The Sean Hannity Show

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  • New right-wing media talking point: It's no big deal if Trump colluded with the Russians

    Legal experts and Trump’s attorney general agree it would be “improper and illegal”

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media figures have repeatedly downplayed possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government, suggesting that “it’s not a crime” to collude with a foreign government to influence U.S. elections. Legal experts and Trump’s own attorney general, however, agree that such collusion would be “improper and illegal.”

  • Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia probably would have been illegal, contrary to conservative claims

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    PolitiFact rated Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett’s claim that collusion with a foreign government in an election isn’t a crime “false,” citing three election law experts who named four statutes that could have been violated. Amid an FBI probe into whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, various conservative media figures have piled on to make similar claims that such actions -- if they occurred -- are not illegal.

    On May 10, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera was among the first to say that collusion with the Russian government in an election wouldn’t be a crime. Fox host Sean Hannity said on his radio show on May 22, “Let’s say they did [collude], they said to Vladimir Putin, ‘Hey Vladimir, release everything you got.’ And Vladimir released it to Julian Assange. You know, is that a crime?” On May 30, Fox’s Jarrett asserted on air that “collusion is not a crime. … You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election. There is no such statute.” Jarrett made a similar argument in a FoxNews.com op-ed. And on May 31, conservative author Michael Reagan claimed on CNN, “Collusion is not breaking the law,” and repeatedly asked “what law” collusion breaks.

    In a June 1 fact check, PolitiFact, responding to Jarrett, wrote, “We ran Jarrett’s argument by three election law professors, and they all said that while the word ‘collusion’ might not appear in key statutes (they couldn’t say for sure that it was totally absent), working with the Russians could violate criminal laws”:

    Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School said one relevant statute is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

    "A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime," Persily said. "And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime."

    Persily pointed to a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling based on the 2002 law. The judges said that the law bans foreign nationals "from making expenditures to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate."

    Another election law specialist, John Coates at Harvard University Law School, said if Russians aimed to shape the outcome of the presidential election, that would meet the definition of an expenditure.

    "The related funds could also be viewed as an illegal contribution to any candidate who coordinates (colludes) with the foreign speaker," Coates said.

    To be sure, no one is saying that coordination took place. What’s in doubt is whether the word "collusion" is as pivotal as Jarrett makes it out to be.

    Coates said discussions between a campaign and a foreigner could violate the law against fraud.

    "Under that statute, it is a federal crime to conspire with anyone, including a foreign government, to ‘deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,’ " Coates said. "That would include fixing a fraudulent election, in my view, within the plain meaning of the statute."

    Josh Douglas at the University of Kentucky Law School offered two other possible relevant statutes.

    "Collusion in a federal election with a foreign entity could potentially fall under other crimes, such as against public corruption," Douglas said. "There's also a general anti-coercion federal election law."

  • “Mind control,” “shadow government,” and Seth Rich: Sean Hannity’s history of pushing conspiracy theories

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News host Sean Hannity attracted widespread condemnation for pushing conspiracy theories about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, but it wasn’t his first time promoting or entertaining such wild claims on air. From claiming that the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem because he “may have converted to Islam” to implying that former President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, here are some examples of Hannity embracing conspiracy theories.

  • How Sean Hannity became the champion of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Even by the recent standards of Fox News, the last two weeks have sent Sean Hannity into a remarkable free fall. In his quest to provide cover to President Donald Trump’s weakened administration, and unrestrained by anyone in the Fox News bureaucracy, Hannity has become the most visible national champion of a vicious and elsewhere-retracted conspiracy theory suggesting that the late Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered because he was a source for WikiLeaks.

    Hannity, who is scheduled to return tonight from a vacation that doubled as a respite for his balking advertisers, is completely out of control. And his increasingly volatile actions are inextricably linked to the disastrous circumstances that Trump and Fox News have created for themselves in recent months.

    This is the story of how one of America’s most popular conservative commentators dove into the fever swamp and refused to come up for air.

