Hours after NBC debunked Fox News’ much-hyped report that DNC staffer Seth Rich had been in communication with WikiLeaks at the time of his murder last July, Sean Hannity promoted the story to millions of Fox News viewers and suggested there’s evidence that prominent Democrats were involved in a murder conspiracy.
There isn’t. Hours before Hannity’s show aired, NBC reported that “a current FBI official and a former one completely discount the Fox News claim that an FBI analysis of a computer belonging to Rich contained thousands of e-mails to and from WikiLeaks.”
Rich’s family also denounced Fox News’ reporting, saying earlier Tuesday through a spokesman that “we’ve seen through the past year of unsubstantiated claims, we see no facts, we have seen no evidence, we have been approached with no emails and only learned about this when contacted by the press.”
But Hannity completed ignored NBC’s reporting and the Rich family statement during his presentation of the Rich story on Tuesday night.
“Explosive developments in the mysterious murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich that could completely shatter the narrative that in fact Wikileaks was working with the Russians, or there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” Hannity said, introducing the Rich story during his opening segment. “Now, if true, this could become one of the biggest scandals in American history, and could mean that Rich could have been murdered under very suspicious circumstances. Now, according to former homicide detective Rod Wheeler, who had been hired by the Rich family to investigate the killing, newly discovered evidence shows that the 27 year-old former DNC employee was, in fact, communicating with Wikileaks before he was gunned down in Washington, D.C.”
Later, Hannity interviewed Wheeler — a former DC homicide investigator turned Fox News contributor who once apologized for his claim that a “national underground network” of gun-toting lesbians was terrorizing the Washington, D.C. area.
Wheeler admitted that his conjecture about Rich being in touch with WikiLeaks wasn’t actually based on evidence.
“I have never seen the emails myself directly, I haven’t seen the computer that Seth Rich used,” he said. “With the totality of everything else I’ve found in this case, it’s very consistent for a person with my experience to begin to think, well, perhaps there were some email communications between Seth and WikiLeaks.”
Hannity’s fact-free presentation, full of reckless conjecture, was deeply offensive to the Rich family.
A spokesman for Seth Rich's family said "There is a special place in hell" for spreading conspiracies about Seth. Hannity is leading with it pic.twitter.com/v0U4jCLxvl
— Nathan McDermott (@natemcdermott) May 17, 2017
But the debunked story provided a convenient distraction for Hannity, staunch Trump loyalist. It was a welcome alternative to the new that Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to stop an investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia — a revelation many interpret as clear-cut and impeachable obstruction of justice.
Before pivoting to the Rich story, Hannity dismissed a widely-verified bombshell Washington Post report about Trump disclosing sensitive counterterrorism intelligence to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting as “hyperventilating.”
Hannity was far from alone in using the Rich story as a distraction on Monday.
Meanwhile, if you're reading Trump-right news today…. pic.twitter.com/Apn0Geir6u
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) May 16, 2017
While Hannity ignored the fact that Fox News’ report about Rich has been thoroughly debunked, WikiLeaks and pro-Trump pundits like Lou Dobbs resorted to smearing the Rich family spokesman as a partisan shill.