For those of us who think of Sean Hannity as a friendly, neighborhood demagogue, it’s been a sad and confusing day. Lawyers for Donald Trump’s personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, were forced to reveal the name of Cohen’s third, previously unknown client on Monday, and it turned out to be none other than the Fox News host. What this says—and what it will ultimately reveal—about Hannity’s personal life remains to be seen—and mocked. But in the meantime, it’s worth examining Hannity’s fall from gracelessness.
Longtime Fox watchers (at least those of us who watch ironically), as well as those who enjoy engaging in Kremlinology around the network, are no doubt giddy today, but this wasn’t exactly predictable. For many years, Hannity was known as the “nice” alternative to Bill O’Reilly. Sure, Hannity was a cheap bigot who made millions by exploiting the racial resentment and stupidity of his audience; but he was also, by all accounts, a decent(ish) guy. While sex scandals brought down Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, and while both men were known for treating people around them like dirt, Hannity had a certain folksy charm that was known to arise whenever the camera turned off. Guests were apparently treated well; shouting was kept to a minimum. If you stopped him on the street, I was once told, he didn’t care if you were a radical anarchist, and was always happy to take a photo.
But the last couple of years have been gruesome. There was a sexual harassment allegation. And his Twitter persona has gone from silly to borderline unbalanced, much like the persona of his political hero. We don’t know exactly what Cohen did for Hannity, but given that his other two clients are the president and the disgraced Republican bigwig Elliott Broidy, it’s unlikely to have been offering advice on anniversary gifts for the missus. (Hannity noted on his radio show that his ties to Cohen had become known, but did not directly address the matter; he told the Wall Street Journal, “We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael.”)
Meanwhile, of course, Hannity has not only become increasingly fanatical in his defense of Trump, but also particularly deranged in his coverage of the FBI’s investigations of various aspects of Trump world. And yet since last week’s raid on Cohen’s office, Hannity has used his public platform to attack the investigation of a man who was his own attorney, and tried to keep the relationship a secret. I had always assumed that the reasons for Hannity’s behavior concerned the fact that he was merely a soulless hack bereft of dignity and integrity, but perhaps his motivations were more … earthy.
Update, April 17: Sean Hannity released the following statement:
Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third party.