Fox News Channel lent support to its best-known anchor Sean Hannity, saying Thursday that the popular host would return to its air next week following a Memorial Day holiday vacation - an effort to tamp down speculation that a controversy currently enveloping Hannity could escalate further.
"Like the rest of the country, Sean Hannity is taking a vacation for Memorial Day weekend and will be back on Tuesday," the 21st Century Fox-owned network said in a statement. "Those who suggest otherwise are going to look foolish."
Hannity has become embroiled in a furor over his recent promotion of a widely discredited story about the death last summer of Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered in Washington, D.C. last July in what local police have stated they believe is a botched robbery. Hannity has in recent days promoted an unproven theory that Rich was killed in exchange for providing internal documents to Wikileaks, prompting statements of outrage from the Rich family.
On Tuesday, Fox News said it had retracted a story, published on FoxNews.com, about Rich's murder - believed to be one of the first times the news outlet has withdrawn an article over its more than 20-year history. The killing remains unsolved and right-leaning press outlets such as Breitbart and The Drudge Report have in posts and links bolstered the wild conspiracy. Hannity continued to promote the theory about Rich on his Tuesday radio show, noting that "this issue is so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread."
But on his Fox News broadcast Tuesday night, Hannity appeared to back away from the contretemps. "Out of respect for the family's wishes, for now, I am not discussing the matter at this time," Hannity said.
A handful of small advertisers, including Cars.com, have indicated they were moving their commercials out of Hannity's program in the aftermath - prompting comparisons to the recent exit of Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly was the linchpin of Fox News' primetime lineup, and parted ways after sponsors defected from his "O'Reilly Factor" following revelations he had made approximately $13 million in settlements to women who had alleged he had sexually harassed them or subjected them to inappropriate behavior. O'Reilly and Fox News parted ways in April.
"Hannity" generates millions of dollars in ad revenue for Fox News Channel. In 2016, the show brought in approximately $65.7 million, according to Kantar Media, a tracker of ad spending. That represented a 17% jump from the approximately $56.1 million the show captured from Madison Avenue in 2015.
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Hannity said the ad shifts represented efforts by progressives to silence him. "There's nothing that I did, nothing that I said, except they don't like my position politically," he said. "They'll try to ratchet up the intensity of their rationale. It does not justify an attempt to get me fired. And that's what this is. This is an attempt to take me out. This is a kill shot."
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