House candidate roughs up reporter in Montana; Hannity decries ‘kill shot’; Seth Rich saga spreads; Fox fires back at Tantaros; Spicer gets snubbed

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BREAKING: House candidate ‘bodyslams’ reporter in Montana

A truly bizarre development out of Montana on the eve of the state’s special election. Greg Gianforte, the GOP nominee for the open U.S. House seat there, reacted violently to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. 

Jacobs was asking the candidate about the Republican health care bill when Gianforte grew agitated, taking the reporter down and breaking his glasses. 

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said, as quoted by his own publication while aboard an ambulance. 

In audio of the incident, Gianforte can be heard repeatedly screaming at Jacobs: “Get the hell out of here!” 

Within an hour of Jacobs’ tweet revealing the violent and surreal episode, CNN and MSNBC were covering the matter, while Fox News stuck with its regularly scheduled programming. Here’s CNN’s story on the incident. 

Many more developments to come on this late breaking story. Stay tuned.

Good evening, folks. This is Tom Kludt filling in for Brian Stelter, and we pick up tonight with the conspiracy theory that has engulfed right-wing media — and a cable news star. 

Fox News let the genie out of the bottle

Sean Hannity may be done talking about the Seth Rich conspiracy theory (for now, anyway), but Fox News has “stirred up an online riot.” 

That’s the gist of Oliver Darcy’s latest story on this matter. He details how even after Fox finally retracted the debunked story, “the riot had grown out of Fox’s control.”

Case in point: Oliver reveals conversations within Breitbart’s internal chats, showing that the right-wing outlet’s Washington editor, Matt Boyle, thought Fox had gone soft with the retraction.

“Fox is weak,” Boyle said in the chat. “Internal weakness at Fox.”

Read the rest of Oliver’s story here.

More questions than answers

Oliver emails: “We are still not getting answers from Fox News on a number of questions. Will a Fox News executive call and issue an apology? A spokesperson for the Rich family told me this morning that the network had not contacted them since it retracted its inaccurate story. A Fox News spokesperson would only point to Hannity’s comments from his Tuesday night television show in which he said he would not discuss the issue — “for now.”

But Hannity never apologized for his previous peddling of the conspiracy theory and is an opinion host who does not represent the outlet’s news division. Another question we have not received an answer to: Will Fox News discipline the digital reporter who published the inaccurate story? What about her editor? Fox News already has acknowledged that its story did not meet its editorial standards — so much so that it removed the entire article from its website. So how did it get online in the first place? And then splashed across its homepage as the lead story? Will anyone be held responsible?” 

‘This is a kill shot’

Hannity spoke to HuffPost’s Michael Calderone today about his comments last night, and the backlash he’s faced. He said that he received no pressure from the Murdochs or Fox News executives to stop speaking about the Seth Rich matter.

“I did it out of my own heart,” he said. “Nobody tells me what to say on my show. They never have and frankly they never will. I’m not that type of person you can say, ‘Go on air and say this.’ That’s been the beauty of Fox News all these years. They leave me alone.”

And Hannity decried any attempt to pressure his show’s sponsors, which he characterized as an attempt to stifle a conservative voice.

“There’s nothing that I did, nothing that I said, except they don’t like my position politically,” he said. “They’ll try to ratchet up the intensity of their rationale. It does not justify an attempt to get me fired. And that’s what this is. This is an attempt to take me out. This is a kill shot.

Advertising exodus brewing?

Dylan Byers reports that four sources at Fox told CNNMoney that Sean Hannity did face internal pressure to back off the Rich story, even if he made the decision to do so on his own. Suzanne Scott, the network’s president of programming, and other executives met with Hannity on Tuesday and encouraged him to stop advancing the theory. Read Dylan’s story here.

BuzzFeed’s Mary Georgantopoulos made calls out to Sean Hannity’s advertisers today to see if they had any changes of plans in light of the host’s recent Seth Rich obsession. One company,, told her that it had decided to yank its ads. Later in the afternoon, the cycling company Peloton said on Twitter that it had directed its media agency to cease advertising on Hannity’s show.

