Hannity backs down from Seth Rich story “for now” as Fox retracts; Latest on Manchester; RIP Roger Moore; InfoWars in the briefing room a good thing?

By Oliver Darcy and the CNNMoney Media team. View this email in your browser!
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Good evening Reliable Sources family! This is Oliver Darcy filling in for Brian Stelter, and what a day it’s been.

Hannity backs off Seth Rich conspiracy theory — “for now” — after Fox News retracts story

Sean Hannity, who had been one of the loudest voices peddling a conspiracy theory about the murder of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich, said on his program tonight he had spoken with Rich’s brother and made a decision: “Out of respect for the family’s wishes, for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time.”

“Please do not interpret what I’m saying tonight to mean anything. Don’t read into this,” Hannity later explained. “I promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. To the extent of my ability, I am not going to stop finding the truth. … At the proper time we should continue and talk a lot more.” Hannity added: “I serve at the pleasure of the Fox News Channel and I am here to do my job every night. I am under contract. As long as they seem to want me.”

In tweets before his show aired, Hannity said he had spoken to his lawyers and said he had “so much more I know than I can discuss at this time.” After the segment, he seemed to back away from what he’d said on air, at least to some extent, tweeting that he was “closer to the TRUTH than ever” and to “stay tuned.”

Statement from the Rich family spokesman: “The Rich family thanks Sean Hannity for respecting their wishes by not giving a venue to conspiracy theorists which would only prolong the pain and anguish they have felt over the past week, and many months since Seth’s murder. We hope that Mr. Hannity will join Fox News in their rededicated commitment to editorial integrity and allow law enforcement to investigate this tragedy.” Fox News retracts: Earlier today, Fox News removed an inaccurate story that peddled a conspiracy theory about the murder of Rich. The story had remained online for almost a week after we and others pointed out basic problems with its assertions. 

Here’s the full statement from the network: “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 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.”

Family appealed to Hannity’s “decency”: Seth Rich’s brother wrote a letter this morning to the executive producer of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show pleading with him to stop spreading the conspiracy theory… 

“Think about how you would feel losing a son or brother. And while dealing with this, you had baseless accusations of your lost family member being part of a vast conspiracy.” Read the letter here…

The family also published a column in The Washington Post: “We’re Seth Rich’s parents. Stop politicizing our son’s murder.”

Steven Perlberg over at BuzzFeed notes, the Murdochs have been noticeably silent on this…

Kelly McBride in Poynter: Fox News’s retraction is a woefully inadequate response to its colossal mistake.

Tom Kludt emails: Another ad boycott brewing? Media Matters published a comprehensive list of Hannity’s “primary advertisers” this afternoon.

Dylan Byers’ take: The Murdochs have already endured a year from hell at Fox News. Now they have to think about what they’re willing to tolerate from Sean Hannity, who has crossed from partisan pundit to morally offensive conspiracy theorist. Even as Fox News retracts the Seth Rich story, even as Rich’s family implores him to stop peddling falsehoods, Hannity persists. Hannity may take great joy in the outrage he’s created, and his ability to troll his critics, but his behavior reflects on his employer as well. And whereas the Murdochs might claim that Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly’s alleged transgressions took place behind closed doors, Hannity’s shameless hawking of conspiracy theories is happening right out in the open.

The problem for the Murdochs, of course, is that they can’t afford to lose Hannity after already losing Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly. He’s the face of the network now, and their biggest ratings draw. If Fox loses him, it will have lost all three of its prime time stars in less than a six-month period.

Unanswered questions for Fox News: 

– How did this happen in the first place? Why did it take so long for Fox News to correct the record?

– Will the reporter who wrote the Fox News story face any disciplinary action? What about the editor who cleared it?

– The website’s statement was noticeably missing an apology or expression of regret. Will Fox News apologize to the Rich family? 

– Why is Hannity permitted to continue peddling the retracted story? Is his show subject to any editorial standards?

– Has Fox News provided guidance to its personalties like Geraldo Rivera and Newt Gingrich and shows like “Fox & Friends” — which previously promoted the theory — asking them to refrain from pushing this again? 

We reached out to a Fox News spokesperson, but did not hear back…

The latest on the Manchester attack

The UK raised its terrorism threat level to “critical” — the highest level — for the first time in a decade. Prime Minister Theresa May warned that intelligence services believe an attack may be “imminent.”

CNN is updating this page with information on the victims…

Trump calls attackers “evil losers.” His remarks: “So many young beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are.”

Ariana Grande postpones European tour: The pop singer previously said she was “broken” following the terror attack that left 22 dead.

Lisa France emails: “When a bomb exploded outside of an Ariana Grande concert…it not only took lives and caused injuries, it also shattered the innocence of those young people attending their first concert.” Read her piece here…

Slate’s Will Oremus asks: “Showing screaming teens after a terror attack may be compelling TV. But is it bad journalism?” His piece here…

Zeynep Tufekci on covering terror in the era of new media: “ISIS has a strategy to create a media frenzy and news outlets are struggling to disrupt it.”

