Hannity demands retraction, threatens legal action over NYT column linking him to COVID-19 death

Fox News host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityCable news audience numbers jump amid coronavirus, protests Hannity scolds Ozarks partygoers: 'Could be a disaster' for vulnerable Americans Trump lashes out at Fox News after poll shows him trailing Biden MORE demanded a public retraction and apology from The New York Times on Monday over a column about a New York bar owner and Fox News viewer who died after contracting coronavirus on a cruise, as well as other coverage of the host's statements during the pandemic.

"We write concerning the New York Times’ 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," Hannity's attorney, Charles Harder, wrote in a letter sent on Monday

At issue is an April 18 column by Ginia Bellafante profiling coronavirus victim Joe Joyce. It included a passage in which Joyce's daughter suggests her father went on the cruise after seeing on Hannity and Fox News that the outbreak was under control. 

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"You have acted with actual malice in publishing the foregoing statements. As detailed herein, it was readily apparent at the time of publication that Mr. Hannity had devoted substantial, truthful coverage to the coronavirus, and his remarks attributed by you were made eight days after Mr. Joyce had already embarked on his cruise," read the letter from Hannity's legal counsel.

It adds, "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."

The letter goes on to list a number of other New York Times stories Harder says are "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."

The 12-page letter then lays out what Harder says are examples of Hannity covering the seriousness of the epidemic, as well as four pages of what the attorney says are examples of officials and organizations — including New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioFormer Obama aide goes off on looters: 'There are human beings that live in this goddamn neighborhood' Watch live: De Blasio holds press conference on NYC protests, pandemic response The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from the protests MORE (D), New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoCuomo says he 'never apologized' to NYPD for saying they 'did not do their job' CDC director warns Floyd protests could be 'seeding event' for coronavirus Former Obama aide goes off on looters: 'There are human beings that live in this goddamn neighborhood' MORE (D), Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'Scary' to see uniformed troops on steps of Lincoln Memorial Pelosi: Democrats to unveil sweeping criminal justice proposal Monday Pelosi demands Trump clarify deployment of unidentified law enforcement in DC MORE (D), top infectious diseases expert Anthony FauciAnthony FauciDemocratic lawmakers introduce legislation to ensure US can mass-produce COVID-19 vaccine The Hill's Morning Report - Floyd eulogies begin; Trump-Esper conflict emerges Overnight Health Care: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective in preventing COVID-19, study finds | WHO to resume hydroxychloroquine clinical research | WHO says no evidence coronavirus is mutating MORE and CNN — "minimizing" the extent of the outbreak. 

Harder says The New York Times has one day to confirm it will "retract, correct and apologize for" the statements or Hannity will seek to take legal action.

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Hannity has also addressed the controversy on his show, telling viewers last week that Bellafante "pretty much all but accused yours truly of murder."

“In order to smear yours truly, they literally, this woman [Bellafante] exploited a man’s tragic death. She willingly, maliciously, purposefully took something I said completely out of context," Hannity said.

“Politicizing a tragedy, this New York Times so-called writer, reporter, whatever she is, has added to the pain and suffering of a family that deserves better. This was all done to vilify this program and this channel,” he added.

A Fox News spokesperson told The Hill that Hannity's letter "speaks for itself" and pointed to the host's comments on the matter when it was discussed during his prime-time program Monday night.

A spokesperson for the Times denied Hannity's claims and said that the newspaper would not retract the piece, telling The Hill: "We've reported fairly and accurately on Mr. Hannity and there is no basis for a retraction or an apology."

Updated on April 28 at 8:42 a.m.