Media Matters published a list of these advertisers yesterday afternoon, but a spokeswoman for the group told me this morning that it didn’t do it to start a boycott.

“The thinking behind the list we posted was more closely connected to the ad campaign we did in advance of the Upfronts encouraging ad buyers to know what their clients are sponsoring,” the spokeswoman told me. 

And while we’re talking about Media Matters…

Hannity’s latest bombshell: Media Matters is liberal! 

Hannity spent much of the day on Twitter, eagerly drawing attention to a big new revelation. I hope you’re sitting down. 
With one tweet after another, Hannity suggested that it was shocking, perhaps even scandalous, that Media Matters, the liberal watchdog that has long prided itself as a counterweight to conservative outlets such as Fox News, behaves exactly like a liberal organization. 

There was also ample reference on Hannity’s feed to eternal conservative boogeyman and liberal financier George Soros. Media Matters and Soros, we learned by way of the litany of links that Hannity tweeted out in the AM hours, are even linked. And now, Hannity insists, they’re conspiring to take him down. 

A Media Matters’ spokeswoman told me that that Hannity “invented this conspiracy that we’re trying to get him fired.” 

GOP Rep: ‘There’s stuff circulating on the internet’

The Seth Rich conspiracy theory got a lift by a sitting member of Congress today, when Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold suggested during an appearance on CNN that the DNC hacking may have been “an insider job.”

That made John Berman’s ears perk up. Here’s the exchange:

BERMAN: “What evidence — I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The insider job, what are you referring to here? Because I hope it’s not this information that Fox News just refused to be reporting.”

FARENTHOLD: “Again, there’s stuff circulating on the internet.”

BERMAN: “What’s circulating on the internet that you think is worthy of a congressional investigation? Because the DC police are investigating this, and so far they haven’t said there’s any there there.”

FARENTHOLD: “Yet the DC police nor no federal investigator has ever had a look at the DNC computer. We’re relying only on the report that someone that the DNC contracted to examine their computer rather than having federal officials. To me, we need to let the feds look at it.”

–QUICK FLASHBACK ON FARENTHOLD: He’s also gone “birther” in the past. 

Fresh Seth Rich takes

–Via Jim Rutenberg: “You can see the partisan appeal. 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.”

–Via David Folkenflik: “Hannity has told others at the network that Fox needs him more than ever since last month’s departure of former star host Bill O’Reilly. (O’Reilly also left after facing sexual harassment charges, which he disputes.) Hannity told viewers Tuesday night that he would stay at Fox News “as long as they seem to want me” but cited critics who he said were trying to silence him, such as the liberal advocacy group Media Matters. Hannity called such efforts ‘liberal fascism.’ Yet many critics of the story could be found on the right — even among conservative voices in Murdoch’s own vast media holdings.”

Kurson out at the Observer, but not White House-bound

Ken Kurson announced today that he’s stepping down as editor of the New York Observer. In a memo to staff, Kurson praised Jared Kushner, saying he “never received the credit he deserves for supporting independent journalism and contributing to the cultural fabric of our city.

But Kurson, who helped craft a Trump speech in last year’s campaign, said his next stop will not be 1600 Pensylvania. Instead, Dylan Byers reports, he will be joining the C-suite advisory firm TENEO as a senior managing director.

Read Dylan’s story here.   

Fox fights back against Tantaros’ attorney

Fox News unleashed a thunderous response today to Judd Burstein, the attorney for Andrea Tantaros who accused the network last month of conducting electronic surveillance and using sock puppet accounts to torment his client. 

In a document filed this morning, Fox ripped Burstein and called for sanctions against him. The network also provided sworn testimony from a proprietor of one of the alleged sock puppet Twitter accounts to refute the shocking claims.

“This sensational allegation, broadcast in bold-faced type, was made solely to generate negative headlines for, and inflict maximum damage on, Fox News,” Fox’s lawyers said in the filing. “Had Burstein conducted even a minimal factual investigation before filing the Complaint, he would have immediately known that Tantaros’ allegations were an outright hoax.”

Burstein, for his part, says Fox has played right into his hands. Read my story on the matter here.

