developed a gay bomb.

    • An Infowars guest claims that a race of part-human, part-robots will replace humans and feed on human corpses.

    • Jones claims that pedophiles and psychic vampires are in control of an AI system.

    • Jones claims that outfits worn on MSNBC are uniforms meant to fool the public as MSNBC officials meet with the CIA and top government psychiatrists.

    • Jones claims that Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance was part of an Illuminati ritual.

    • Jones claims that Beyoncé invoked urban terrorism in her video.

    • An Infowars guest claims that the government secretly has teleportation and time travel technology.

    • Jones claims that Satan is stealing the promised ability to travel through dimensions.

    • Jones claims that Russian sex operatives were sent to him whom he heroically declined even though they know that Marilyn Monroe look-alikes are what is in his mind’s eye.

    Donald Trump praised Alex Jones’ “amazing” reputation when he appeared on his show.

  • What the Seth Rich conspiracy theory is, why it matters, and why Sean Hannity must be the one to pay the price

    Enough with the bullshit

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Media Matters

    Political operatives have dishonestly seized on a murder to undercut the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election -- and Sean Hannity has been the point person for that cynical campaign, a lead steer for the nonsense.

    Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, was murdered July 10, 2016. Within days, initially at the behest of anonymous users on Reddit and 4chan, his murder would be used as the basis for a massive right-wing conspiracy theory, with the eventual purpose of undermining and discrediting the notion that Russia illicitly interfered in the 2016 presidential election in part by hacking DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta emails that WikiLeaks later published. And no one has done more to push this conspiracy theory than Fox News host Sean Hannity -- even after Fox News retracted a story about it that was published on its website.

    Hannity had long dabbled in conspiracy theories about Seth Rich’s murder, but he went into overdrive when, on May 15, Fox 5 DC and FoxNews.com ran stories linking Rich to WikiLeaks based largely on the statements of then-Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler. This was just days after former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to Congress about Russian interference.

    In the week after that story was published (and quickly fell apart), Hannity repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory on his television show, his radio show, and his Twitter account. Rich was referenced numerous times on his Fox News television show, and the story was hinted at in countless others.

    Hannity’s coverage was so relentless that he was condemned by some of his coworkers, who reportedly told The Daily Beast that the host was “‘embarrassing’ the network, and the promotion of the Rich conspiracy theory is senselessly cruel to a grieving family.” Rich’s brother personally asked Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theories.

    During all this, Hannity repeatedly made clear that he was pushing the story because it undermined the Trump/Russian narrative. (In fact, Hannity went back to the story in June and made the same point.)

    After more than a week of flogging this nonsense, Hannity said on his television show that he would stop talking about Rich “for now.” Minutes later, he promised on Twitter to keep going:

    All this unfolded in the public sphere and proves Sean Hannity’s volatility. And look: Sean Hannity has long been a serial misinformer who has pushed lies and dishonest smears. He has been completely shameless in shilling for the far-right. Hannity has toyed around with basically every conspiracy theory that the far-right has proffered.

    But now we have evidence that the deceit goes even deeper. And while Hannity is not named as a defendant, his story is inseparable from the story at hand.

    We know that political operative Ed Butowsky played a key role in the retracted Fox story that set Hannity off on his conspiracy crusade in May. According to a lawsuit filed by Wheeler -- the Fox News contributor who served as a key source for the claims connecting Wikileaks to Rich in the May 15 Fox story -- that story was the product of a cynical attempt by Ed Butowsky, Fox News, and the White House “to deflect public attention from growing concern about the administration's ties to the Russian government.” And once that story was published, Hannity was its chief promoter.

    We know that Butowsky coordinated for him and Wheeler to meet then-press secretary Sean Spicer in the White House. We know that Butowsky sent talking points to Fox News hosts and producers detailing how to talk about the conspiracy theory in a way that undermined the reporting from credible outlets about Russian interference in the election. We know that in the days after Butowsky sent that message, his words were repeated once on Fox & Friends and multiple times on Hannity.

