Hannity Should Apologize for the Seth Rich Debacle

By May of 2017, Seth Rich was a regular topic of discussion on right-wing websites, social media, conservative talk-radio, and even cable news. It had been almost a year since the 27-year-old DNC staffer had been murdered in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., but his name was now more recognizable than ever.

Police believed (and still believe) that Rich’s death was the result of a botched robbery attempt, but his unsolved homicide lent voice to an alternative theory — a conspiratorial and disturbing scenario suggesting that he had in fact been killed by agents of presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The outlandish premise was that Rich, not the Russian government, was responsible for leaking the infamous “hacked” DNC emails (that became a big political story in the closing months of the 2016 election) to WikiLeaks (who later published them). And whether it was an act of retribution or an attempt to keep Rich from divulging additional information, Clinton operatives had him silenced.

Despite there being absolutely no evidence linking Rich to the emails, the thesis gained an enormous amount of traction, receiving its inarguably biggest boost from Fox News’s Sean Hannity, who made the “murder mystery” a nightly segment on his highly-rated show. Hannity obsessed over the Rich tale, promoting it to his audience with the help of shady guests and “sources,” despite protests from Rich’s grieving family who were pained by their loved one’s memory being dragged through political dirt.

One of Hannity’s go-to guys was WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who, at the time, was hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid sexual assault charges by Swedish authorities. Assange had been cryptically suggesting in interviews that Rich was indeed the source of the emails.

This was not the first time (nor the last) that Hannity had granted legitimacy to Assange. The two had formed somewhat of a relationship during the 2016 election, as both were working to discredit Donald Trump’s general election opponent, Hillary Clinton. Hannity even had Assange on his program a couple of times, which was pretty odd considering that just a few years earlier, Hannity had called on President Obama to arrest Assange for publishing secret diplomatic cables that had put American lives at risk.

But politics makes strange bedfellows, and apparently all had been forgiven. Hannity’s fawning treatment of Assange helped transform the WikiLeaks founder into somewhat of a folk hero among President Trump’s base, many of whom suddenly viewed the man as an ally to America.

Earlier this year, however, Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 election confirmed what most rationale political observers had already figured out: Assange had been secretly working with the Russian government, and was behind the fabricated link to Seth Rich — the purpose being to draw suspicion away from Russia’s role in helping Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Additional information came out just this week, with the release of an independent Yahoo News investigation into the origins of the Seth Rich hoax. The probe discovered that the story was first disseminated by none other than the Russian government’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR. And it happened just days after Rich’s death.

The investigation was extensive, and the report is certainly a compelling read. It details the false story’s spread from a prominent Russian propaganda website to fake social-media accounts (designed to look like they belonged to Americans) to Amercian conspiracy-theory websites (like Alex Jones’s Infowars). From there, it received the attention of Trump ally, Roger Stone. Stone advanced the story though social-media outlets, and months later, it was even being tossed around inside the White House, where then-chief strategist Steve Bannon promoted it to a 60 Minutes producer.

A few weeks later, as the Yahoo News article describes, the story found its biggest audience yet:

“The conspiracy claims reached their zenith in May 2017 — the same week as Mueller’s appointment as special counsel in the Russia probe — when Fox News’ website posted a sensational story claiming that an FBI forensic report had discovered evidence on Rich’s laptop that he had been in communication with WikiLeaks prior to his death. Sean Hannity, the network’s primetime star, treated the account as major news on his nightly broadcast, calling it ‘explosive’ and proclaiming it ‘might expose the single biggest fraud, lies, perpetrated on the American people by the media and the Democrats in our history,’”

The Fox News report quickly came under heavy scrutiny and was soon discredited (eventually being retracted by the network), but Hannity stuck with it for days… not relenting until Seth Rich’s family spoke to him directly and finally convinced him to stop.

Fox announced an internal probe into how the fabricated story had made it all the way to their website and even their on-air reporting. The network also reportedly looked into Hannity’s conduct throughout the Seth Rich debacle. The findings of that investigation have never been publicly released.

It’s hard to miss the irony of Hannity, who has spent the last couple of years accusing the rest of the media of pushing a Russian-related conspiracy theory, turning out to be a Russian asset himself, having unwittingly mainstreamed and magnified Russian propaganda to a level rarely seen in this country.

While people in the media do make honest mistakes, it’s difficult to categorize what Hannity did as a good-faith misstep. It’s one thing for a partisan working for a news organization to sell his audience on a slanted view he may honestly subscribe to. It’s another to eagerly promote unsubstantiated Internet hearsay, and the word of people as despicable and compromised as Julian Assange, just because it’s politically helpful to do so.

Hannity has long been a reckless media figure, but with the Seth Rich fiasco, he reached a new low. He should be ashamed of the tremendous disservice he did to Fox News viewers, Fox News colleagues, and the Rich family. He pumped adrenaline into a dark and painful fairy tale that should have never been given a platform on a legitimate news network. But because it was, a lot of righties bought into it (perhaps millions more than would have otherwise even heard of it), and still believe it’s real.

