Hannity to drop conspiracy theory 'for now' after Fox News retracts Seth Rich story

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Fox News host Sean Hannity told his audience Tuesday night that he is dropping an unproven conspiracy theory involving a slain DNC staffer "for now."

Fox News has retracted its story about a slain Democratic National Committee staffer, Seth Rich, that fueled unproven conspiracy theories alleging that Rich provided thousands of internal DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Here is the full statement from Fox News:

"On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.

 

We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted."

The retraction comes on the same day Rich’s brother delivered a letter to Porter Berry, the executive producer of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, pleading with him to stop Hannity from exploiting the murder for ratings and political gain.

"Think about how you would feel losing a son or brother. And while dealing with this, you had baseless accusations of your lost family member being part of a vast conspiracy," Alex Rich wrote. "It is a travesty that you would prompt false conspiracy theories and other people's agendas rather than work with the family to learn the truth."

Rich's parents, Mary and Joel, wrote an essay for the Washington Post where they reiterated that police officers told them the murder appeared to be a botched robbery attempt where the assailants panicked, immediately ran and abandoned their son's personal belongings

"We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth’s murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics," the couple wrote. "Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying."

Despite the retraction and the statements from Rich's family, a defiant Hannity initially continued to push the conspiracy theory on his syndicated radio show Tuesday afternoon, where he claimed reporters were “phony hypocrites” for reporting on investigations into the Trump administration over possible ties with Russia during the 2016 campaign. 

But by the time his Fox News show aired at 10 p.m., Hannity had a change of heart, saying that "out of respect for the family's wishes for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time."

But Hannity also added, "At the proper time, we shall continue and talk a lot more."

Rich was shot to death in Washington, D.C., on the morning of July 10, 2016. Local police said the crime was likely a botched robbery, but figures including Hannity and former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich have suggested Rich was murdered for leaking DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Snopes, Factcheck.org, Poynter and numerous news agencies have called the rumors false. Brad Bauman, a spokesman for the Rich family, said the Washington Metropolitan Police Department reviewed the contents of Rich’s personal laptop and found “no apparent communications with anyone who was associated with WikiLeaks.”

As his parents noted, Seth's job "was to develop analytical models to encourage voters to turn out to vote. He didn’t have access to DNC emails, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, John Podesta’s emails or Hillary Clinton’s emails. That simply wasn’t his job."

In interviews with Philly.com, two Fox News staffers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, complained about Hannity’s obsession with the story and the willingness of Fox News executives to offer a platform for the debunked conspiracy theories. They also described a divide among staffers in the newsroom, many of whom have grown uncomfortable with the network's coverage of President Trump. 

Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky slammed the network, calling it “really egregious” to allow Hannity, Gingrich and others to continue to exploit the death of a young man for political gain.

“We know the facts. Wikileaks was in collaboration with the Russians,” Roginsky said. “How do we know this? Because the entire intelligence community said that the Russians were the ones who hacked into these emails. This is not in dispute.”