    In short, we know that Hannity is not just a dishonest, volatile pro-Trump hack, but that he is a dangerous propagandist willing to do or say anything to shore up Trump support with his audience on a daily basis. Nothing Hannity says, to his audience or advertisers, can ever be trusted. He is both post-factual and post-ethical. There is nowhere that Sean Hannity will not go for political convenience. When Hannity takes to the air, there is nothing that he will not aid or abet to help Trump.

    Journalism, regardless of its political consequences, deserves extensive protection from financial retaliation. Propaganda does not. And Sean Hannity is a rank propagandist. As Angelo Carusone wrote, if Fox News executives choose to not do the right thing and fire Sean Hannity, the obligation is on sponsors and the people at large to force their hand.

    Enough is enough.

  • Bret Stephens and MSNBC’s hiring spree: The network keeps moving right

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: MSNBC and Greta Van Susteren have agreed to part ways.

    MSNBC is now a pasture for pseudo-intellectual conservatives. Climate denier and Iraq War booster Bret Stephens is just the latest right-wing hire at the network.

    In recent months NBC News Chairman Andy Lack has overseen a hiring spree of right-wing pundits and former Fox News personalities. The stable includes Hugh Hewitt, Megyn Kelly, Charlie Sykes, Greta Van Susteren, and George Will. They join other conservatives at the network: Elise Jordan, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele, Rick Tyler, Nicolle Wallace, and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. This is to say nothing of NBC News contributor and Trump apologist Mark Halperin; and given their frequent appearances, it may be just a matter of time until David Frum, a speechwriter for then-President George W. Bush, former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card, and neocon Bill Kristol join the network as well.

    Compared to CNN’s boorish Trumpists or the state media apparatchiks at Fox News, the common thread among MSNBC conservatives is a certain pretentious shine. They’re frequently just arguing that President Donald Trump is the wrong type of conservative, when in fact Trump is the apotheosis of everything conservatism has been careening toward for some time. (The exception is Hugh Hewitt, who is now just a huge Trump booster after vacillating during the campaign.) 

    Many of these hires have direct, intimate connections to Bush, the most disastrous president in decades. Card, Frum, Jordan, and Wallace worked in the Bush administration, and Stephens, Kristol, Will, Scarborough, and Hewitt were all huge cheerleaders for the Iraq War. And that history matters. Two major media institutions, including a newspaper of record, are now paying Stephens essentially just to troll liberals with climate denial and to push America towards a war with Iran.

    You can separate Lack’s hiring spree into two buckets: pundits and brands. Neither offer much value in the long run. In this media environment, opinions are cheap (including mine!). Everyone has one and most of them stink. There’s no long-term return on opinions (and no lack of people wanting to get on TV to share theirs).

    Adding brands like Megyn Kelly or Greta Van Susteren is equally pointless. It’s no wonder that both of these shows have failed. There’s simply no audience for them outside the Fox News bubble. Particularly with Kelly, NBC News executives seem completely unaware that her entire show at Fox News was built around racial dog-whistling (with occasional moments of bucking the party line).

    Also, as Ryan Grim noted, it is the progressive shows that Lack hasn’t touched that are succeeding the most.

    Rather than spending all this money on right-wing pundits and big names, the true value-add for news networks now is reliable and aggressive journalism. That’s hard to do. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. But it’s ultimately what will define NBC News and MSNBC.

  • How the murder of a DNC staffer turned into a right-wing conspiracy

    The story goes through nearly everyone in right-wing media: Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Louise Mensch, Megyn Kelly, Jim Hoft, Julian Assange, and more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It started with a late night walk on July 10, 2016. Seth Rich was talking with his girlfriend while walking through the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when there was some sort of altercation. Rich was shot multiple times and died shortly thereafter.

