The Fox News Channel has retracted a week-old story based on a groundless conspiracy theory involving the death of a staffer for the Democratic National Committee, conceding it did not meet the network's standards.
The retracted May 16 online story claimed to report as fact that the late Seth Rich, a 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer, was actually the person who leaked tens of thousands of emails from the DNC to WikiLeaks and that his murder was tied to that action. Rich was fatally shot last July in what police have called a botched robbery and there is no evidence known publicly to suggest he did share those emails. The Rich family had publicly pleaded with Fox News and others to stop trading in such speculation absent facts.
"The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting," the Tuesday statement read. "Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards." The Fox News statement did not apologize or specify what went wrong or how it did so, and it did not bear the name of its author. But it promised to continue to investigate the story and provide updates.
Fox News' star host Sean Hannity, who had pushed the theory relentlessly, said on his radio show that he retracted nothing. He also tweeted the importance of finding out the truth. On television Tuesday night, Hannity said he would no longer talk about the story "out of respect for the family's wishes — for now."
Yet Hannity, a leading Donald Trump advocate and confidant, did not apologize or say the story was wrong. Instead, he pivoted to assailing the "destroy-Trump media [and] the Democrats."
The public disclosure of the content of those DNC emails threw Hillary Clinton's campaign into turmoil during the 2016 election and led to the resignation of the chairwoman of the DNC, though they did not contain any extraordinary revelations.
The embrace of the conspiracy theory around Rich's death by Hannity and others caused similar tumult at Fox News this month, revealing and deepening rifts between its journalists and the opinion side that propels its economic success, according to several people at the network.