O’Reilly to unveil new ‘Killing’ book

Unless you’re a regular listener of Bill O’Reilly’s fledgling podcast “No Spin News” (like me), you might have missed his big announcement last night. O’Reilly said that the latest installment of his ultra-successful “Killing” franchise will be unveiled on May 30.

“The publisher wants me to announce it on May 30th because there’s a big book exposition here in New York and they’re going to do a big thing. So May 30th is next week,” he told listeners. “And that’s when we’re going to do it. You’re going to like it. I think this is…the next killing book is going to be an event.”

Speaking of books from former Fox News hosts…

Release change for Carlson’s book

Gretchen Carlson’s forthcoming book “Be Fierce” was originally slated to come out on September 26. Today, her publisher Center Streek Books said it will now hit shelves on October 17. The publisher said that, as part of the release, Carlson “plans to host events at universities across the country to address the growing problem of campus sexual abuse.” 
For the record
Via Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman

Maggie Haberman’s profile in Elle is the hottest item on media Twitter today. (ELLE)

Ryan Lizza put together a timeline of Trump’s actions in response to the Russia investigation, with great quotes from Carl Bernstein, who has seen this all before. (New Yorker)

–An interview with Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy, who predicted the issue of filter bubbles in 2011. (Backchannel)

— A long read on Linda Henry, the woman who is trying to turn the Boston Globe’s fate around. (Boston Magazine)

Spicer Watch: Vatican Edition 

The ongoing drama surrounding the White House press secretary’s standing in Trumpworld ratcheted up once again this afternoon with reports revealing that Sean Spicer was left out of the papal visit. 

From CNN’s report: 

“Ultimately, the formalities of West Wing titles mean less than family ties or longevity in Trump world. Spicer, for example, is an assistant to the President — the top-ranking title for White House aides — and Catholic, but was informed before the meeting there wasn’t room for him on the roster. Spicer did not respond to a request for comment. Asked about Spicer not being included in the group that met the Pope, a source close to the White House said: “Wow. That’s all he wanted,” adding it should “very much” be seen as a slight.

Read the rest of the story here.

Should journalists feel bad for him? 

On Twitter, Spicer drew sympathy from a number of journalists for the snub. “That planners of this trip couldn’t or wouldn’t get @seanspicer into the Vatican speaks to a small-mindedness I find incredibly depressing,” observed Glenn Thrush. His Times colleague Maggie Haberman agreed. “This seems needlessly harsh — when else is Spicer likely to meet the Pope, and it mattered to him?” she tweeted.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer an alternative view, courtesy of TNR’s Brian Beutler: “Spending even a few minutes feeling sorry for Sean Spicer makes perfect sense given his sterling reputation as an empath himself.” 

Lowry’s musings

Brian Lowry emails along a few items that caught his eye:

Big day for the Internet: Not only was there a Vanity Fair piece with some fresh details about the next “Star Wars” movie, but the “Game of Thrones” season 7 trailer dropped today, offering a hint of the frenzy the show’s final two seasons are going to generate. My favorite response to the latter came from the Hollywood Reporter, which broke down the “13 Greatest Moments” in the trailer, which, notably, runs a mere 109 seconds. The show returns in July. 

“Dirty Dancing” learns adds a few new steps: ABC’s “Dirty Dancing” remake brings some new wrinkles to the 1987 movie. While most critics have bashed it, as someone who doesn’t exactly view the original as “Citizen Kane,” I thought this update was reasonably fun, if a bit of a slog in places. 

The Entertainment Desk
Sandra Gonzalez says she appreciated Trevor Noah’s thoughtful response when she chatted with him about the difficulty of addressing tragedies like the one this week in Manchester.

–In the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing after an Ariana Grande concert, Justin Bieber fans are calling for his UK tour to be cancelled. The Beliebers are worried for his safety.

He won’t be Jon Snow forever: Kit Harington is discussing life after “Game of Thrones.”

“Late Late Show” host James Corden is getting a show on Snapchat.

Nancy O’Dell has responded to Billy Bush’s apology for that whole vulgar “Access Hollywood” chat he had with Donald TrumpShe wishes Bush all the best.

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