    Nearly a year later, his death has become a cause célèbre among right-wing media and the fringiest elements of pro-Trump media, simply because he worked as a staffer for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    The conspiracy theories started immediately. The day after Rich was killed, a Twitter user connected the murder with a lawsuit filed by Bernie Sanders supporters against the DNC. (This lawsuit would later be the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories after the death of a process server that the coroner would later conclude was caused by accidental polypharmacy, or a combination of drugs.)

    The first right-wing version of the conspiracy theory was about confirming right-wing allegations against the Clinton Foundation. On July 13, conspiracy theory website WhatDoesItMean.com (previously cited by pro-Trump media) ran a piece, sourced to the Kremlin, claiming that Rich thought he was on his way to meet with the FBI about the Clinton Foundation when a “hit team” put in place by the Clintons killed him. The article also linked the conspiracy theory with two Russian diplomats who were expelled by the United States two days before Rich’s murder, and it concluded by claiming the hit team was captured on July 12 in Washington, D.C. The actual police events of July 12 had nothing to do with any of this. On July 14, Snopes debunked this conspiracy theory.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 22, WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the DNC, and Redditors immediately started guessing that Rich was the source of those emails. Heat Street, a News Corp. publication then run by Louise Mensch, ran a roundup of these rumors. In the post, Heat Street simply went through the “r/The_Donald” subreddit, listing different conspiracy theories that users had come up with, even comparing one theory to the work of mathematician John Nash and the movie A Beautiful Mind. Heat Street had also mentioned the FBI rumor in the bottom of a previous post about Rich’s murder, noting that there was no evidence to substantiate it.

    The one entity that did claim to be the WikiLeaks source was Guccifer 2.0. As The New York Times explained on July 27, while American intelligence services believed Guccifer 2.0 to be a front for Russian spies, the hacker claimed to be Romanian. In the report, the Times detailed evidence linking the emails to Russia, including “metadata hidden in the early documents indicating that they were edited on a computer with Russian language settings.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone, a contributor to Alex Jones' conspiracy theory website Infowars, and WikiLeaks began pushing the conspiracy theory in earnest in August. In an August 8 tweet, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons, referencing the FBI version of the conspiracy theory. A day later, WikiLeaks announced that it was offering $20,000 for information, and founder Julian Assange himself brought up Rich unprompted on a Dutch TV program, implying that Rich was a source. The host was taken aback by Assange’s suggestion and tried to push him on what he was implying, but Assange did not clarify his remark:

    Pro-Trump media jumped on the interview. Mike Cernovich immediately promoted the interview while stating point-blank that Rich was the source -- something that even Assange never said. On August 10, Hannity discussed the interview on his radio show, saying that it wasn’t the Russians who gave WikiLeaks the information. Later in the show, he discussed the matter with Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Townhall’s Rachel Alexander. Hoft was befuddled as to why the Rich family would not want the matter politicized, saying that it could only increase the information about the murder.

    Also on August 10, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson published a video about Assange’s implication, expressing concern that Assange could be assassinated:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also jumped on Assange’s interview on the same day, telling Mike Gallagher on August 10 that the conspiracy theory was “worth talking about.”

    WikiLeaks also issued a similarly vague statement on August 10.

    On August 11, WikiLeaks started sowing distrust in Rich’s family when it tweeted that the family’s spokesperson was a “professional Democrat” -- even though the same could be said for Rich himself.

    In the days that followed, Infowars ramped up its coverage. Watson cited a “source close to the Democratic party” who said his reporting was “on the money.” Infowars dutifully picked up Gingrich’s interview and used it to confirm its own assertions. The conspiracy theory site was particularly incensed that the Rich family would hire a spokesperson to quash conspiracy theories. And it went on to publish multiple pieces about Rich that included accounts of WikiLeaks’ assertions and implications about Rich.

