Fox News and conservative talk show host Sean Hannity are under fire Tuesday for pushing a right-wing conspiracy theory that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich may have been killed because he provided emails to WikiLeaks.
On Tuesday, Fox News retracted the online story that an FBI forensics examination showed Rich leaked work emails to WikiLeaks before he was fatally shot on July 10.
Police have said they believe the killing was a botched robbery.
Despite that, Hannity has repeatedly raised questions about the circumstances of Rich’s death. On his show Tuesday night, Hannity called out what he sees as “liberal fascism” and an attempt by the mainstream media to silence him.
To his loyal viewers, he vowed, “I promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.”
In a statement retracting the story, Fox News said, “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 Fox News article followed an initial story that first ran May 15 on Fox 5 DC, a local news station. That story cited Rod Wheeler, a private investigator looking into the killing, in which he claimed he had sources at the FBI confirming there was evidence of communication between Rich and WikiLeaks.
But Fox 5 later amended the story to say that Wheeler had backtracked his statements.
Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group, blasted Fox News’s handling of the story.
“Just retracting the one online story hardly undoes the damage Fox News — and specifically Sean Hannity— has done by pushing baseless conspiracy theories about Rich’s death,” the group said.
Media Matters also published a list of his show’s advertisers to put pressure on them to drop Hannity. Dozens of advertisers fled “The O’Reilly Factor” in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment — a move that ultimately pressured Fox News into firing Bill O’Reilly.
O’Reilly, along with the late Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, were both ousted following a widening scandal over the network’s handling of numerous sexual harassment claims from women who worked at the cable news network.
Now, Media Matters, a vocal critic of Fox News, is turning up the heat on Hannity, a conservative firebrand who remains one of the channel’s remaining stars.
Hannity on Tuesday accused the group of “liberal facism.”
He tweeted to his 2.37 million followers: “IMPORTANT! Mediamatters is trying to silence me, get me fired, pressure my advertising on radio & TV. Liberal Fascism. I need your help!!”
Hannity has repeatedly cited tweets made by Kim Dotcom, the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.
“I knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @Wikileaks source. I was involved,” Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.
Dotcom said he believes a full statement “should be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.”
WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn’t confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy. However, the site, run by Julian Assange, has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the murder of Rich.
In an opinion piece published Tuesday on the Washington Post’s website, Mary and Joel Rich asked that people stop politicizing their son’s death.
"There are people who are using our beloved Seth’s memory and legacy for their own political goals, and they are using your outrage to perpetuate our nightmare,” they wrote. “We ask those purveying falsehoods to give us peace, and to give law enforcement the time and space to do the investigation they need to solve our son’s murder."
7:15 p.m. This article was updated with comments from Sean Hannity during his Tuesday night show.
5:30 p.m. This article was updated with sources saying Sean Hannity is not expected to leave Fox News.
5 p.m. This article was updated with additional details.
This article was originally published at 3:30 p.m.