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Watching the Fox News anchor give credence to a bogus story linking a murdered DNC staffer to WikiLeaks is painful – and deeply disturbing
Persistence is a funny thing. Either it’s an exalted sign of a noble being willing to suffer a task against all odds, or it’s an indication of an idiot unwilling to change his mind. Fox News’s Sean Hannity likes to think he fits into the former camp. But even Fox News knows he belongs in the latter.
The latest reason? Hannity persists in peddling a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that is not just brazenly misguided (it’s a conspiracy theory!) but is downright painful. This time, the theory revolves around Hannity’s exploitation of the untimely death of a young Democratic National Committee staffer named Seth Rich.
Last summer, the 27-year-old Rich, who had been working for the DNC for not much more than a year, was tragically shot in the back late one night near his home in Washington DC. From the outset, the police suspected a botched robbery, but as Rich’s possessions were still on him and since he was a staffer for the Democrats, rightwing media soon began spinning a different story.
Without a shred of evidence, conservatives were not only claiming that Rich was the source who delivered thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks but also suggesting that he had been assassinated by the Democrats for his act.
This is bonkers, of course. For one, assassination accusations need evidence to be credible, and American intelligence officials have since stated their belief that a Russian military intelligence unit provided the emails to WikiLeaks. But last August, when Julian Assange started throwing some make-believe gas on an illusory fire, perhaps to deflect attention away from a possible Russia-WikiLeaks connection, the story flourished. Assange also implied Rich’s death was a whistleblower’s murder, with WikiLeaks even offering a $20,000 reward for information about the murder.
With Assange’s help, any connection to reality was soon severed. The conspiracy theory grew wings and was airborne, flying around conservative airwaves like a mad, screeching parakeet. Hannity, who holds the dubious distinction of being the most pro-Trump mainstream media personality, squawked and hooted. Repeatedly. Ecstatically.
But it’s not true. None of it. There’s no evidence whatsoever showing any connection between Rich and WikiLeaks.
It all came crumbling down this month, when Fox 5 DC, a local Fox News affiliate, aired an interview with Rod Wheeler, a private investigator looking into Rich’s death. On air, Wheeler confirmed that sources in the FBI had told him they could link Rich to WikiLeaks, and the conservative media went into overdrive.
Fox News subsequently ran a story claiming a “federal investigator” had confirmed the Rich-WikiLeaks contact. Within hours, Wheeler recanted, explaining to CNN that he had gotten his information from – wait for it – Fox News!
Yes, you and I both know that Fox News carries a heavy burden. Besides having lost Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes recently, the network also has to maintain the appearance of being a legitimate news organization and not be seen merely as conservative propaganda in high-definition blonde highlights sandwiched between reverse-mortgage advertisements blaring for 24 hours a day. We all sympathize. The network retracted the story.
The entire saga has been incredibly difficult for Rich’s parents. “The amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable,” Rich’s parents wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.”
Hannity said he understands the pain the Rich parents are feeling, but he won’t back down. In other words, the Rich-WikiLeaks story was thoroughly debunked. Nevertheless, he is persisting.
If you’re keeping track, the persistence score is currently as follows: Elizabeth Warren: noble. Sean Hannity: idiot.
After the Fox News retraction, Hannity stated on Twitter: “I am not stopping, I am working harder”. He also claimed he’s persecuted by “Liberal Fascism” because there is now understandable pressure building on his advertisers to withdraw their dollars from his show. And he generously thanked his “irredeemable friends” for their support.
I suspect Hannity thinks “irredeemable” means something else than “not able to be improved or corrected”, which is the generally accepted definition. Or maybe he’s just being honest about his friends.
Regardless, his comment makes me think that, while we don’t need Hannity on the air any longer, maybe we do need new words in our language. Allow me to propose one.
Hannity (n): 1. the blockheaded belief in something beyond all facts to the contrary; 2. the sum of the results of being caught in an ideological lie but continuing anyway; 3. a description of the cynical politics of the factually challenged rightwing media.
I’ll use it in a sentence: when Donald Trump keeps saying he has won the most electoral college votes since Ronald Reagan, he’s uttering something worse than a lie; he’s stating a Hannity.