    Assange would resurface and again hint that Rich was his source on the August 25 edition of The Kelly File, again declaring his interest in the case without actually saying anything about Rich himself. While Laura Ingraham and some others ran with what Assange said to Kelly File host Megyn Kelly, Fox host Greg Gutfeld hit Assange for pushing the conspiracy theory -- to the distaste of fellow Fox host Eric Bolling:

    The conspiracy theory machine would turn away from Rich for most of September and October, though during this time Hannity frequently talked with Assange on his radio show, eager for new leaks that could be damaging to Clinton. In September, Rich’s girlfriend and his family spoke with Chris Hansen of Crime Watch Daily about the case, condemning the claims. GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman also began working with the Rich family at this time, offering more than $100,000 in rewards for information. Burkman would later say that he could “rule out attempted robbery” based on his canvassing of the neighborhood.

    On October 7, The Daily Beast reported that “Russia’s senior-most officials” ordered the DNC hack. On November 2, fake news purveyor DC Gazette published a post saying that WikiLeaks’ source was neither Russia nor Seth Rich, but instead dissatisfied government staffers. On December 9, The Washington Post reported on a CIA assessment that Russia was behind leaks targetting the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

    This Post story would touch off a new round of conspiracy theories about Rich, and once again they began with Louise Mensch’s Heat Street. On December 14, the site aggregated comments on Twitter saying that it was Seth Rich and not Russia that provided WikiLeaks with the emails. The piece offered no theory as to how Rich could have gotten access to DCCC or Podesta emails; indeed, it’s unclear from the story if the author even understood that there were multiple hacks, even though Mensch herself turned up in the hacked Podesta emails (which the piece did not disclose). Weeks after this post, it was announced that Mensch had left Heat Street in “mid-December.” There is no indication if Mensch was still at Heat Street when this post was published.

    On December 15, Craig Murray, a “close associate” of Julian Assange, told the Daily Mail that he was a middleman for the leaks and that the handoff took place in D.C. in September. People immediately began tying Rich to Murray, even though Murray’s supposed handoff date (of which there was no evidence) took place months after Rich was murdered.

    Later that day on the radio, Hannity would cite Murray’s account as evidence that Russians were not behind the hacking. Later in the program, Hannity brought up Fox contributor John Bolton’s conspiracy theory from December 12 that if something looked like it was the Russians hacking, it might actually be a false flag in which someone made it look like it was the Russians. Assange agreed with the theory on Hannity’s show: 

    Hannity also called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) an “idiot” for saying that Russians were involved in hacking:

    Weeks later, on January 3, Hannity returned to Rich, again saying that Rich may have been the source for Wikileaks:

    On January 6, U.S. officials released a report saying that Russians were behind the hacking. Suddenly, Hannity admitted that Russians have been hacking Americans for years:

    On January 12, Guccifer 2.0 denied the report that Russia was behind the hacking.

    Once again, the conspiracy mill died down, with occasional posts on 4chan and Reddit keeping the conspiracy theory alive.

    On February 27, Jack Burkman, the GOP lobbyist who at one point was allied with the Rich family, told the Daily Mail that he had evidence that the Russians killed Rich because Rich had evidence that they were the ones behind the hacking. Burkman’s only source was a “former U.S. intelligence officer” -- “an older man, 65-70 years old, who claims to have been a contractor in Iraq in the 1970s.” None of Rich’s friends or family members have given any indication that Rich had such an explosive secret.

    In mid-March, Stone admitted contact with Guccifer 2.0, but he claimed it was innocuous.

    On March 23, Burkman talked to Sinclair station WJLA in Washington, D.C., about launching a new investigation. Claiming that the investigation would be launched out of “the Seth Rich Center for Investigations” in Arlington, VA, Burkman now claimed to have a team including “a forensic physiologist, a security specialist and George Washington grad students.” But the piece also noted that the Rich family had no part in this effort.