    Tiptoeing around the swamp

    In the late summer of 2016, as Trump’s presidential bid continued to flag, his campaign and media allies turned to dark, paranoid conspiracy theories. Most of the debate from Hannity and his ilk focused on baseless claims that Hillary Clinton was in ill health, that she had suffered from seizures or a stroke.

    But in August, Hannity’s attention turned from whether Clinton was about to die to whether she had recently killed.

    On July 10, Rich was shot during what appears to have been a botched robbery while walking home in the early morning. Two weeks later, WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the DNC. Conspiracy theorists suggested Rich had been the WikiLeaks source, though The New York Times reported that the emails had actually been stolen by a hacker linked to Russian intelligence.

    Though the story should have ended there, it didn’t. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange brought up Rich unprompted on a Dutch TV program, implying that the deceased DNC staffer had been a source.

    It seemed like a perfect story for Hannity, who has mounted obsequious defenses of Trump and dabbled in conspiracy theories about the Clintons. Instead, Hannity repeatedly suggested the allegations were were less than credible, if “fascinating”:

    This hesitance to wade into the fever swamps was only temporary. Hannity did not return to the story on his radio show for the rest of the year, and he did not discuss the Rich conspiracies on Fox News, even as several of his colleagues brought the allegations to the network’s audience.

    But when he conducted a January 3 interview with Assange, Hannity suggested that WikiLeaks had received documents from a “disgruntled Democrat” who he later noted may have been Rich, a claim he has repeated in recent weeks.

    Assange also repeatedly told Hannity that the Russian government was not his source. Now that Assange was casting aspersions on Democrats, Hannity was apparently willing to take this claim at face value, even though the Fox host had previously called for the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest and accused him of “waging war against the U.S.”

    Diving into the swamp


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    By the spring, both Fox News and the Trump administration were in different places than they had been when Hannity brushed off what he had admitted were Seth Rich “conspiracy theories.” The former was in the middle of a massive shake-up that had left Hannity unmoored. And the latter had become consumed by scandals.

    At Fox, Bill O’Reilly, a longtime Hannity rival and the King of Cable News, was forced out of the network he helped build in mid-April after a massive advertiser boycott prompted by numerous reports that he had sexually harassed his colleagues. Weeks later, Bill Shine, the former Hannity producer who had risen to become Fox News’ co-president, was forced to resign over his reported role in covering up sexual harassment at the network. His predecessor, Fox founder Roger Ailes, had been pushed out the year before over similar allegations.

    Meanwhile, a faltering administration entered a new period of crisis on May 9, when Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Later that week, he admitted that he was acting in response to Comey’s handling of a federal investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election. The firing kicked off two weeks of brutal stories for the White House that shredded the president’s credibility, put the future of his administration in jeopardy, and strained the ability of Trump's media allies to defend him.

    For Hannity, these circumstances were a lake of gasoline. Late on May 15, Fox 5 DC provided the match. In what was billed as an exclusive story, Rod Wheeler, a private detective and Fox News contributor, said he had evidence that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks at the time of his death.

    At 12:37 a.m. ET May 16, Hannity tweeted out the story with the question “Thoughts twitter??” Over the next half hour and then again early the next morning, as hundreds of replies flooded in, the Fox host highlighted conspiratorial tweets suggesting that a close Clinton operative may have had Rich killed, that Assange had previously said Rich was his source, and that Rich was actually WikiLeaks’ indirect, not direct, source.

    But the Rich story quickly fell apart when Wheeler backed off the claims that had been attributed to him. As the Fox affiliate backed away from its report, Hannity leaned into it harder than ever, discussing it on three editions of his Fox News show, and devoting multiple segments to Rich’s murder on each episode of his radio show.

    Hannity, a natural propagandist, repeatedly aired clips of Assange’s interviews, and he treated the WikiLeaks founder’s claims about his sources as incontrovertible fact. He questioned law enforcement’s suggestion that Rich was the victim of a botched robbery. And he hyped Wheeler’s claim as an “explosive development” that flies in the face of the “media hysteria meltdown and the alliance to destroy President Trump.”

