A New York Times Magazine profile of Sean Hannity promised but failed to deliver just how unhinged and demagogic he has become of late. Instead of the angry-looking photos featured in the article, we got Hannity as something like a mischievous conservative watchdog.
The article is titled, “How Far Will Sean Hannity Go?" and subtitled, "The Fox News host is willing to defend Trump at all costs — and is reaching more than 13 million people a day.” But much of Hannity’s extremism was left out.
Although the article features some outlandish Hannity photographs, Author Matthew Shaer seems to have been charmed. I have heard that Hannity is quite congenial in person and that comes across in the profile:
In the dim light, a heavy coating of foundation and blush gave his face a garish glow [in his Fox greenroom]. “I know, I know,” he laughed, catching me staring. “I don’t like it either.”
But there’s a sinister side to Hannity that Shaer seems to have either missed or discounted. This is how Shaer writes about Hannity’s conspiracy theories:
In November, Alvin Chang, a writer for Vox, crunched data from two years of Hannity TV transcripts and concluded that Hannity was, in his mentions of topics like “the deep state” and the uranium deal, the media’s “top conspiracy theorist.” In our conversations, Hannity rejected the label, calling it a “typical left-wing attack. My whole career I’ve pursued the truth and have been proven right time after time while my colleagues are often dead wrong.” And to watch Hannity regularly is to observe how distant the host is from a figure like the Infowars proprietor Alex Jones. Jones endorses theories; Hannity almost never does, leaving that job to his guests. It is a dance that has the effect of nourishing the more wild-eyed beliefs of his fans while providing Hannity a degree of plausible deniability.
This approach was on full display during the 2016 election, when Hannity invited a doctor to analyze Hillary Clinton’s health on the basis of video footage. (“That looks like violent, out of control movements on her part,” Hannity suggested hopefully.) And it was most infamously evident in his coverage of the case of Seth Rich, a young staff member at the Democratic National Committee murdered in July 2016, in what Washington police say was a street robbery gone bad.
The Times' somehow missed Hannity's reckless disregard for the truth
It’s rather an understatement to say that Hannity “suggested hopefully” that there was something wrong with Clinton’s health. In reality, Hannity blatantly disregarded the truth, just as he did in the Rich murder, in favor of aggressively promoting Trump-friendly but baseless conspiracy theories: For example, in August, 2016, Hannity said it looked like Hillary Clinton had had a “mini seizure” in the video referenced above. In that video, she was surrounded by reporters. One of them, AP’s Lisa Lerer, unequivocally debunked that theory, saying that Clinton had been mugging. A month later, though, Hannity was still at it. “I think there’s something wrong here,” Hannity said about the video. “Watch all of a sudden her head twitching and twitching and twitching.” He also declared, “I don’t believe anything that [Clinton's] doctor is putting out.”
Shaer also missed how very much like Alex Jones Hannity has become in pushing his “deep state” conspiracy theory, that government agents are secretly plotting to destroy Trump’s presidency. Media Matters explains why that is so important:
Hannity’s conspiracy theory has several key benefits: It allows Hannity to delegitimize any possible sources of negative information about the Trump administration by tying them into the plot; it encourages his viewers to stick with the president because he is beset by such malicious foes; and, perhaps most importantly, it allows Hannity to shift attention from the possible malfeasance Mueller may discover in his investigation to the question of whether Mueller himself is a criminal running an illegitimate probe who must step down or be fired , as the Fox host has demanded dozens of times.
Hannity's dangerous promotion of Cliven Bundy should not be forgotten
Also overlooked was how Hannity recklessly promoted armed insurrection against the federal government via his championing of law-breaking Cliven Bundy in 2014. What halted the effort was not any concern for the safety of the law enforcers but the fact that Bundy was outed as a virulent racist. Even though Fox almost surely knew beforehand.
Hannity also has a predilection for racists and race baiting
Bundy was far from the only racist Hannity took a cotton to. Hannity has gone out of his way to help rehab a slew of white guys in racial trouble. George Zimmerman, Don Imus, Mel Gibson, and Duane “Dog” Chapman were all recipients of Hannity’s goodwill efforts. Hannity portrayed Trump as the real victim of Charlottesville.
My personal “favorite” has been Hannity’s black, African-American-hating, slavery-loving pal, Jesse Lee Peterson. He once announced on Hannity & Colmes, in a discussion about a racially-tinged primary in Memphis, “Most blacks, not all but most in Tennessee, especially in the Memphis, Tennessee area, are still living in the 50’s and 60’s. They are so racist that they don’t even realize that white Americans have moved on. And so whenever there’s a campaign like this, such as this, they always use racism in order to intimidate white America.” Not only did Hannity not object, he refused to allow his other guest to challenge this bigotry.
I might make light of all this, too, if Hannity was merely some otherwise-affable guy bloviating in a bar. But the most significant part of Shaer’s reporting reveals just how influential Hannity is:
Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief strategist for Trump, told me Hannity is “the single most important voice for the ‘deplorables,’ ” as Trump backers often style themselves.
As the primaries gave way to the general election, Hannity and Trump’s campaign staff were in touch on an almost-daily basis. “Occasionally, we’d talk on Sean’s show knowing Trump was watching,” Gingrich told me. “The two most effective ways of communicating with Trump are ‘Fox & Friends’ and ‘Hannity.’
Hannity spoke directly to Trump during the campaign. “I was a little bit of a liaison,” he says, between the Trump camp and Fox News. In August 2015, Hannity’s colleague Megyn Kelly asked Trump at a Fox News-sponsored debate to account for his derogatory comments about women. “I say this just very objectively: I thought the question was patently unfair,” Hannity told me. In “Devil’s Bargain,” his book on Bannon and Trump, the Bloomberg Businessweek correspondent Joshua Green writes that Trump phoned Hannity the weekend after the debate, threatening to boycott Fox. Shortly thereafter, he tweeted: “Roger Ailes just called. He is a great guy & assures me that ‘Trump’ will be treated fairly on @FoxNews.”
In short, Hannity is a guy with outsize influence who has already gone dangerously extreme. No matter how nice a guy he may be in person, his perniciousness deserves much greater scrutiny than it got.
(Hannity image via screen grab).