Claiming that The New York Times knowingly defamed him, Fox News host Sean Hannity is demanding the newspaper issue a retraction for connecting comments he made to the death of a New York City bar owner.
Attorney Charles Harder, representing Hannity, sent the Times a 12-page letter Monday accusing the newspaper of knowingly publishing false information in order to impugn Hannity’s reputation and assailing The Times for “blatant and outrageous disregard for the truth in mischaracterizing Mr. Hannity’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The letter said that although The Times claimed Hannity took the coronavirus too lightly, the newspaper has revealed its prejudice and animosity against Hannity by criticizing him while not taking to task Democratic politicians such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo for past comments where they “minimized the seriousness” of the virus.
The Times also failed to criticize establishment media outlets such as The Washington Post and CNN that at various times implied in their reporting that the coronavirus would not become a major health hazard to Americans, the letter said.
The catalyst for the letter was an April 18 story in The Times that sought to link comments made by Hannity in March to the death of bar owner Joe Joyce, who went on a cruise in early March, began showing symptoms of the disease in the middle of the month after returning from the cruise to Spain, and died on April 9.
The letter also cited a March 31 article that said, speaking of Hannity, “Some people are suggesting that there might be grounds for legal action against the cable network that you pretty much rule — Fox News — because you and your colleagues dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis in the United States.”
It additionally took note of a March 22 story that said, in part, in its sub-headline that “Fox News hosts played down the danger of the deadly coronavirus to their viewers.”
The letter said The Times played fast and loose with the truth in all of these incidents, which it argued were part of an “ongoing campaign to personally attack Mr. Hannity by mischaracterizing and making false statements with respect to his coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Times knew there was no connection between Hannity’s show and the death of the bar owner, the letter argued.
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“But what you fail to mention is that Mr. Hannity’s comments could not possibly have influenced Mr. Joyce’s decision because he embarked on his cruise on March 1 (according to your report), while Mr. Hannity made comments on March 9, which you claim influenced his decision. Moreover, you were fully aware that this was the actual timeline, and in order to mislead your readers and support your false narrative, you withheld the date of Mr. Hannity’s comments from your story,” Harder wrote.
“Mr. Hannity informed you of this fact when he provided you with an exhaustive timeline of his coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in a near hour-long telephone call that he had with [Times media writer Ben Smith, who wrote the March 22 article] prior to publication of the March 22, 2020 Story,” he added. “During this telephone call Mr. Hannity also specifically explained to you that your characterization of his coverage of the coronavirus pandemic was false and incorrect. However, you ignored these true facts and published Stories anyway, with these false statements intact, for the sole purpose of advancing your false narrative about Mr. Hannity and falsely blaming him for Mr. Joyce’s death.”
The Times also misrepresented what Hannity actually said, according to the letter.
“Your reporting also takes Mr. Hannity’s remarks completely out of context to falsely claim that he said the coronavirus pandemic could not affect a 74 year-old such as Mr. Joyce,” Harder wrote. “This is the direct opposite of what Mr. Hannity stated in his March 9, 2020 broadcast: he stated that the coronavirus is more serious to individuals who are older, have compromised immune systems, or underlying health conditions. Mr. Hannity’s other comments regarding young, healthy individuals with lowered risk from the virus were merely echoing the same comments being made by Dr. Anthony Fauci at the time, who had stated on that same day (March 9, 2020) that healthy young individuals could still take cruises.”
The letter then listed multiple times in which Hannity warned Americans about the coronavirus, and added, “All this information was readily available to you prior to your publication of the Stories, further evidencing your complete disregard for the truth in mischaracterizing Mr. Hannity’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The letter, which calls for “a full, fair and conspicuous retraction, correction and apology as to each of the false and defamatory statements identified above,” said The Times libeled Hannity by its actions.
“You have acted with actual malice in publishing the foregoing statements. As detailed herein, it was readily apparent at the time of publication that Mr. Hannity had devoted substantial, truthful coverage to the coronavirus, and his remarks attributed by you were made eight days after Mr. Joyce had already embarked on his cruise. Thus, you consciously disregarded the falsity of your statements in publishing them,” Harder wrote. (As Law & Crime reported, The Times eventually changed its story after publication to better clarify this timeline and note that Hannity’s comments came after Joyce left for the cruise.)
The letter also compared The Times’ attacks on Hannity to its silence on others in an effort to prove the newspaper was targeting him.
“Your malice is further evidenced by the clear bias you have exhibited by your repeated attacks against Mr. Hannity and mischaracterization of his coverage of the coronavirus, all while disregarding numerous statements minimizing the pandemic by Democratic Party politicians and Democratic Party-friendly media outlets, including during late February and early March, which you proclaim to have been a ‘critical’ or ‘crucial’ time period,” the letter said.
“Your attempt to single out and attack Mr. Hannity for his coronavirus coverage, when he was more responsible in his coverage that all of the foregoing individuals and media outlets, and your intentional disregard for the foregoing irresponsible Democratic Party politicians and Democratic Party-friendly media outlets, including ABC, NBC, CBS, and MSNBC establishes clear bias on your part in connection with Mr. Hannity and the Stories.”
Harder also threatened a lawsuit if The Times did not comply, writing, “Please confirm in writing within twenty-four (24) hours of transmission of this letter that you will retract, correct and apologize for each of the foregoing statements. Failure to do so will leave Mr. Hannity with no alternative but to consider instituting immediate legal proceedings against you.”
“We have reported fairly and accurately on Mr. Hannity,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the newspaper, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “There is no basis for a retraction or an apology.”
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