May 23, 2017

Fox News announced on Tuesday afternoon it is retracting an inaccurate story about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, after a personal appeal from Rich’s family and a public outcry from media observers.

“On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich,” the statement read. “The article 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.”

“We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted,” it concluded.

The retraction comes in the wake of a protracted campaign on the part of Rich’s family to debunk the story, which erroneously connected Rich’s shooting death in July to the release of Democratic National Committee emails by Wikileaks. The story quickly took on a life of its own among far-right conservative outlets and eventually made its way onto Fox News, where host Sean Hannity fanned the flames of the hoax.

The Rich family thanked Fox News for retracting the story, according to a statement obtained by CNN.

The Rich conspiracy gained traction on May 15 when Washington, D.C.’s WTTG published a story that claimed there was “tangible evidence” on Rich’s laptop that “confirmed” he was communicating with WikiLeaks prior to his death. That information was attributed to Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor and private investigator who said he was being paid by Rich’s family to investigate his murder.

That story didn’t hold up to scrutiny, though. Rich’s family quickly disavowed Wheeler and the report; through a spokesperson the family said that “anyone who continues to push this fake news story after it was so thoroughly debunked is proving to the world they have a transparent political agenda or are a sociopath.”

Still, the story gained steam after Fox News published its own (now retracted) story and Hannity used his primetime show to promote the fabrication. Employees within Fox News told CNN they were embarrassed that hosts on the cable channel’s primetime lineup were affecting the network’s reputation:

‘It is disappointing because it drags the rest of us down,’ said a senior Fox News employee, who asked how Fox News leadership could continue to allow Hannity to spread an unproven theory on the network.

Another Fox News employee said he feels that Hannity isn’t letting go of the Rich story because he wants to “distract from any and all Trump scandals.’

Nonetheless, the inaccuracies persisted. Earlier today, Hannity took to Twitter to promote, a site featuring a nonsensical conspiracy theory related to Rich’s death.

WTTG has yet to issue a retraction. On May 17, it issued “an important clarification” that Wheeler, the story’s key source, was backing away from his claims.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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