This article is part of Watching Fox, a Slate series about Fox News.
Sean Hannity is a choleric far-right hack who has spent nearly every weeknight of the past three years stumping hard for Donald Trump on Fox News. Night after night, segment after segment, Hannity has woven a fabric of omissions and misrepresentations designed to give cover to Trump’s character and presidency. Instead, he has tried to transfer all the president’s sins onto the Democratic Party, whose members he routinely derides as immoral liars who are working to bring America down from the inside. I am not exaggerating here; Hannity has literally told his audiences that “all Democrats are lying to you.” For his efforts on behalf of the president he has been rewarded with high ratings and a direct line to Trump. They’re now phone buddies.
So it should have surprised no one when, on Monday night, Hannity appeared onstage as a featured speaker at a Trump campaign rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Though Hannity had come to Missouri under the pretense of covering the rally for Fox News, he did not demur when Trump asked him to say a few words to the crowd. After maligning the reporters in the rear of the auditorium as “fake news,” Hannity went on to fulsomely praise the president, who was standing a few feet to his right. “The one thing that has defined your presidency more than anything else: Promises made, promises kept,” said Hannity at the rally, speaking from behind a rostrum bedecked with the presidential seal. (Hannity’s colleague Jeanine Pirro, perhaps the one Fox host with even less journalistic credibility than Hannity, also spoke at the rally.)
In so doing, many livid Fox News staffers later told CNN Business, Hannity crossed a line. An opinion journalist like Hannity can have a preferred candidate, and can make that preferred candidate known, for sure, but volunteering for campaigns and speaking at political rallies is a clear violation of journalistic ethics. Most journalists would never, ever think of doing so, because they know that directly advocating for a political candidate can serve to damage not just the individual journalist’s credibility but the credibility of the news organization for which the journalist works. Hannity’s colleagues are pissed in part because his decision to speak at Trump’s rally will make it harder for the rest of them to do their jobs.
At Fox News, there is an internal split between the news division and the opinion division. The members of the news division are there to do journalism; the opinion staffers are there to get ratings and help elect Republicans. The news-division staffers get upset when their opinion-side counterparts undermine their work. But the truth is that Hannity undermines his colleagues every single weeknight—and the only difference on Monday was the venue. A typical Hannity episode is 30 percent conspiratorial rantings, 30 percent hypocrisy policing, 30 percent unabashed Trump-stumping, and 10 percent Sebastian Gorka. In an hour’s worth of bluster, Hannity can undo a day’s worth of work by his colleagues. Though he sits at a news desk like a journalist, shuffles papers like a journalist, and works for a network that has “News” in its name, Hannity is not a journalist in the slightest—for years he even said so, until he changed his mind. He is a partisan shill cosplaying as a newscaster, and no one paying attention could seriously think otherwise.
Hannity’s upset colleagues know this, and they’re clearly using the Trump rally incident as an excuse to vent some of the steam that has been building for years. “I’m aghast, as are a number of other people,” an anonymous Fox staffer told CNN Business. “People throughout the company think a new line was crossed,” said another. The line in question is the one that separates journalism from political advocacy, commentary from sycophancy, and real news from fake news. I completely understand why Hannity’s colleagues are upset, but I really doubt any of them are surprised. Sean Hannity and many of his fellow Fox opinion hosts crossed that line a long time ago.