Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity said Tuesday he's backing off his speculation about the 2016 killing of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich after talking with Rich's family, which had appealed to the media to stop.
The decision took Hannity off a potential collision course with his network, which earlier Tuesday had removed a week-old story about the case from its website because "it was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting."
The report quoted a private investigator suggesting that Rich had some connection to WikiLeaks and its leaks of Democratic National Committee emails during the last campaign.
Rich's family has said they don't believe their son, who was shot in July 2016 in Washington, gave any information to WikiLeaks. The investigator has since recanted his claim, and the independent researcher Politifact.com has said the notion that Rich was involved in the leak was flimsy and illogical. No arrests have been made in the shooting. Washington police have said they think Rich was killed in a random robbery attempt.
Hannity, Fox's biggest star and a leading conservative radio talk show host, has said he doesn't believe the robbery theory. Some Trump supporters have been pushing a supposed WikiLeaks connection to counter stories about Russian involvement in the last election.
His parents wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post Tuesday to calling the "discredited" theories being peddled "unspeakably cruel." They outlined a series of facts about Rich and his job that would stymie the WikiLeaks connection.
"Despite these facts, our family's nightmare persists," they wrote. "Seth's death has been turned into a political football. Every day we wake up to new headlines, new lies, new factual errors, new people approaching us to take advantage of us and Seth’s legacy. It just won’t stop. The amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us."
Hannity said Tuesday that he had corresponded with Rich's brother and that "out of respect for the family's wishes — for now — I am not discussing this matter at this time."
"My heart, my soul, my prayers, everything goes out to them in this very difficult time," he said.
He then pivoted to talking about the "destroy Trump" media that he says is continuing to talk about the Russian story without any evidence of collusion in the last election.
But Hannity sent mixed signals about whether he was actually through with the Rich story, both on his show and in a later tweet.
"To the extent of my ability, I am not going to stop trying to find the truth," he said. He added that, "at the proper time, we shall continue and talk a lot more."
He said "liberal fascists" were trying to urge his advertisers to leave the show — the website Media Matters published a list of his advertisers. Fleeing advertisers played a role in last month's drama over Fox's Bill O'Reilly, who was fired by the network following reports of settlements paid to women to keep quiet about allegations of harassment.
"I serve at the pleasure of Fox News Channel and I am here to do my job every night," he said, adding "as long as they seem to want me."
Hannity is the last remaining star of a prime-time lineup that only a year ago also included O'Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren. Kelly and Van Susteren now both work for NBC News. Hannity was close to former Fox co-president Bill Shine, and publicly defended Shine after questions were raised about how much Shine knew of alleged harassment by O'Reilly and the late Fox chairman, Roger Ailes. But Shine left the network shortly thereafter.
Although Fox removed the Rich story from its website, its statement did not say the story was wrong. The network said it will continue to investigate the story and provide updates as warranted.
The network had no other comment beyond the published statement on Tuesday.