Standards, What Standards?

Published: May 26, 2017

By Jim Lichtman
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Fox News executives should issue the following statement:

“Fox News is calling for a total and complete shutdown of inaccurate and false stories coming from Sean Hannity until Fox representatives can figure out what the HELL is going on!”

P.S. – They have, sort of.

Conspiracy theories have bounced around popular culture and politics since the birth of the nation. However, never have they so infected the source of what is supposed to be reliable information like the last two years.

New York Times media journalist Jim Rutenberg writes (May 24), “In the last few months, journalists, academics, technology experts, civic-minded foundations and well-intentioned politicos have devoted decades of collective brain hours to an all-hands effort to stanch the conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods roiling our democracy. …

“But as the Seth Rich story shows,” Rutenberg points out, “we’re going to need a bigger algorithm.”

Despite being debunked by several sources, this is the story that Fox News host Sean Hannity continues to push on politically vulnerable viewers. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich went on the May 21st episode of Fox and Friends to say that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich “apparently was assassinated at 4 in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. … It turns out, it wasn’t the Russians.”

You would think that Gingrich himself would question the reliability of a story that has enough holes to sink a ship, but reason and common sense are no longer coin of the realm in the current state where anything and everything is politicized.

For the record, Politifact rated Gingrich’s claim “Pants on Fire” false.

The unfounded theory, Politifact reports, is “that WikiLeaks actually got the emails from a Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot and killed in July 2016.

“Seth Rich, who worked on voter access projects for the DNC, was 27 when he was killed early in the morning near his Washington home. Ten months later, the case remains unsolved, though Washington police have said they believe it was likely a botched robbery.

“WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of internal DNC emails several days after Rich died, leading conspiracy theorists to speculate that the two events were related. WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information about Rich’s murder.”

“You can see the partisan appeal,” New York Times writer Rutenberg continues. “If you don’t want to believe American intelligence assessments that the Russians were behind the breach — supposedly to help the electoral prospects of President Trump — and if you don’t like all the news about the investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, well, there’s an alternative fact set to grab onto: Mr. Rich did it and paid for it with his life.

“The problem, of course, is that there’s no real evidence for the notion.

“The police in Washington have theorized that a thief may have killed Mr. Rich in a botched robbery attempt. …

“After calls from Mr. Rich’s family to retract its article, did so on Tuesday, saying in a statement that it had not gone through ‘the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.’ It removed the article from its site.

“But if you thought that would chasten people pushing the story and lead them to drop it, think again.

“Tuesday afternoon Sean Hannity, who had been perpetrating the Rich conspiracy theory on his nightly Fox News show, said on his radio program, I am not or I retracted nothing.’ ”

“This issue,” Hannity told his audience, “it’s so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread…

“If in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC — a truth-teller that was actually the source for WikiLeaks, not Russia — working with the Trump campaign. These are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask, and I will do the mainstream media’s job like I have most of my career. …

“You’re trying to take down a president, and I’m trying to get to the truth,” Hannity said.

It’s interesting to note that Hannity talks about his “moral obligation” to ask questions and “get to the truth”; this from the political commentator whose own grasp of the truth is questionable.

Politifact’s most recent assessment of Hannity’s truth-telling sits at just 35 percent “True” or “Mostly True,” 15 percent “Half True,” 45 percent “False” or “Mostly False” and 5 percent “Pants on Fire.”

For the record, Hannity does not claim to be a journalist. But take a closer look at the screenshot above. In the lower left corner it reads: “Fox News.”

While his open defiance of journalistic standards may be good for him, it’s bad for radio listeners who see him as the burning bush of conservative media.

As for the responsibility of Fox management, “Something,” Rutenberg adds, “like a reminder that he is under lucrative contract — must have changed in the hours that followed because Mr. Hannity said on his prime-time show on Fox that he would not be ‘discussing the matter at this time’ out of ‘respect for the family’s wishes.’ Astute listeners picked up on two other words in his statement: ‘For now.’ ”

The Rich family said in a statement: “We simply want to find his killers and grieve. Instead, we are stuck having to constantly fight against non-facts, baseless allegations, and general stupidity to defend my brother’s name and legacy.”

A spokesperson for the family said, “At this point, only people with transparent political agendas or sociopaths are still perpetuating Seth Rich conspiracies.”

Sadly, Hannity’s respect does not apply to his radio listeners.

At this point, I don’t care if Hannity calls himself a truth-seeker, respector of families or Peter Cottontail. If he genuinely wants to seek the truth, let him do so privately and talk about the issue when he has that irrefutable truth.

In the meantime, here’s what IS true: to unashamedly spread — what is currently considered false information — is not only reckless and irresponsible but an insult to genuine fact-based reporting. And in light of his declaration, “I am not or I retracted nothing,” Fox executives should seriously consider cancelling his contract.

However, it was another Fox News story that pushed the Hannity conspiracy theory off the front page.

Republican Greg Gianforte, running for the seat left vacant by former congressman and current head of the Department of Interior Ryan Zinke, made headlines when he body slammed a reporter for the British newspaper, The Guardian.

While the Gianforte campaign released a statement offering a different version of the incident, Fox News reporters who witnessed the altercation reported that Guardian Reporter Ben Jacobs was, in fact, grabbed by the neck and thrown to the ground.

Upon learning the facts of the incident, leading Montana newspapers pulled their support for Gianforte. However, despite the fact that Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault, some of his supporters still question the validity of the report.

“No,” was the answer given by a supporter who voted for Gianforte when asked by CBS News Reporter Barry Peterson if the incident changed his mind in voting for him.

“Why not?” Peterson asked.

“Because there are too many versions of it and I’m not sure what happened. No offense, sir, but I don’t trust the media much.”

Both incidents demonstrate the incredible decline of values in a democracy where standards of fact-based reporting, civility and trust were held as standards for the world.


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