Attorney Charles Harder sent a letter to the Times on Monday focusing on an April 18 story of a conservative Brooklyn bar owner Joe Joyce who took a cruise in early March, came back and died of the virus. In his letter, Harder argues that the story “falsely state and falsely imply a connection between Mr. Hannity’s on-air comments and Mr. Joyce’s decision to take a cruise.”
In the story, writer Ginia Bellafante wrote that Joyce and his wife didn’t see the risks in traveling amid the coronavirus outbreak, and set sail on March 1 for Spain. The story quoted Joyce’s daughter, Kirsten, who said, “He watched Fox, and believed it was under control.”
Bellafante wrote, “Early in March Sean Hannity went on air proclaiming that he didn’t like the way that the American people were getting scared ‘unnecessarily.’ He saw it all, he said, ‘as like, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.'”
“The April 18, 2020 Story is one of many instances of your ongoing campaign to personally attack Mr. Hannity by mischaracterizing and making false statements with respect to his coverage of the coronavirus pandemic,” wrote Harder, who also has fired off numerous legal threats against media organizations on behalf of another client, President Donald Trump.
Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times said in response to the legal threat, “We’ve reported fairly and accurately on Mr. Hannity and there is no basis for a retraction or an apology.”
Harder addressed the letter to the Times’ general counsel, Diane Brayton, as well as to Bellafante and two other authors of articles Hannity has objected to — columnist Ben Smith and contributing writer Kara Swisher.
In the letter, Harder wrote that Hannity made the comment about a “hoax” on March 9, after the Joyces went on their cruise. Harder wrote that “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.” He also accused the Times of “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.”
Hannity has railed on air against criticism that he downplayed the coronavirus, and his 12-page legal letter includes a timeline of instances where other media figures, politicians, journalists and Dr. Anthony Fauci downplayed the threat.
“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 wrote.
Fox News has been the source of extensive criticism over the way that its opinion hosts and other on-air personalities initially treated the threat of the coronavirus. In early April, more than 70 journalism professors and working reporters, including a number from Columbia and Northwestern universities, signed an open letter to Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch warning of misinformation on the network.
“Fox News reporters have done some solid reporting. And the network has recently given some screen time to medical and public health professionals,” they wrote. “But Fox News does not clearly distinguish between the authority that should accrue to trained experts, on the one hand, and the authority viewers grant to pundits and politicians for reasons of ideological loyalty.”
They specifically cited Hannity’s “hoax” comment, writing that “such commentary encouraged President Trump to trivialize the threat and helped obstruct national, state, and local efforts to limit the coronavirus.”
Hannity later defended the comment, telling Newsweek, “It’s the same Democrats, media mob and liberal professors who are so lazy they won’t even look at what I’ve said about the virus. They just go with their narrative. I never called it a ‘hoax.'”
In the letter, the journalists also cited YouGov/Economist and Pew Research polls showing that Fox News viewers were much less likely than others to say they are worried about the coronavirus.
Fox News recently severed ties with Diamond And Silk, two Trump campaign surrogates who have advanced conspiracy theories surrounding the virus. They had a show that was licensed to Fox Nation, the network’s streaming platform. In late March, the network parted ways with Trish Regan, a Fox Business host who had done a segment on her show on March 9 titled “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam.”
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