Democracy has fundamentals – an educated population, a steady economy, a transparent government that can be held accountable, free speech, and a strong ethical news media.
Some news outlets are closer to this ideal than others. Fox News, the “fair and balanced” network, is not one of them. Their primetime host, Sean Hannity, is one of the major reasons for this.
Hannity has been with the company since its inception, right alongside Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. He claims he’s not a journalist when criticized for unethical behavior but reaps the benefits of being a major TV reporter when it seems advantageous.
Authority of a TV Reporter
- Mr. Hannity dropped out of school to become a right-wing radio host.
- He was relatively unknown until Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Ailes hired him in 1996 to debut with the network.
- Mr. Hannity’s tenure at Fox News and his talk radio format have been highly criticized.
Despite his claim that he’s not a journalist and therefore isn’t beholden to objectively presenting facts, Fox News continues to give Mr. Hannity the weight and atmosphere of a real journalist.
- They use graphics, an anchor desk, interviews, and all of the typical aesthetics of a TV reporter for his show, Hannity.
- Put that in the context of the network that also happens to employ real journalists both full-time and freelance, and they’ve created a show that has all the authority of a traditional TV reporter but none of the accountability.
Hannity has segments on all sorts of topics from immigration to civil rights, just like TV journalists should, except for one thing – it’s entirely one-sided coverage. There’s no objective presentation of the facts. For example, the show presents a fact like ‘Pew Research Center study says 11.3 million illegal immigrant in the U.S.’, then follows it directly with data from non-objective sources – often from groups like Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) which was designated as a hate group in 2007 – presented in the form of a subtle narrative.
In addition to facts woven together by biased narratives, Hannity appeals to the audience’s emotions with pathos. As a host, he often uses inflammatory language and changes his intonation to express outrage or disgust. This transcript from a recent episode of Hannity is a good example. Inflammatory language is marked in bold, while words that were emphasized with intonation suggesting outrage or disdain are marked in red italics.
“Pew research center estimates that over 11 million illegal immigrants now live in this country, not respecting our laws and sovereignty. The Federation for American Immigration Reform calculates the U.S. spends, get this, over a hundred and thirteen million dollars per year on illegal immigration. States and local governments are feeling the brunt of that cost and shelling out over 84 billion dollars per year and how this includes over 49 billion dollars for education; 10.8 billion dollars for medical care; 9.6 billion dollars on general expenses; 8.7 billion dollars on justice expenditures; and 5.3 billion on welfare related costs. Now illegal immigrants make up 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force. Over 8 million illegals now are working or looking for work. By the way we have 95 million Americans out of the labor force right now.
“The Migration Policy Institute, they have an estimate that says of the 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the country 820,000 of them are convicted criminals. The most recent numbers show that in 2010 – 55,000 illegal immigrants were being held right here in federal prisons; and when it comes to federal crime data from 2015, get this number, 36.6 percent of the more than 70,000 federal sentences for offenses were committed by illegal immigrants; and if you look at the breakdown of the numbers for federal sentences from last year alone, illegal immigrants responsible for: 18 percent of drug trafficking, 30 percent of kidnapping/hostage-taking, 75 percent of drug possession, ten percent of money laundering, 21 percent of National Defense sentences, five percent of murder sentences, and right here in the great state of Texas well there have been hundreds of thousands of crimes only in the last few years alone.”
None of the Accountability
Immigration is an important topic to discuss, but that discussion shouldn’t happen in a vacuum, like on Hannity, where only crime statistics matter. The subtle narrative on the show is that all immigrants who are in the U.S. without a proper visa are dangerous, costly, and the audience should be outraged at this. Mr. Hannity is beyond reproach for pushing this narrative simply because he occasionally claims, off-air, that he’s not a journalist, but a commentator.
This recalls the frequent on-and-off-screen battles between Mr. Hannity and Jon Stewart while the latter was still with Comedy Central. Mr. Hannity would often criticize Mr. Stewart for being beyond reproach with the claim that Mr. Stewart was not a journalist, but a comedian.
Despite the apparent hypocrisy here, Mr. Hannity continues to use his position to advocate, not only for outrage against immigrants, but also for his favored presidential candidate, Donald Trump. In the last year alone, Mr. Hannity has given Mr. Trump’s face alone more than $31 million in free air-time. Segments on Mr. Trump’s policies, family, and surrogates are not included in that study. It’s just air-time for the face of Mr. Trump.
With all the authority of a TV news reporter and none of the accountability, Mr. Hannity is free to devote his show to claims that have long since been debunked – like that Mr. Trump opposed the Iraq War, or conspiracy theories around Hillary Clinton’s health condition.
Mr. Hannity is also free to share advice with Mr. Trump’s political campaign, and pepper Mr. Trump and his family for interviews, something that journalists are typically prohibited from doing.
Mr. Hannity was asked if he was jockeying for a position in Mr. Trump’s potential presidential administration by The New York Times. He denied the idea as laughable; however, with all the authority of a TV news reporter and none of the accountability, it’s entirely possible.