CNN’s Brian Stelter has put together a stunning report on how Sean Hannity and other Trumper hosts have forced Fox News into some kind of Trump cult, even as Hannity acknowledges behind the scenes that Trump is crazy.
The reporting is part of a must-read article in Vanity Fair, taken from Stelter’s forthcoming book, “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth.” I almost never read political books but I can’t wait to read this one (and no, I'm not receiving any compensation for saying that).
Stelter gets behind-the-scenes details on the sycophancy at Fox:
Just as he has bulldozed so many political norms, Donald Trump has turned the presidential TV interview into a joke. Fox News lets him call in for talk radio-style rant sessions, the length of which are a punch line among rank-and-file Fox staffers who secretly despise him despite working for his media machine. “When Trump was booked for 8:10, and we had an assignment for 8:40, we didn’t bother writing it, because we knew he’d talk until the end of the hour,” a producer for Fox & Friends told me.
He called the “Friends” and Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo. Every so often he’d consent to an on-camera chat, but he liked the phone. It made him seem busy when he wasn’t. The interviews, if they can really be called that, were subject to his whims, causing no small amount of competition among the Trump bootlickers at Fox. Stars were known to slip ratings reports to the president to make their own shows look more impressive than those of their in-house rivals. Sometimes interviews were suddenly offered to hosts when Trump heard them say something flattering on TV. One personality rushed to the airport for a cross-country flight when a sit-down suddenly materialized. Other times the bookings were simply a product of who had bent Trump’s ear most recently: There were side deals brokered during stopovers at his golf club and pitches made during strategy calls.“Why don’t you call in tomorrow?”
Stelter writes that the prime-time hosts hold all the power at Fox these days and that management has no control.
Probably the biggest power player, not surprisingly, is Trump-Sycophant Extraordinaire, Sean Hannity. But, apparently, sucking up to the Narcissist in Chief is taking a toll on poor Seanie-pooh.
[H]is friends told me he was burnt out for long stretches of the Trump presidency. Being the president’s “shadow chief of staff,” as he was known around the White House, could be a thrill, but it was also a serious burden. Hannity counseled Trump at all hours of the day; one of his confidants said the president treated Hannity like Melania, a wife in a sexless marriage. Arguably, he treated Hannity better than Melania. Hannity’s producers marveled at his influence and access. “It’s a powerful thing to be someone’s consigliere,” one producer said. “I hear Trump talk at rallies, and I hear Sean,” a family friend commented.
Hannity chose this life, so no one felt sorry for him, but the stress took its toll. “Hannity would tell you, off-off-off the record, that Trump is a batshit crazy person,” one of his associates said. Another friend concurred: “Hannity has said to me more than once, ‘he’s crazy.’”
Early on in the Trump age, Hannity gained weight and vaped incessantly, which some members of his inner circle blamed on Trump-related stress. “If you were hearing what I’m hearing, you’d be vaping too,” Hannity told a colleague. He was sensitive to trolls’ comments about the extra weight, especially from his chest up; that’s all viewers saw of him most nights, when he was live from his palace. He doubled up on his workouts and slimmed back down.
It seems there's a vicious cycle at Fox. The more the network appeals to Trump fans, the more the fans demand continued fealty. Stelter quotes one “veteran staffer” as saying, “I feel like Fox is being held hostage by its audience.”
That hardly seems like an outlying view:
In all I spoke with more than 140 staffers at Fox, plus 180 former staffers and others with direct ties to the network. Their frustration was palpable. Staffers described a TV network that had gone off the rails. Some even said the place that they worked, that they cashed paychecks from, had become dangerous to democracy. They felt like the news division had been squeezed out in favor of pro-Trump blowhards.
A lot of people I spoke to were desperate to talk. Others were terrified. … Employees suspected their work phones were tapped and assumed their emails were monitored by management. I cannot overstate the level of paranoia among Fox employees.
Well, I’m sorry for the presumably well-meaning staffers. But Fox has been on this trajectory for as long as I’ve been watching it. Remember the “Happy Iraq” portion of the 2004 Outfoxed documentary (for which I served as a researcher)? I don’t say this lightly because leaving a job, like leaving a marriage, is something each person has to decide for him or herself, but I can’t feel too bad for anyone who takes part in promoting the dangerous incompetent that Trump is.
As for Hannity, this report furthers my belief that Trump had to know about the Hannity/Fox efforts to frame murdered Seth Rich for the leak of DNC emails to Wikileaks.
(Hannity image via screen grab)