On the night that Donald Trump was impeached, Fox News aired a pre-recorded episode of Hannity’s show rather than provide live news coverage of the historic event that had just occurred in the prior hour.
In another fascinating excerpt from his forthcoming book, “Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth,” CNN's Brian Stelter explains how Fox tried to disguise what was really happening:
Hannity's hotly-anticipated response to Trump being officially impeached was pre-taped at his home on Long Island. He talked about it the same way he did the night before, and the night before that.
His producers did everything they could to mask the fact that the show was stale: They showed live pictures of Trump holding a rally in Michigan, squeezed in a live news update from a fill-in anchor; they had even pre-taped Hannity tossing to a clip reel of the "best moments" from the rally, though he didn't know what the clips would be. The producers inserted a few random sound bites about tariffs and the military. Then Hannity came back on camera and ended the show.
Most viewers didn't notice that Hannity phoned it in. Most probably wouldn't have cared anyway.
I suppose this wasn’t exactly fake news in the strictest sense but it wasn’t real news, either. It’s certainly the kind of trompe l’oeil news that Fox would rail against had CNN or MSNBC done such a thing on the eve of an impeached Democratic president.
But more likely, no other news outlet would do such a thing.
According to Stelter, people in the news division “flipped” when they found out. That would seem to include Bret Baier:
Baier had good reason to be angry. He should have been anchoring the network's live coverage on the biggest political night of the year just like his counterparts on other networks were. But management stuck with Hannity's show instead. And he didn't even bother doing it live. Because not a single person in charge at Fox could stand up to him.
The episode reminded me of something an executive told me more than a year earlier, when Hannity was engaged in some childish behavior on social media. "There's no one in the building," the person said, "except maybe Rupert, who can tell Sean to knock it off."
And that reminded me of the worst instance of nobody telling Hannity to knock it off: the attempt to make political hay out of the Seth Rich tragedy It was an unsubstantiated allegation made on Fox News, especially by Sean Hannity, that a murdered 27-year old Democrat (i.e. not the Russians) had leaked DNC emails to Wikileaks. Despite Fox’s promised investigation into its no-doubt-about-it fake news, there has been no accountability.
Last week, Rolling Stone’s Washington, D.C. bureau chief, Andy Kroll, wrote an excellent rundown of what is probably the most disgraceful chapter of Fox News “journalism.” Even worse than Fox’s lack of explanation is the refusal by the network and Hannity to apologize to the grieving Rich family for putting them through hell.
Kroll discussed the Rich story on Stelter’s Reliable Sources show last week.
KROLL: Well, three years later, Brian, there hasn't been any real form of accountability at Fox News, which, as you well know, is arguably one of the most influential media organizations in this country. Fox News, really amplified, mainstreamed, as you put it, this conspiracy theory about a slain DNC staffer.
Sean Hannity promoted it, Lou Dobbs promoted it, former Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Fox and Friends that Seth Rich had been assassinated. These were huge errors. These were comments made without any evidence, without any factual basis from these Fox figures, and yet three years on, Seth Rich's family hasn't gotten an apology, Sean Hannity hasn't retracted anything that he said about Seth Rich, neither has Newt Gingrich.
Seth Rich's parents, Seth Rich's brother have tried to correct the record. They have asked Fox. They have asked people who have promoted this conspiracy theory to apologize, to retract it, and they haven't made any headway when it comes to Fox.
Even when it comes to the most basic human decency, Fox cannot tell Hannity to knock it off.
You can watch Kroll and Stelter discuss what Fox should not be allowed to sweep under the rug below, from CNN’s August 16, 2020 Reliable Sources.
UPDATE: The Daily Beast is reporting on newly-released internal Fox emails showing some of what happened behind the scenes after Fox officially retracted the story. I'll have more on this later.