To this day, Hannity has yet to apologize or even acknowledge his role in Russia’s misinformation campaign. Now that the SVR has been identified as the source of the story he aggressively lent credence to, it’s time for Hannity to finally own up to his mistake… publicly.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for him to do it.

False Choice: Lick Putin’s Boots or Go to War

You know it’s an especially bad day for Donald Trump when even some of the president’s most loyal and notable sycophants feel compelled to publicly condemn his conduct. And it didn’t take long, after Trump embarrassed our nation in Helsinki by seemingly siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies (and their findings that the Russian government unequivocally interfered our 2016 election), to realize it was going to be one of those days.

“It was probably the low point of the presidency so far,” said Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo.

“Hint: Don’t use ‘strong and powerful’ to describe Putin’s denial re. election meddling,” Fox News’s Laura Ingraham tweeted. “Use words ‘predictable and damaging to US-Russian relations’ to describe Russian meddling.”

Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, tweeted, “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—immediately.”

On CNN, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci said, “Any time somebody puts their ego and their pride in the situation, they can get emotionally charged and they can make tactical and strategic mistakes and I believe [Trump] did that in Helsinki.”

Former Trump national security advisor, Michael Anton, reportedly even cancelled a national television appearance because he couldn’t defend the president’s performance. And trust me, that’s really saying something. I listened to Anton speak at length at a political event back in May, and he left a ballroom full of attendees with the impression that there was nothing about Trump that he wasn’t prepared to defend.

There’s no two ways about it (at least from an American perspective): Trump’s joint press conference with Putin was an absolute disgrace.

Our president undermined months and months of work (along with a subsequent indictment) from American intelligence services — and by extension those agencies themselves — to the benefit of a murderous regime that has attacked (and continues to attack) our nation. He not only refused to condemn Russia’s election interference and destabilization methods, but went as far as to provide Putin with an alibi of sorts by suggesting that it wouldn’t have been in his interest to ever engage in such an act.

And don’t even get me started on Trump once again entertaining the insane idea of forming a cyber-security partnership with Russia.

Our president’s fixation with Vladimir Putin (and Putin liking him) pre-dates Trump’s entrance into politics, and it has always been weird. It may have started out as a creepy strong-man man-crush, but with Trump now the leader of the free world, it’s damaging our stature and credibility as a nation. It’s making our country look weak and servile in front of allies and foes alike. It’s stoking doubt in our foreign intelligence findings, which provides our enemies with numerous propaganda opportunities. And it’s potentially opening up vulnerabilities in areas of our national security.

Simply put, it’s indefensible.

Still, there are plenty of Trump enthusiasts out there who are more than willing to take a stab at rationalizing Trump’s decision to kneel before Zod. And among all of the expected whataboutism in regard to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a notable defense tactic has emerged.

Well, “emerged” might not be the right word. The method has been around for a few years now, starting out as a popular defense of Obama’s policies in the Middle East, and later adopted by Trump supporters as a tool for covering for Trump’s foreign policy flops.

I’m talking about the painfully false narrative that the only alternative to the U.S. capitulating to a foreign foe is full-scale war with that foe.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (along with other prominent Democrats and members of the liberal media) played this card time after time whenever critics accused their administration of not acting sufficiently against foreign threats, or giving up too much leverage in our dealings with hostile countries.

“What are you — you’re going to go to war? Is that what you want to do?” Biden memorably asked of Paul Ryan in their 2012 Vice Presidential debate.

Biden was referring to presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion that more than sanctions may be needed to deal with the Iran threat. The theme became much more prominent when Obama was selling the Iran Deal. The administration and the Democratic Party defined only two possible alternatives: Obama’s way or war.

This of course laid the groundwork for defining anyone opposed to the Iran Deal as a war-monger. The false ultimatum drove Republicans and conservatives nuts at the time, but some of these folks clearly took note of its effectiveness, because they’re now using the same argument to defend Trump.

“Do you want us to nuke Moscow? Is that what you want?” Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld asked on yesterday’s The Five, of those who were criticizing Trump’s words in Helsinki.

“The US media, perhaps the most threatened of all the swamp parasites, are melting down because President Trump didn’t start a war with Russia,” wrote a conservative blogger whose column The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway touted as an “outside-the-beltway” view.

Senator Rand Paul commended President Trump for trying “to prevent us from having World War 3.”

My personal favorite came from Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro, who asked, “What was [Trump] supposed to do, take a gun out and shoot Putin?”

Of course, the notion that the only alternative to licking Vladimir’s boots is to nuke Moscow or shoot Putin is breathtakingly stupid. Yet, that became a highly popular straw-man rebuke from lots of Trump supporters on social media yesterday, which compelled a number of sane conservative commentators to weigh in on the ridiculousness:

Exactly right.

What makes this situation even sadder is that the same people who’ve been defending Trump over the past 24 hours and pushing this dopey mantra would have been among the first to demand President Obama’s impeachment had he said the same things under similar circumstances.

Team over country. That’s how we roll these days.