Fox News host Sean Hannity has apologized for misspeaking while discussing allegations that a US Senate candidate in Alabama sexually molested a 14-year-old girl nearly 40 years ago.
“As I said on TV tonight, I apologize when I misspoke and was not totally clear earlier today,” Hannity said in a statement. “My comments on the topic of Judge Moore were clear and unambiguous both on radio and on TV, if people would do their own research and reporting. People need to listen to the totality of my remarks if they care about the truth. I interview guests of all points of view, but I speak for myself.”
Hannity was on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism after the airing of his radio show Thursday, in which he appeared — amid crosstalk — to say that alleged relations between Mr Moore and the 14-year-old were “consensual”. He later clarified on his television show that he was referring to the claims that Mr Moore, in his 30s, had pursued relationships with 17- and 18-year-old girls.
Hannity, alongside most prominent Republicans, said after the allegations that it was important to find out the truth, but stopped short of condemning Mr Moore regarding the allegations.
After apologizing for misspeaking, many of Hannity’s fiercest critics in the media called for reason, backtracking on their criticism of the comments, and saying that Hannity should be given the benefit of the doubt on what he meant.
“I’m going to take Hannity at his word and assume he was not referring to the 14-year-old girl incident as “consensual” but rather the 17/18 year-old girl,” CNN’s Jake Tapper, who had tweeted disdain for the comments earlier, tweeted. “The crosstalk was confusing, but no reason to believe the worst. For that reason, I’m deleting the tweets.”
Mr Tapper was joined by Kurt Eichenwald, a senior writer at Newsweek.
“I hate to speak up in defence of Sean Hannity, but.. his statement about Moore and consensual was clearly not about the 14-year-old,” Mr Eichenwald tweeted. “The transcript just makes it look that way because there was talk-over. This is an unfair attack.”
Mr Moore was accused of pursuing a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old nearly 40 years ago when he was 32, according to a Washington Post report. That report detailed the claims of a woman in Alabama who said that she was picked up by Mr Moore after meeting him at a courthouse, and taken to his home in the woods. At that home, she alleged, Mr Moore kissed her. During one encounter, she said, Mr Moore took off his and her clothes and touched her breasts while moving her hand to the outside of his underpants.
Mr Moore is the Republican nominee running for US Senate. Voters in Alabama will go to the polls for a special election December 12.