It's all about the fact that Fox News "Hannity" host and Trump booster Sean Hannity has been deep-diving down a rabbit hole by pursuing the conspiracy theory that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered for leaking DNC emails to Wikileaks. The origin of that theory is something of a hall of mirrors involving Fox News itself. Per Jim Rutenberg in this morning's New York Times:
The Rich story has been kicking around since July, but flared anew last week, when FoxNews.com and the Fox affiliate in Washington, WTTG, quoted an investigator working with the Rich family as saying that Mr. Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks before his death. But when questioned by Oliver Darcy of CNN, the investigator acknowledged that, in fact, he had no evidence to suggest any such thing, and that he was only repeating what the FoxNews.com reporter who interviewed him about the case had told him.
The local Washington, D.C. police investigating the murder think it was the result of robbery-gone-wrong, and the Rich family has been demanding a retraction for Fox News. On Tuesday, Fox News issued this statement:
On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed. We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.
So if Fox News backed away from the story, what's the problem?
Hours after the Fox News statement, Sean Hannity said on his radio show, "I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com, I retracted nothing."
Oh dear. What did Fox News say about that?
So far nothing publicly. (Ad Age has reached out to Fox News and will update this post with any additional statements from the network.) Meanwhile, BuzzFeed started calling around to "Hannity" advertisers to guage their squeamishness about this whole situation. By Wednesday afternoon, BuzzFeed News' Mary Ann Georgantopoulos and Brianna Sacks were reporting that Cars.com, mattress marketers Casper and Leesa Sleep, cycling studio Peloton, video doorbell maker Ring and Crown Plaza Hotels were backing out of "Hannity" -- although the latter says it never wanted to be on Fox News in the first place. "Since we learned of the airings, we addressed the issue immediately and terminated our relationship" with the unspecified "third-party agency" that booked the airtime.
Last night, the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), which describes itself as a "financial service company for the military community and their familes, tweeted in response to a customer complaint about USAA being a "Hannity" advertiser: "Advertising on opinion shows is not in accordance with our policy and we've since corrected it."
What's Sean Hannity's response?
To the advertiser revolt? So far, nothing. But late last night he tweeted that he was going on vacation:
Uh oh My ANNUAL Memorial Day long weekend starts NOW. Destroy Trump/Conservative media breathless coverage starts! Did Hannity do last show?— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 25, 2017
That "Did Hannity do last show?" line is, of course, a reference to the fact that last month "The O'Reilly Factor" host Bill O'Reilly left for vacation -- and while he was away Fox News decided he wasn't coming back.
(UPDATE: "Like the rest of the country, Sean Hannity is taking a vacation for Memorial Day weekend and will be back on Tuesday, " a Fox News representative said by email. "Those who suggest otherwise are going to look foolish.")
So is this Bill O'Reilly all over again?
Not exactly. Remember, "The O'Reilly Factor" cancellation came amidst the media frenzy about his multimillion-dollar sexual harrassment allegation settlements. So we're talking off-camera behavior vs. on-camera behavior.
Who advertises on "Hannity" in general?
According to the TV ad analytics firm iSpot.tv, the top three marketer sectors backing "Hannity" since the start of 2017 are automakers, weight loss brands and insurance companies. By estimated spend, Jenny Craig is the top individual advertiser. It's worth noting here that Jenny Craig, the 84-year-old entrepreneur behind Jenny Craig, Inc., co-hosted a Trump campaign fundraiser last July.
The top advertiser on "Hannity" last night, with three different commercial airings, was ExxonMobil.
Meanwhile, self-styled Fox News watchdog Media Matters has published a master list: "These are Sean Hannity's advertisers."
Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.