    On April 8, a new conspiracy theory emerged alleging that Guccifer 2.0 was the middleman between RIch and WikiLeaks. Model Robbin Young published screenshots on her website of a purported direct message conversation she had with Guccifer 2.0 from August 25. In it, Guccifer 2.0 claimed that the DNC leak came from someone named “Seth” and responded affirmatively when Young talked about Rich’s murder. WikiLeaks, the subreddit “r/The Donald,” Gateway Pundit, Heat Street, and others immediately ran with the claim.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conspiracy theory came to its most public stage on May 15. That was a week after Obama intelligence chief James Clapper and former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified before the Senate partially on issues relating to Russian hacking, days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey as a result of the Russian investigation, and hours after The Washington Post reported that Trump gave highly classified information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that compromised a valuable intelligence source.

    On that day, Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler told Fox 5 DC, a station owned and operated by Fox News’ parent company, that he had evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

    Sean Hannity pushed the story on his Twitter account shortly after midnight, including by quote-tweeting a vague allegedly hacked email of Podesta’s:

    After retweeting a video of the Fox 5 segment, Hannity affirmatively quote-tweeted someone claiming that Assange had previously said that Rich was his source (which, again, Assange had never actually said).

    The story exploded as conservatives latched onto a tale that ostensibly showed that the focus on Russia was misplaced. Drudge put the story on the top of the site. The subreddit “r/The Donald” went crazy. Pro-Trump media pushed the story hard. Fox News joined in on Tuesday morning. By 10 a.m., Hannity was lashing out at CNN's Oliver Darcy for noticing the trend.

    Hannity then quote-tweeted Robbin Young, whose story about Seth Rich was different from the one Wheeler was pushing and that Hannity was touting. (Guccifer 2.0 claimed that they served as the middleman between Rich and Wikileaks; Assange had implied and Wheeler had stated that Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks directly.) At no point then or later did Hannity ever seem to notice the discrepancy.

    At one point, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson even claimed that the Washington Post story about Trump giving highly classified information to the Russians was a hoax intended to cover up the Rich story -- a claim based on Watson completely misreading time stamps on the stories (the Post’s went up before the Fox 5 piece did).

    But soon, the Rich story fell completely apart. The Fox station admitted on May 16 that D.C. police said that Wheeler’s claim was false. Wheeler’s contact with the Rich family turned out to be frequent Fox News guest and Breitbart author Ed Butowsky. Wheeler himself admitted to CNN that he actually had no evidence. Wheeler instead claimed that his comments were reflective of the FoxNews.com piece that ran. Fox News’ piece, by Malia Zimmerman, cited Wheeler as the source of the claim.

    And yet, the transparent bullshit was still enough for pro-Trump media. On May 16, echoing Benghazi conspiracy theories, Gateway Pundit claimed there was a “stand down” order given to police regarding the Rich investigation. An “alt-right” troll asked Trump himself about Rich in the White House, getting no response. Anonymous posts on 4chan linked Rich to Pizzagate, Antonin Scalia’s death, Michael Hastings’ death, and even Media Matters. An anonymous post on 8chan even suggested that Rich was illegally surveilled and then improperly unmasked by former national security adviser Susan Rice.

    Lou Dobbs on Fox Business picked up the line of attack on Rich’s family that had previously begun with WikiLeaks and Infowars, saying there was “a partisan shroud” on Rich’s family:

    Later on May 16, Hannity even declared that Rich’s murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history”:

    Later in the show, Hannity talked with American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, focusing on the media being wrong about Russia. Hannity continually brought Rich into the conversation:

    Hannity then had Wheeler himself on the show. Wheeler continued pushing the conspiracy theory, even while admitting that he never had seen the evidence.

    The next day, even more claims collapsed. Newsweek reported that the FBI is not investigating Rich’s death, contra Wheeler’s claims, and a family spokesperson confirmed that D.C. police found no evidence of stolen emails ever being on Rich’s laptop. Fox 5 added an editor’s note that Wheeler had backtracked from claims that he made, but it did not retract the story. The story was in shambles. The Rich family demanded full retractions from Fox 5 and Fox News.

    Still, conservative media persisted.

    On May 18, after Mediaite published a post highlighting people mocking Hannity, Hannity again tweeted his belief in the conspiracy.