    While it’s unclear if he is acting sincerely or cynically, Hannity is very clear about what he is trying to accomplish with his coverage. He’s pushing this vile conspiracy theory because he thinks it rebuts the avalanche of stories linking Trump and Russia (it doesn’t), and because it allows him to suggest the Clinton camp was willing to stoop to murder (it wasn’t).

    In the process, Hannity has alienated himself from mainstream conservatives and thrown his lot in with the most paranoid corners of the internet. On pro-Trump internet communities like Reddit’s subreddit “r/The_Donald,” 4chan, and 8chan, posters praised Hannity for his courage and reveled in the story breaking through to the mainstream. Recoiling from Hannity’s lack of empathy for the Rich family and his unwillingness to yield to common decency, more serious conservative figures joined the chorus of commentators rightfully condemning Hannity’s actions.

    Faced with widespread infamy and criticism from Rich’s family, Hannity responded by declaring himself the one person who was really interested in getting to the bottom of the murder in the face of pressure to shut him up. “I am not backing off asking questions even though there's an effort that nobody talk about Seth Rich,” he said on his May 19 Fox show.

    What followed was not investigative journalism, but an epic freakout.

    Drowning in the swamp

    On May 20, Hannity announced the next step in his so-called investigation: an interview with Kim Dotcom, a hacker “now fighting extradition to the United States on copyright infringement and wire fraud” who claimed to have proof linking Rich and WikiLeaks.

    He followed that announcement up with a Sunday night Twitter meltdown demanding that Congress investigate Rich’s murder, declaring that Democrats were panicking, and lashing out at his critics as “snowflakes.” Notably, as he prepared to host an alleged criminal hacker in service of a deranged conspiracy theory, Hannity was already positioning himself for martyrdom, asking his fans, “Any bets when the kitchen sink is dumped on my head??” And after FoxNews.com retracted its story and Media Matters published a list of Sean Hannity’s Fox News advertisers, Hannity was defiant. “All you in the liberal media, I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com, I retracted nothing,” he said. An hour before his show was to air, he tweeted that he stood by everything he had said, and promised: “More at 10 pm tonight.”

    But minutes before the show started, he revealed on Twitter that he had just spoken with three of his attorneys. And when the lights came up on his Fox News broadcast, Kim Dotcom was nowhere to be found. Instead, Hannity declared that “out of respect for the family's wishes -- for now -- I am not discussing this matter at this time.”

    Hannity also revealed what was really motivating the shift. “Media Matters is attacking my advertising base,” he said. “That is what we have called on this program liberal fascism, attack, boycott, all in an effort to silence conservatives.”

    The Fox host swiftly made clear that he didn’t really care about the family, which had begged him repeatedly to stop exploiting Seth’s death. Before his show had even concluded, he was telling his Twitter followers that he was “closer to the TRUTH than ever” and that he was “not stopping.”

    He followed that up the next day with a lengthy Twitter rant against Media Matters accusing us of, among other things, attacking only conservatives. In an interview with HuffPost, he said we are attempting “to take [him] out” and attempting a “kill shot.” As he offers vitriolic defenses while continuing to hint at Rich conspiracy theories on air, advertisers are starting to head for the exits.

    Hannity has spent the last weeks pushing reckless conspiracy theories about an innocent murder victim in a desperate effort to preserve the president’s power and fend off his increasingly aggressive foes. These are the depths to which he has been willing to stoop within the first four months of the Trump administration. As the administration continues its collapse -- and as Hannity apparently faces no restraints other than his own fear of going out like O’Reilly -- there’s no telling how low he can go.  

    Additional research provided by Shelby Jamerson.

  • Hannity repeatedly pushed stories after Fox backed away from or retracted them

    He also has flouted ethical and employment guidelines

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Volatile Fox News anchor and right-wing conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity has repeatedly pushed stories even after his network retracted or backed away from them and has on multiple occasions broken ethical and employment guidelines. Hannity has pushed polls that the network had previously said “do not meet our editorial standards,” hyped debunked Muslim “no-go zones” in France after the network had to apologize for reporting about them, engaged in political activity without Fox’s knowledge or approval, and has used his Fox platform to benefit a sponsor of his radio show.