FCC won’t take action against Colbert over Trump joke

Tom Kludt emails: The FCC provided a coda to the uproar over Stephen Colbert’s vulgar joke about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin earlier today, concluding that “there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.” The agency said it received “thousands” of complaints about the joke, and it caused a bit of a stir among certain liberals and Colbert defenders when it said it was reviewing the matter earlier this month. In reality, the FCC was just following its typical procedure, and this never actually rose to the level of a formal “investigation.” Carry on. Read his story…

Colbert takes viewer crown

Brian Lowry emails: The official broadcast TV season that begins in mid-September and ends after the May sweeps has become an arbitrary benchmark, but the year-to-year comparisons remain notable. So while CBS was eager to cite that Stephen Colbert has edged Jimmy Fallon in total viewers for that period — 3.195 million to 3.173 million — the most notable statistic is the percentage changes. Colbert’s “Late Show” rose 11% for those months, buoyed since Trump’s inauguration, while Fallon is off 15%. (“Jimmy Kimmel Live,” at 2.2 million, was also down 8%.) Although Colbert still trails Fallon in key demographics, the host is definitely perceived as having momentum, while Fallon’s show is dealing with at least the perception of being in a bit of a funk, as a recent New York Times profile made clear.
For the record, part one
Sheriff David Clarke responds to CNN’s KFILE plagiarism report with ad hominem attacks. 

The first look at “Game of Thrones.” Season 7 has some really big dragons.

In the midst of all the recent breaking news, you may have missed the premiere of “The Bachelorette.” Here’s what you need to know (if that sort of thing interests you, and you know it does). 

Google expands ad tracking in the real world. “A new Google feature can tell when someone who clicked on an ad in search results made a credit or debit card purchase at a corresponding physical store.” 

Joy Pyne was America’s first Shock Jock. (Complete with a graphic ranking his “spiritual descendants” which include Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, and others)

Goodnight, Mr. Bond

Roger Moore, the man who portrayed spy James Bond the longest, died on Tuesday. He was 89. 

Brian Lowry emails: Moore’s service covered seven movies over 12 years, which didn’t end the debate about his merits versus those of the original (and many would say definitive) 007, Sean Connery. Read his piece: Roger Moore ensured James Bond’s cinematic survival

The business of being Bond: Chloe Melas and Charles Riley break down how Moore helped turn Bond into a $7 billion business.

Video: Some of Roger Moore’s best James Bond one liners.

InfoWars in the briefing room… a good thing?

Alex Koppelman makes the case

From his piece: This laissez faire attitude regarding who is given access to the briefing room — everyone who can make some sort of claim to being a journalist and who isn’t a security risk — is the right one. It’s easy to say that the White House could make the obvious judgment call that InfoWars is not a credible source of news, but it’s also very easy to imagine how a White House asked to exercise that kind of power could quickly come to abuse it.

The Trump White House regularly derides legitimate outlets as “fake news” for the offense of publishing absolutely true news that happens to paint the administration in a bad light. If we ask them to keep InfoWars out of the briefing room, what’s to stop them from saying, as President Trump once did to a CNN reporter at a press conference, “You are fake news,” and then adding, “And you’re banned from the briefing room because of it” — and aiming those words not at InfoWars, but at CNN or the New York Times? Read the full story here…

Recommended viewing

Brian Lowry emails: “Bannon’s War,” the latest Frontline documentary, shines a spotlight on Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon.

While any documentary about this administration risks being overtaken by events, it’s a good dissection of the former Breitbart chief’s views — including his vision about the prospect of a world war — and how he forged them. 

“Bannon’s War” will air May 23 at 10 p.m. on PBS.

For the record, part two
Via Francesca Giuliani Hoffman:

— Today in “Instagram is eating Snapchat”: Recode reports that the Facebook-owned app is adding location-themed and hashtag-themed Stories.

Facebook’s new “Audience Direct” tool. It’s a kind of self-service marketplace where advertisers can purchase ad space from publishers.

— Quartz will let users of their iPhone app turn off Trump-related news by activating a new “24-hour political timeout” feature. We are in the era of push-alert-induced anxiety, after all.

The Washingtonian reports that the snack selection at Politico has gone downhill. People in the Politico newsroom are upset that string cheese has been replaced by Babybels?

Jeff Bezos’ $1 million donation

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced the largest gift the organization has ever received in its 46-year history: $1 million from tech titan — and Washington Post owner — Jeff Bezos. 

The donation was announced tonight at the Freedom of the Press Awards gala, which raised nearly $2 million to support legal services for journalists. The evening was emceed by former “ABC World News” anchor Charles Gibson and former “Good Morning America” host Charles Gibson. 

Reporters Committee Chairman David Boardman: “This generous gift will help us continue to grow, to offer our legal and educational support to many more news organizations, and to expand our services to independent journalists, nonprofit newsrooms and documentary filmmakers.”

First Look Media also announced this evening that its fund aimed at supporting filmmakers and news organizations fighting legal challenges had expanded to $6 million.

STAT raises a question about Trump

Another outlet is broaching the subject of Trump’s state of mind — a fraught issue, considering the impossibility of diagnosing people from afar, and the ethical prohibitions against doing so. 

STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences, they say, are striking.

The Worldwide Leader in Schadenfreude

Tom Kludt emails: Great Bryan Curtis read at The Ringer on the schadenfreude that has hit ESPN in the wake of the company’s recent struggles. Once beloved, now the “worldwide leader” finds itself on the receiving end of mocking laughter and “I told you sos.”

Curtis helps explain why that’s so weird: “Before ESPN was accused of being ‘liberal,’ conservative columnist George F. Will was one of the network’s most vocal admirers. ‘If someone surreptitiously took everything but ESPN from my cable television package,’ he wrote in 1994, ‘it might be months before I noticed.’ Now, critics are saying the opposite: that if all ESPN’s TV offerings disappeared except for a handful of big games, no one would much miss them. In fact, they would smile.”

Read the piece…

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