Politics

The Self-Actualization of Sean Hannity

He’s gone in the tank for Donald Trump. Let’s leave him there.

trump hannity.

Donald Trump and Sean Hannity.

Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Mike Segar/Reuters and Molly Riley/Getty Images

The nonrevelation in Monday’s New York Times that the Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity has been advising Donald Trump as well as fawning all over him was met with predictable handwringing. Dana Milbank, in the Washington Post, pointed out that Hannity—who’d told the Times’ Jim Rutenberg in the piece that he was not a journalist—had previously called himself a “journalist.” Rutenberg himself took Hannity to task for his lack of honesty, and called the entire network’s behavior into question. (Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News, is also reportedly advising his fellow feminist Trump.) Whether or not Hannity is a journalist, he should certainly be honest with viewers, which he has not been. But the mini-scandal seemed to be fueled by a wish for Hannity to comport himself according to the abstemious norms of Serious Journalism. Why? Hannity is self-actualizing before our very eyes. He’s a hack in full now, and everyone knows it.

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Even if Hannity’s relationship with Trump is unsurprising, there can be no denying that the host has placed himself into a special category of bootlicker this year. While it’s true that conservative personalities from Rush Limbaugh to Fox’s own Bill O’Reilly have tied themselves in knots trying to “explain” the giant pile of horseshit and arrant nonsense that is Donald Trump, Hannity has gone further than one would have thought possible. In his numerous interviews with the candidate, he has acted as a conduit for whatever message the Trump campaign is trying to get across to the base. He has also helped Trump avoid gaffes that his nonbase might not appreciate. Back in April, ThinkProgress found that Hannity had interviewed Trump 41 times since the start of his presidential run in June 2015; the candidate didn’t make news once. Hannity has also begun circulating some of the Trump campaign’s (more) insane theories, such as those about Hillary Clinton’s health. (My favorite Hannity “questions” consist of his asking Trump why the rest of the media is asking Trump actual questions.)

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Still, advising the candidate is in some senses a different beast than this sort of behavior, and it has caused the mainstream media to take more notice. As Rutenberg reported:

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Mr. Hannity is not only Mr. Trump’s biggest media booster; he also veers into the role of adviser. Several people I’ve spoken with over the last couple of weeks said Mr. Hannity had for months peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging.

So involved is Mr. Hannity that three separate denizens of the hall of mirrors that is Trump World told me they believed Mr. Hannity was behaving as if he wanted a role in a possible Trump administration …

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A little later in the article, Rutenberg gets to what is so potentially problematic about Hannity’s role:

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Mr. Hannity’s show has all the trappings of traditional television news—the anchor desk, the graphics and the patina of authority that comes with being part of a news organization that also employs serious-minded journalists like Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly.

But because Mr. Hannity is “not a journalist,” he apparently feels free to work in the full service of his candidate without having to abide by journalism’s general requirements for substantiation and prohibitions against, say, regularly sharing advice with political campaigns.

Rutenberg is certainly right that journalism has these requirements, whether official or tacit. But Sean Hannity has never in his life been a journalist. He is a talk radio and television host who has walked in perfect, choreographed alignment with the Republican Party and the conservative movement; he may enjoy kissing up to Trump at the moment, but he would have been just as toadying with Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. (Hannity, after the 2012 loss of Mitt Romney, adopted—before discarding—the conventional GOP wisdom that the party needed to become more welcoming to immigrants.) As Rutenberg eventually notes:

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That makes Mr. Hannity the ultimate product of the Fox News Channel that Roger Ailes envisioned when he founded it with Rupert Murdoch 20 years ago, as a defiant answer to what they described as an overwhelmingly liberal mainstream news media that was biased against Republicans.

Precisely. Fox is not and has never been a place for real journalism, despite the occasional good work of several of its reporters. It is a publicity arm of the Republican Party, in whatever guise that party takes. (And of course sometimes Fox helps fashion that guise.) This is why the Hannity “news” is long overdue, and simultaneously almost irrelevant. Hannity may have gotten away pretending to be something he wasn’t—namely, something other than a partisan hack of the lowest order. He may even have fooled casual viewers, and he may still fool them when (seemingly nightly) he hosts town halls for Trump. But at least now people may begin to develop a more defined picture of what Hannity is. In the way of all things that come into Trump’s biome, Hannity is merely being hastened to the natural endpoint of his evolution.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.

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