Air America, Talk Host Backpedal on Attack Claim, Admit Mugging Report Was False

Published October 17, 2007

| FoxNews.com

An Air America talk-show host who accused "the right wing hate machine" of being responsible for an alleged attack on an on-air colleague did a fast backpedal Tuesday, apologizing for "jumping to conclusions" about a now-debunked mugging report.

Host Jon Elliott issued a written retraction of his remarkable on-air charge, saying: "I shouldn't have speculated based on hearsay that Randi Rhodes had been mugged and that it may have been an attack from a right wing hate machine. I apologize for jumping to conclusions based on an emotional reaction."

Air America also issued a statement, saying Rhodes "experienced an unfortunate incident hindering her from hosting the show. The reports of a presumed hate crime are unfounded."

Elliott's initial claim that Rhodes had been beaten "by the right wing" for her political views set the blogosphere abuzz Monday night.

Rhodes, whose program airs on Air America weekdays from 3-6 p.m. ET, allegedly informed Air America that she was struck while was walking down a street Sunday night near her Manhattan home. There even was a report on-air that she had suffered serious injuries and had lost several teeth.

FOXNews.com, however, spoke to Rhodes' lawyer Tuesday afternoon, and he quickly moved to shoot down speculation that she was the victim of a political hate crime.

"We don't know whether there was a deliberate intention aimed at her or whether it was an accident... she was pretty much, she was hurt badly when she fell and her face hit the ground," lawyer Robert Gaulin initially told FOXNews.com, adding that people on the street came to her aid. Gaulin later told the Daily News that Rhodes had fallen while out walking her dog near Park Avenue and 39th Street.

Elliott, meanwhile, went on a rant Monday night, telling listeners: "This does not appear to me to be a standard, grab-the-money-and-run mugging," and, "Is this an attempt by the right wing hate machine to silence one of our own?" Elliot also suggested that the act might have been meant to intimidate left-wing radio.

The report spread quickly Tuesday over the blogosphere, with the Google blog search showing hundreds of posts on the subject.

The New York City Police Department told FOXNews.com that they had no record of any attack in the area that Elliott mentioned — Park Avenue and 39th Street — and that Rhodes did not file a report of the incident with police.

"We have no record of her making any complaints whatsoever ... as far back as my computer goes," a police spokesman said. He said the records went back roughly 25 years.

The police spokesman, who asked not to be identified because of department policy, said that police "do not investigate things that are unreported," but encouraged Rhodes to report the incident if she would like police to investigate the matter. Police later attempted to contact Rhodes to see whether she wanted to file a report. Gaulin said Rhodes declined.

In a brief statement posted on its Web site Tuesday, Air America said replacement hosts will continue to fill in for Rhodes as she recuperates.

An Air America employee, who was not authorized to speak to the media and declined to be identified, told FOXNews.com Tuesday afternoon that Rhodes had been attacked, but said "it was not a hate crime."

The source said that Rhodes contacted several employees at Air America on Tuesday, and had told them that she was attacked but had only suffered chipped teeth, and would be seeing a dentist. Gaulin, however, said that Rhodes had been disoriented by the fall and really was not sure what had happened.

FOXNews.com's Greg Simmons contributed to this report

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http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/10/17/air-america-talk-host-backpedal-on-attack-claim-admit-mugging-report-was-false