    Hannity then discussed the case at length on his show, re-airing Assange’s Dutch TV interview and previous radio interviews.

    On May 19, the Rich family sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rod Wheeler.

    The Russian Embassy in the U.K. trolled everyone when it stated as a fact that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source. Meanwhile, Infowars claimed that The Washington Post was reporting on the Comey memos only as a distraction from the Rich story.

    May 19 is also when Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom inserted himself into the story. Dotcom alleged that he had bombshell information on the case. As Dotcom, who lives in New Zealand, is fighting extradition to the United States to avoid trial for charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, nearly everyone on the planet saw through the ruse, save for Sean Hannity.

    Hannity brought up the conspiracy theory again that night on his show with Jay Sekulow, apparently just for the purpose of saying that it is important because if true, it would clear Russia entirely.

    Over the weekend, it got even stranger.

    Stone escalated attacks on Rich’s parents, claiming on his radio show Stone Cold Truth they were engaging in “suspicious” behavior.

    Stone also told obvious lies. For instance, he claimed that Craig Murray said Rich was his source. First, Murray did not mention Rich in his comments about serving as a middleman for the emails. Second, Murray said he met his source in September, months after Rich had already been murdered. Third, nothing about what Murray actually did say is credible in the least -- there’s no evidence and nothing has been corroborated. There were other factual errors as well, though “Roger Stone says something factually incorrect” is the rule, not the exception.

    “Dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft jumped head-first into the Dotcom conspiracy, even one-upping Hannity by picking up an anonymous 4chan poster whose only claim to knowledge is “I work in D.C.” The post claimed there’s a “panic” in D.C. over the Rich conspiracy theory that right-wing media had been pressing.

    The following day, Hannity would echo this post:

    Hannity even admitted that it was about the Russia story:

    Also on Sunday, Newt Gingrich joined Fox & Friends Sunday and stated outright that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source for DNC emails, even though he had avoided that conclusion in August. Pro-Trump media jumped to promote the interview.

    Another Gateway Pundit post took a video that the Rich family did thanking donors to a GoFundMe campaign and stated that it was actually done to thank conservative media for pushing the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, self-described “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone said that someone had edited Rich’s Reddit posts. Soon after, she added a “retraction” note to the post following a statement from the Pandas For Bernie Facebook group.

    Early on May 22, Assange was still playing coy about Rich and WikiLeaks

    But by this point, the story was getting attention in the mainstream media -- but only as a conspiracy theory run amok in right-wing media. As Hannity’s conspiracy-mongering had drawn attention, he became a focal point of criticism. The Daily Beast ran a story about Fox News personalities embarrassed by Hannity’s actions.

    Hannity was undeterred:

    On his radio show, Hannity said that he was right about Rich because he had been right about Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed while walking through a Florida neighborhood:

    (He wasn’t right about Trayvon Martin, by the way.)

    Geraldo Rivera, a perpetual gadfly when it comes to pushing terrible things, also jumped on the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, the subreddit “r/The Donald” announced plans for a march on D.C. about Rich’s death on its anniversary, claiming 1.1 million people could show up.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 23, everything came to a head. Rich’s brother personally asked Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theories. Shortly thereafter, Fox News retracted its story about Rich, the one that Rod Wheeler originally cited as the basis for his story. A statement from Fox News said that the story did not meet the site’s editorial standards.

    And yet after all of this, Hannity continued to push the story on his radio show.

    On Twitter, Hannity ecstatically promoted Kim Dotcom’s “revelation,” which was a big nothingburger.

    The Rich family then published an op-ed in The Washington Post begging commentators to stop pushing conspiracy theories about their son.

    Hannity then tweeted about the op-ed as if it wasn’t just about him

    Shortly before his television show, Hannity tweeted that he still stood behind everything he had said on the topic, but also that he just was on a call with three of his attorneys:

    On his show, Hannity said that he was stopping talking about the matter “for now” at the request of the Rich family:

    And yet before his show was over, Hannity hinted on Twitter that he was still looking at the story.

