Fox says report that DNC staffer had been in contact with WikiLeaks prior to his fatal shooting was not given a high degree of editorial scrutiny
Fox News has retracted a story on the 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, which was roundly condemned for perpetuating conspiracy theories,while host Sean Hannity said he would cease further discussion of the subject on his show in the networks evening lineup.
Both Fox and Hannity invited a torrent of criticism for a report on 16 May that Rich, a 27-year-old staffer at the DNC, had been in contact with the website WikiLeaks prior to his fatal shooting in Washington in July of 2016. The unsubstantiated report was published and promoted on both Fox News, most heavily on Hannitys primetime show, and the networks local Washington affiliate, WTTG-TV.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Fox News said the article in question 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, the statement read. We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.
Hours later, Hannity addressed the controversy at the top of his program and was largely unapologetic, but said he would back down from the story for the time being.
Out of respect for the [Rich] familys wishes, for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time, Hannity said.
Even so, the characteristically bombastic anchor blamed what he dubbed as liberal fascism amid a campaign targeting Hannitys advertisers in the wake of his promotion of the false report.
I promise you I am not going to stop doing my job, Hannity said. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.
Rightwing websites and commentators have sought to tie Richs murder to the release of the hacked DNC emails ahead of the partys convention last July, as well as to Hillary Clintons presidential campaign, despite no evidence to support such a link.
In an emotional op-ed published on the Washington Post on Tuesday, Richs family said he was in fact excited about an opportunity to join Clintons campaign on the day he was killed.
Every day we wake up to new headlines, new lies, new factual errors, new people approaching us to take advantage of us and Seths legacy, his parents, Mary Rich and Joel Rich, wrote.
It just wont stop. The amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable.
Following Hannitys broadcast, his familys spokesman said: We hope that Mr Hannity will join Fox News in their rededicated commitment to editorial integrity.
Richs case remains unresolved, but the Metropolitan police department of Washington have said the evidence suggests the murder resulted from a botched robbery.
Fox News falsely alleged federal authorities had found thousands of emails between Rich and Wikileaks, when in fact law enforcement officials disputed that Richs laptop had even been in possession of, or examined by, the FBI. Fox nonetheless continued to feature the report, which was widely characterized as an example of the fake news phenomenon.
Richs family pleaded with the network and host to suspend its promotion of a conspiracy theory.
Brad Bauman, a spokesman for the Rich family, told CNN earlier on Tuesday they were grateful for the retraction.
The family would like to thank Fox News for their retraction on a story that has caused deep pain and anguish to the family and has done harm to Seth Richs legacy, Bauman said in a statement.
We are hopeful that in the future Fox News will work with the family to ensure the highest degree of professionalism and scrutiny is followed so that only accurate facts are reported serving this case.