  • 75 things to know about Sean Hannity

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Media Matters

    Fox host Sean Hannity, a professional propagandist for President Donald Trump, also has a history of bigotry, sexism, and pushing conspiracy theories. Below is a quick tour through Hannity’s career:

    1. Hannity was fired from his first radio job after saying that gay people are prone to disease because they consume each other's feces during sex.

    2. After outlets banned selling the Confederate flag, Hannity demanded that they also stop selling rap music.

    3. Hannity promised that he would be waterboarded for charity but has never followed through. He also slammed a football into his desk, screaming, “Imagine this is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's head. Dunk it in water so we can save American lives."

    4. Hannity defended a killer convicted of multiple counts of premeditated first-degree and second-degree murder. He also has lauded Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.

    5. Hannity used footage from a Glenn Beck rally to make a Michele Bachmann rally look bigger than it actually was.

    6. Hannity lied about Michelle Obama’s senior thesis in order to portray her as a radical.

    7. Hannity praised conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who claims that the 9/11 terror attacks and the Sandy Hook massacre were committed by the U.S. government, telling him he was doing a “great job.”

    8. Hannity’s source for anti-Clinton information was a former editor of the Weekly World News who frequently wrote about Bigfoot and aliens. Hannity also has a bizarre fascination with Hillary Clinton’s underwear.

    9. Hannity accused Black Lives Matter of advocating for cop-killing and compared the movement to the KKK.

    10. Hannity agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision constituted “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.”

    11. Hannity said that only idiots refer to “climate change” -- he just calls it the weather.

    12. Hannity defended Donald Trump’s racist attacks on a federal judge overseeing the Trump University case.

    13. Hannity wanted to make sure that parents can teach kids that “being gay is not normal.”

    14. Hannity got interested in the birther conspiracy about Obama right around the same time that Trump did. Hannity later offered to pay for the Obamas to fly to Kenya if they would never come back.

    15. Hannity appeared in an actual Donald Trump campaign ad. During a debate, Trump demanded that Americans call Sean Hannity to verify the then-candidate’s Iraq War lie.

    16. Cable news hosts surveyed about their colleagues deemed Hannity the worst of cable news hosts, which made him furious. Later, when a Wall Street Journal editor called him “Fox News’ dumbest anchor,” Hannity had a late-night meltdown on Twitter.

    17. During one of their many interviews, Hannity fed Trump a lie about Syrian refugees from a hoax website. Trump then began repeating it at campaign events.

    18. Hannity declared the probe into Russian hacking during the 2016 election a “liberal media fake news story.”

    19. Discredited pundit Dick Morris gave Republican donors a tour of Hannity’s studio, and they discussed politics with Hannity in his green room.

    20. Hannity speculated that Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem because “he might have converted to Islam.”

    21. Hannity also denied that Trump had been hostile to non-white voters.

    22. VICE mocked Hannity’s martial arts skills and described Hannity as “the kind of bro who talks up his street fighting skills on Twitter.”

    23. Hannity said that John Legend -- who won an Academy Award for his song in the historical drama Selma -- “doesn’t know anything” about voting rights.

    24. After Seth Rich’s family pleaded with Fox to stop pushing a conspiracy theory about his murder, Hannity continued hammering the issue, seemingly to distract from an investigation of Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia.

    25. Hannity laughably said police officers won’t bother black Americans if they’re not “part of a gang.”

    26. Hannity asked if affirmative action is as “equally wrong” as racial discrimination.

    27. Hannity justified Trump’s attack on a Muslim Gold Star family during the 2016 election and actually asked Trump during an interview why the family was targeting him.

    28. After Trump used the term “anchor baby” in a political ad, Hannity defended using the slur to describe the American citizen children of undocumented immigrants. He claimed there was “no other term to use,” apparently forgetting the term “American citizen.”

    29. Hannity smeared black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as racist by distorting a 1994 interview he gave on C-SPAN. He missed the fact that Gate’s comments were about an event in 1959.

    30. Hannity repeatedly employed anti-Muslim smears against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), including saying that Ellison taking the oath of office on the Quran was akin to using “Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible.”