    He even retweeted gratuitous praise from Kim Dotcom.

    Meanwhile, Oliver Darcy, who followed the story closely from the beginning, had a list of good unanswered questions for Fox News about Hannity’s despicable and ghoulish actions.

    Hannity then begged for fans to spread the conspiracy theory.

    By morning, a Republican congressman was echoing Hannity.

    Newt Gingrich, after pushing the conspiracy both in August and again on May 21, suddenly said that he didn’t know anything about it, telling The Washington Post, “I don’t know anything about it. … I know exactly what has been said on the various blog sites. ... I think it is worth looking at.”

    The retractions and hedging were much too little and far too late. In the bowels of pro-Trump media, Hannity had become a martyr and the Seth Rich conspiracy theory was gospel.

    The enduring tragedy of the episode is that the Rich family will likely have to live with this delusion bubbling up for a very long time. Even worse, pro-Trump media will say that they are part of it.

    No family deserves that.

    Research assistance provided by Bobby Lewis

  • Fox News shrugs while Sean Hannity has a meltdown over Seth Rich conspiracy

    Hannity is a loose cannon

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After going to the wall for a week on the email hack conspiracy theory about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, Fox News' Sean Hannity suddenly said Tuesday night that he was going to stop pushing it “for now.”

    The hollowness of Hannity’s line was immediately apparent. Minutes after saying that he would stop "out of respect for the family's wishes,” indeed even before his show was over, Hannity returned to the conspiracy theory on Twitter.

    Hours later, Hannity retweeted praise from Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, who is furiously fighting extradition from his home in New Zealand to the United States, adding a #Justice4SethRich hashtag.

    (Earlier yesterday, Dotcom had posted an evidence-free document purporting that Rich was involved in the hacking of DNC emails.)

    Hannity then asked his followers to retweet his promise to stay on the story.

    In the morning, Hannity went on a Twitter tirade against Media Matters.

    He also promised again to stay on the Seth Rich story.

    Meanwhile, Fox News is letting Hannity go wild with no apparent repercussions for pushing the vile conspiracy theory, which has caused great pain for Rich’s family. NBC’s Thomas Roberts reported that one source at Fox News simply said, “Hannity beats to his own drum.”

    This statement from someone at Fox comports with previous reporting about Hannity’s status at Fox. Oliver Darcy reported for Business Insider in 2016 that Hannity was “living on an island of his own” at Fox News. Apparently that's so true that he can brazenly boast that he’ll keep entertaining his obsession with a stale 4chan conspiracy even though it undermines Fox’s public statements. The networks' attempts to walk back the Hannity-fueled mess has left his colleagues ashamed to work with him.  

    This isn’t the first time Hannity has put his own interests ahead of Fox News’. In 2016, Hannity appeared in a Trump campaign ad without permission from his employer. In 2014, Hannity used his Fox News show to promote a paid sponsor of his radio show, which is tantamount to theft in the media business.

  • Bill O’Reilly Once Called For Advertisers To Boycott Outlets That Called Out His Sexual Harassment

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Over 80 advertisers issued public statements confirming that they removed ads from Bill O’Reilly’s show in the wake of revelations about multiple settlements for sexual harassment totalling over $13 million (with dozens more quietly taking the action or keeping them off in the first place). Even the CEO of Fox News’ parent company reportedly wants O’Reilly off the air permanently.

    A decade ago, O’Reilly himself pushed for advertisers to drop media outlets after they mentioned his 2004 sexual harassment settlement with former associate producer Andrea Mackris, calling them “smear merchants” and even accusing one of defending child predators.

    O’Reilly’s website still maintains a list of “Media Outlets that Traffic in Defamation,” and urges readers not to “patronize or advertise with” them. O’Reilly added several of the listed outlets after they referenced the 2004 settlement.

