Sean Hannity has threatened to sue the New York Times for libel over a column that blamed him for a man’s death.
The Times published an article attempting to link the demise of Joe Joyce, a Brooklyn bar owner who perished from the coronavirus, to comments made by the Fox News personality, the Daily Caller reported.
In a letter, Hannity’s lawyer Charles Harder demanded retractions for the article’s claims within 24 hours, or else he and his client would consider filing “immediate legal proceedings” against the paper.
NYT blames death on Hannity
In its quest to hang the coronavirus around the neck of Trump and anyone faintly connected with him, the Times has published several articles to the effect that Fox News reporting is getting people killed. The aforementioned letter from Harder cites three such articles, a March 31 story titled, “Foxs’ Fake News Contagion,” a March 22 piece titled, “Rupert Murdoch Put His Son in Charge of Fox. It Was a Dangerous Mistake,” and a recent entry, “A Beloved Bar Owner was Skeptical About the Virus. Then He Took a Cruise,” published on April 18.
The author of the last piece, Ginia Bellafante, has been criticized for not so subtly painting its subject as an ignoramus who died from stupidity — that is, for trusting evil Fox News instead of the worthy liberal media. The article points to Hannity in particular, suggesting that Mr. Joyce recklessly left on a cruise on March 1 with the encouragement of the Fox host, quoting his March 9 comments suggesting that the virus was “unnecessarily” causing fear.
In a letter, Harder accused the Times of libeling his client with “blatant and outrageous disregard for the truth in mischaracterizing Mr. Hannity’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and blaming him for the tragic death of Joe Joyce.” The article about Joyce appears to obscure the timeline of events, asserting that Hannity made the comments “early in March,” although it cites Joyce’s daughter, who said that her father “watched Fox, and believed it was under control.”
“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’s letter reads.
It was only after the fact that the paper “underhandedly edited that story to include a statement from Fox News which disproved your timeline, without notifying your readers that you were correcting or retracting your original false statements,” Harder added.
The March 31 piece, by Kara Swisher, falsely claims that “Mr. Hannity is responsible for determining all of Fox News’ coverage of the coronavirus,” Harder said. The piece reads in part, “Some might allege that they have lost loved ones because of what was broadcast by your news organization.”
Harder accuses the Times of trying to “single out” Hannity with false claims that he downplayed the virus, providing a timeline of statements by Hannity which purport to show that he was taking the virus seriously, as well as timelines of comments from Democrats and other news outlets that appear to show the opposite. It even mentions a tweet from Bellafante, who said on February 27 that she doesn’t “understand the [coronavirus] panic.” Talk about hypocrisy.
Hannity’s lawyer demanded a full retraction of the comments and an apology within 24 hours. What did the Times have to say in response?
The columns are accurate, do not reasonably imply what you and Mr. Hannity allege they do, and constitute protected opinion. In response to your request for an apology and retraction, our answer is ‘no’.
What a surprise.