It’s appealing to embrace things you see on the internet that seem too good to be true. For instance, we all felt our heart skip a beat when we got the email from the Nigerian prince. You know, the one who has all his money tied up and needs your help to gain access to it. If you just give him your banking info he’ll get his money out and split part of his vast wealth with you for your trouble. It’s an old scam, and one that quickly taught most of us to be wary of things on the internet. Even so, it’s easy to be tempted by strangers making promises on the Web, but it’s also all the more humiliating when we do fall for their scams. Yet, it does happen, but probably no more spectacularly than it did to noted conservative Fox News pundit and occasional conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity yesterday.
Hannity’s troubles began when an old conspiracy theory about the tragic murder of Seth Rich found new life last week. Rich, a Democratic National Committee employee, had been shot and killed in what appears to be a botched robbery in July of 2016 at the height of the presidential election fervor, and some conspiracy theorists at the time claimed that Rich had been killed by the Clintons to prevent him from disclosing damaging information on Hilary Clinton or as retribution for leaking emails to WikiLeaks. Either way, the claims were unfounded and most such conspiracy theories fell by the wayside within a few months. That is, until last week. In an interview on May 15 on a local Fox affiliate in Washington, Rod Wheeler, a private investigator claiming to work on behalf of the Rich family, theorized that Seth Rich had been a source for the DNC hacked emails (the leaked emails that played a huge role in the 2016 presidential election). Though such claims were quickly refute and Wheeler himself backtracked on many of these assertions, the fuse was lit and the conspiracy theorists were abuzz again.
Among those to rekindle the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, Sean Hannity was by far the most prominent and vocal personality to put his support behind it (though Newt Gingrich would also raise the issue as well). Hannity pushed the story hard, spending time discussing it on his nightly program on Fox News and refusing to back down even with heavy criticism from other media outlets and the Rich Family. But like most conspiracy theories Hannity’s reporting lacked substance and offered no real evidence to support his wild and implausible accusations other than conjecture. Hannity wanted this story to be true but he needed concrete facts, and he was willing to listen to anyone that promised to give them to him. He was an easy mark.
Enter Kim Dotcom (yes that is his real name), a hacker and self-described “Entrepreneur, innovator, gamer, and artist” that lives in New Zealand. He seems to have some prominence having created a few websites and seemingly making a fair amount of money in addition to being a quasi-internet celebrity. Either way, Dotcom began hyping the Seth Rich story not long after the May 15 Wheeler interview claiming he not only knew Seth Rich, but that he had inside knowledge that Rich was the source of the DNC hacks to WikiLeaks (Kim Dotcom also claims to have close ties to both Julian Assange and WikiLeaks). It’s not clear how Hannity became aware of Kim Dotcom, but by Friday, May 19 Hannity was openly tweeting him asking if he had evidence that Seth Rich was the WikiLeaks source for the DNC emails and even inviting him on his radio and TV shows. Dotcom had hooked a whale.
Kim Dotcom continued his narrative about the Rich story over the course of the weekend tweeting several more claims and promised a big reveal on Tuesday once he “had consulted with his legal team.” Hannity dutifully retweeted all Dotcom had to say and continued his own campaign on the topic, but his anticipation for Tuesday was palpable. Dotcom was going to give him exactly what he wanted and prove that all of Hannity’s wild accusations were in fact true. The trap was set.
Come Tuesday at exactly 1:00 PM, Dotcom tweets “Seth Rich was a Hero” asking readers to follow the link to his website for more information. Hannity quickly retweeted the link, but it became quite plain to those who visited the site that all of Hannity’s hopes had been for naught.
Follow the link and you are hit with a barrage of images promoting the Kim Dotcom brand and his music with the website itself a testament to self-aggrandizement and a persecution complex (I suggest you do not visit it). Scroll down a bit and you do come to a brief posting about Seth Rich, but the big ‘reveal’: Kim Dotcom claims to have known Seth Rich and has knowledge that he was the source of the DNC emails (see images of the post below). That’s it, the same stuff he had already claimed in his Twitter posts. No documents, no sources, nothing but the promise that if he is allowed to come to the US he would testify to what he knows about Seth Rich to authorities (he’s wanted for hacking in the US, btw).
Hannity had been conned. Nothing Dotcom revealed shed any light on the Seth Rich murder nor did it offer anything more concrete than the word of a criminal hacker. To make matters worse for Hannity, he had obviously bet the farm on Kim Dotcom with his executives, as Fox News retracted its Seth Rich articles within an hour of the Kim Dotcom reveal. Hannity had not only been conned, everyone knew he had been conned and he was being publicly rebuked for his foolishness. He had wanted, nay needed, Dotcom to come through for him so bad that he forgot the first rule of the internet: don’t trust anyone on the Internet.
To be fair, Hannity has not backed down from assertions about Seth Rich and promised to continue his investigation on his show last night. He also seems to not hold any ill will towards the man who conned him with Hannity and Dotcom even sharing a friendly Twitter exchange later in the evening. But things do not look good for Hannity as his continued pursuance of the Seth Rich story has made him a target of liberal groups who are calling for his termination at Fox News and has even alienated many on the staff at Fox News.
But despite all these troubles you shouldn’t worry about Sean Hannity too much. He’ll be fine. I hear he’s got something in the works with a Nigerian Prince.