    In March of 2006, O’Reilly added the Dayton Daily News to his “don’t buy, don’t advertise list,” saying the "Dayton Daily News personally attacked" him. Editor Jeff Bruce responded, explaining that O’Reilly was furious that the paper referred to O’Reilly’s sexual harassment settlement, and had used that as a pretext to accuse the paper of “sympathy for child rapists”:

    "Mr. O'Reilly is upset with the newspaper because in an editorial we referred to his own recent legal history in which he was accused of sexual harassment. His producer threatened that unless we published an apology they would resort to their 'bully pulpit.' That's what they've done. This isn't about being 'soft' on child molesters. It's about Bill O'Reilly getting even.

    [...]

    His producer, in a conversation with me, acknowledged the logic of our editorial's argument. But they felt dragging O'Reilly's own legal problems into the article was gratuitous. While I expected O'Reilly to take a shot at us, I was shocked that he would suggest that this newspaper 'has sympathy for child rapists.' That is a deliberate distortion of what we said and what we stand for, and nothing could be further from the truth."

    A month later, O’Reilly added the Syracuse Post-Standard to his boycott list, after an editorial in the paper ran a quiz that referenced O’Reilly’s sexual harassment settlement.

    In December 2006, O’Reilly added The Roanoke Times to the list after editorial page editor Daniel Radmacher wrote a column ridiculing O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas” “nonsense” that was “manufactured in 2004 by that sanctimonious hypocrite Bill O'Reilly to bump up ratings -- and maybe distract attention from that whole unfortunate sexual harassment/phone sex episode."

    O’Reilly responded by lashing out at Radmacher both on his radio show and TV show, saying the Virginia paper “was the worst. It was extremely mean-spirited, personal attacks on me by a guy named Dan Radmacher, a left-wing loon. We did some research on him, and it's disgraceful. And they go on our ‘don't buy, don't advertise’ list, Roanoke Times. Because anybody would employ a guy like that -- and you know, and we did, we walked back and looked at what he did -- is irresponsible. It's just horrible.”

    O’Reilly has targeted other outlets that had previously mentioned his sexual harassment settlement, including the St. Petersburg Times, which he called “the nation’s worst newspaper” months after then-editorial board member Robert Friedman wrote in May of 2005 (via Nexis):

    I always assumed that if you'd heard one professional talker's phone sex tapes, you'd heard them all. Wrong. Sure, Pat O'Brien's and Bill O'Reilly's are comparably repellent. But the similarities end there.

    O'Reilly, the Fox News talk show host, prefers a more baroque technique, weaving elaborate fantasies involving various Mediterranean words he apparently doesn't understand.  "You would basically be in the shower and I would join you and . . . take that little loofah thing and kinda soap up your back. . . . So anyway I'd be (deleted dirty parts) . . . kissing your neck from behind and then I would take the other hand with the falafel thing and I'd put it on your (more deleted dirty parts). . ." (That's part of the transcript of a phone conversation included in the sexual harassment complaint filed against O'Reilly last year by former Fox News producer Andrea Mackris. The two later reached an out-of-court settlement.)

    Similar mentions of O’Reilly’s sexual harassment settlement with Mackris are found on Nexis in the archives of The New Yorker, U.S. News & World Report, Newsday, The Kansas City Star, and the Chicago Sun-Times, though it is not clear when O’Reilly designated them “don’t buy, don’t advertise.” The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus is not on Nexis.

    On occasion, O’Reilly also demanded that advertisers leave outlets that were negative to him for other reasons. In January of 2006, O’Reilly reiterated calls for advertisers to boycott The New York Daily News and added Newsday to his list for running negative “attacks” about his appearance on David Letterman’s show. Shortly thereafter, O’Reilly added the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to his “don’t buy, don’t advertise” list after accusing the paper of being “a far left publication that slants news coverage and deals in defamation.” A week later O’Reilly furiously attacked the paper and demanded that advertisers boycott the paper in response to an editorial praising the speeches of Rev. Joseph Lowery and former President Jimmy Carter at Coretta Scott King’s funeral.

    Jared Holt and Julie Millican contributed research to this post.