    31. Hannity falsely accused a former Obama administration official of concealing a statutory rape from two decades previous.

    32. Hannity baselessly claimed a different former Obama administration official wanted to “force sterilizations” on Americans.

    33. Hannity pushed the “death panels” smear of Obamacare in a book.

    34. Hannity joined other conspiracy theorists pushing baseless claims about Hillary Clinton’s health during the 2016 presidential election, specifically saying that she was having “seizures.”

    35. Hannity said that a 2006 Democratic midterm election victory could be a “victory for the terrorists.”

    36. Hannity attacked Obama for putting “fancy” Dijon mustard on his food. Seriously.

    37. Hannity criticized Obama’s children for going to the Bahamas and Idaho during spring break, complaining about the cost to taxpayers, yet years later he denied he had ever criticized them. He has yet to criticize Trump or his family for any of their travels or for the fact that Melania and Barron Trump live in New York.

    38. Hannity lauded Trump’s use of a teleprompter during the 2016 campaign, after spending years attacking Obama for using a teleprompter.

    39. Hannity asked WikiLeaks to back up his baseless assertion that the CIA framed the Russian government for 2016 election interference.

    40. Hannity urged Facebook to show live video of violence and murder so people could “understand the nature of evil.” He defended this call by saying that kids have already seen violence given “the games” they play.

    41. Hannity urged Trump to arrest 46 U.S. attorneys after he dismissed them.

    42. Hannity claimed that Obama’s campaign database is proof of “a shadow government” and that it demonstrates that Hannity's “not the great conspiracy theorist that some people may think I am.”

    43. Hannity warned his viewers that the “globalist establishment” is “in bed with the Republican establishment” and said it was “reminiscent of former Soviet Union propaganda and mind control.” (Remember when he said he wasn’t a conspiracy theorist?)

    44. Hannity claimed that “everything that conspiracy theorists have said over the years” is “true.” He added that “it’s a media assault on your mind.”

    45. Hannity suggested that former Bill Clinton aide Vince Foster’s suicide was a “massive coverup” and that the Clintons may have been involved.

    46. Hannity said in 2008 that “demoniz[ing]” Hillary Clinton is “my job.”

    47. Hannity refused to rebuke Trump’s false claim, originating from tabloid The National Enquirer, that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved with John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Hannity has said the Enquirer “gets a lot of things right.”

    48. Hannity falsely claimed that Obama “is Bill Ayers” and “is Reverend Wright.”

    49. Hannity criticized a women’s sexual health study by claiming female students “seem to be the only ones getting stimulated.” Ew.

    50. To defend Trump's decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey, Hannity invoked a dubious claim originating from the “alt-right” that Comey could have been implicated in leaking classified information.

    51. Hannity defended Glenn Beck’s claim that Obama is “a racist.”

    52. Hannity attacked the judges who ruled against Trump’s Muslim ban, claiming they put Americans’ lives “literally in jeopardy.”

    53. Hannity lauded rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to comply with the federal government’s demand that he pay grazing fees for using public land, with Bundy calling Hannity a “hero.”

    54. Hannity completely flipped his views on WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, going from calling for his arrest to claiming he had “done a lot of good” after he targeted Clinton during the 2016 election.

    55. Hannity called Hillary Clinton’s laugh “frightening.”

    56. Hannity falsely claimed that the killing of Osama Bin Laden was “thanks to George Bush,” even though the operation was ordered by Obama.

    57. Hannity has repeatedly attacked women getting birth control, saying, “I won’t have sex, but I’ll be paying for the birth control, not fair.”

    58. Hannity refused to accept a T-shirt from firefighters because they supported Obama.

    59. Hannity pushed the misleading claim that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes well before Mitt Romney did.

    60. Hannity attacked people on food stamps for having an “entitlement mindset.”

    61. Hannity defended Augusta National Golf Club’s men-only policy by comparing it to a “girls night out.”

    62. Hannity has told poor people to “quit drinking soda and drink water” and suggested you “can survive off” of only rice and beans.

    63. Hannity defended Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke by saying Limbaugh was just “trying to be funny.”

    64. Hannity in 2012 lauded Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) as “modern day Paul Reveres” for claiming the Muslim Brotherhood was infiltrating the government.

    65. Hannity argued in 2012 that Obama supporters would defend Obama if he was “robbing a bank and shooting all the tellers.”

    66. Hannity asked if Obama compared himself to Trayvon Martin because “he smoked pot and he did a little blow.”

    67. Hannity attacked California for enacting a law protecting transgender students, saying, “What do we do with the 7-year-old girl that goes into the locker room and there's the 14-year-old boy naked in the girls' locker room because that's where he chooses to be?"

    68. Hannity has repeatedly attacked Pope Francis, saying he is “against capitalism” and laughably suggested he is “not really in a position … to lecture anybody on what it means to be good Christians.”

    69. Hannity in 2013 claimed that Obama on World AIDS Day discussed AIDS in order to “change the topic” from the Affordable Care Act.

    70. Hannity attacked the Transportation Security Administration for making an animated video explaining the airport screening process for children, calling it “indoctrination.”

    71. Hannity defended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson when he called homosexuality sinful and similar to bestiality, saying his comments reflect “old-fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values.”

    72. Hannity mocked Obama for wearing a bicycle helmet while bicycling, calling it “embarrassing.”

    73. Hannity said that because he lived in New York, he knew “what it’s like to live under communism.”

    74. Hannity predicted that New York City would become “a mess” because the city’s mayor wanted to close public schools during certain Muslim holidays.

    75. Hannity questioned how the 2012 Benghazi attacks were any different from Watergate, saying, “Four Americans weren’t abandoned to be murdered in Watergate.”

    BONUS: Hannity was described by the website Wonkette as “the dumbest motherfucker on planet Earth.”

  • Hannity once said it would be “reckless and irresponsible to suggest … the DNC had anything to do with” Seth Rich’s murder

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In August of 2016, Sean Hannity on his radio show said “it would be reckless and irresponsible to suggest the Clintons or the DNC had anything to do with” the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. Since then, however, Hannity has been the most prominent driver of conspiracy theories that suggest just that.

    During the August 10 edition of his radio show, Hannity brought up the fringe theories surrounding Rich’s death but repeatedly stated that he wasn’t “insinuating” Hillary Clinton or the DNC were complicit, and to do so would be “irresponsible”:

    • Hannity: “By the way, I’ll say up front, am I insinuating in any way, shape, matter, or form that Hillary Clinton or the Clinton campaign or the DNC is responsible? No.”
    • And: “I don’t want to get too deep into conspiracy theories.”
    • And finally: “It would be reckless and irresponsible to suggest the Clintons or the DNC had anything to do with it.”

    However, since then, of course, Hannity has dropped all pretense and pushed the conspiracy theory, insinuating exactly what he said would be “reckless and irresponsible" to insinuate.

    After a week of intense backlash to his recent promotion of the discredited Seth Rich conspiracies, advertisers began to back away from his Fox News show, and Hannity went on vacation.

    Before he left, one of his last public acts was to brag that “there’s nothing that I did, nothing that I said, except they don’t like my position politically,” in reference to criticism of his obsession with Rich.

    Click here to listen to the full exchange from Hannity's August 10 radio show. 

  • Sean Hannity is running the campaign against Sean Hannity

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement after advertisers including Cars.com, Leesa, Casper, Ring, USAA and Peloton reportedly pulled their ads from Fox News’ Hannity.

    “Put simply: Sean Hannity is running the advertiser campaign against Sean Hannity.

    That multiple advertisers have dropped from Hannity proves the point we’ve been making all along: that organizing a pressure campaign wasn’t even necessary at this juncture, because Hannity is so volatile that major brands would likely be uncomfortable associating with him. In the past few days, Hannity has put that volatility on full display with wild and reckless conspiracies and by antagonizing his employer Fox News. Sure enough and as predicted, companies started pulling their ads from Hannity because they know his volatility is bad for business.

    Tonight, Hannity further illustrated the pitfalls of his volatility by starting to actively encourage his fans to pressure his own advertisers. This is only going to send them running from him even faster.”

  • 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