Study: How Sean Hannity is trying to discredit Mueller and the Russia probe

Study: How Sean Hannity is trying to discredit Mueller and the Russia probe

Echoing Trump and his supporters, Hannity and his guests made hundreds of statements about Mueller's supposed "conflicts of interests"

Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & GRACE BENNETT

Fox News’ Sean Hannity has used his prime-time TV show as a platform to try to discredit both the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, leading the investigation. For months, Hannity and his guests have called for Mueller to resign and brought up bogus “conflicts of interest” in an apparent attempt to undermine the “witch hunt” and save face with one of Hannity’s biggest fans, President Donald Trump.

A Media Matters analysis found that since the beginning of the investigation in May, Hannity and his guests have repeatedly called for Mueller to recuse himself or be fired from the probe and brought up phony “conflicts of interest” in attempts to discredit him. Hannity has also repeated several other canards in an attempt to dismiss the investigation, often hyping them when the ongoing probe results in the release of damaging reports. In this study:

Hannity has used his Fox show to call for Mueller to resign or recuse himself -- or for him to be fired -- 40 times

Hannity has called for either Mueller to remove himself or for his firing 40 times. Since Mueller took up the investigation on May 17, Hannity has called for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation -- or for him to be forcibly removed --- 40 times on his Fox News program.

Fox’s Gregg Jarrett has made 11 comments calling for Mueller’s firing or for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation. Gregg Jarrett, Fox legal analyst and ardent Trump defender -- especially on matters related to Russia -- made 11 statements on Hannity calling for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation or be fired.

Other guests have made similar statements, including noted right-wing misinformers. Other guests on Hannity have made similar calls for Mueller to either step away from the investigation of his own volition or for him to be fired:

  • Right-wing radio host Larry Elder, who claimed that Clinton, the FBI, and the Democratic National Committee are the only ones who were involved in Russian collusion, called for Mueller to leave the probe twice;

  • Former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who called the bogus “unmasking” controversy regarding former national security adviser Susan Rice one of the biggest scandals ever, made two statements saying Mueller should not be involved with the probe; and

  • Benghazi conspiracy theorist Victoria Toensing called for Mueller to leave the probe once.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Hannity and his guests made over 220 statements suggesting Mueller had a “conflict of interest”

Hannity brought up Mueller’s alleged “conflicts of interest” 183 times. Since May 17, Hannity has made 183 statements that Mueller allegedly has a “conflict of interest” that would prevent him from fairly conducting the probe.

Guests have made 45 statements asserting that Mueller has a “conflict of interest.” Apart from Hannity’s own statements, guests on Hannity, including Jarrett and other Trump defenders such as Newt Gingrich and Fox host Jeanine Pirro, have made a total of 45 statements alleging that Mueller has a “conflict of interest” surrounding the investigation.

Two of the most popular “conflicts of interest” are not really conflicts at all. Of the over 220 statements about “conflicts” that Hannity and his guests have hyped, two of the most popular ones (cited 167 times) are not actually conflicts at all:

  • On 92 occasions, Hannity and his guests -- including Gingrich and Fox contributor Ari Fleischer -- claimed that Mueller’s team was compromised or conflicted because it included several investigators who had previously donated to Democrats. As a group of political science professors wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “According to the Justice Department’s own rules, campaign donations do not create a conflict of interest.”

  • On 75 occasions, Hannity and his guests -- including Jarrett and Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow -- suggested that Mueller is conflicted because of his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey. But, as The Associated Press (AP) pointed out, Mueller and Comey are “not known to be especially close friends.” Additionally, “Legal experts say whatever connection they do have doesn't come close to meriting Mueller's removal as special counsel.”


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Hannity and his guests have used several other canards to attack Mueller and the investigation

Hannity and his guests used a variety of other talking points and canards to discredit the investigation and Mueller:

  • On 22 occasions, Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt”;

  • On 17 occasions, Hannity and his guests suggested that the investigation was a political attack on Trump, his administration, and potentially even the Trump family;

  • On 36 occasions, Hannity and his guests attacked the investigation and Mueller for having too much discretion; and

  • On 40 occasions, Hannity and his guests attempted to discredit Mueller by hyping his connections to the repeatedly debunked Uranium One “scandal.”


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Many of the show’s attacks came as reporting circulated that was damaging to Trump

After Comey spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Hannity and his guests ticked up their attacks on Mueller. In the week following Comey’s June 8 testimony to the Senate intelligence committee, Hannity and his guests increased their attacks on the investigation and Mueller, compared to the prior week:

  • Hannity and his guests called on Mueller to resign or called for his firing 20 times;

  • Hannity and his guests brought up Mueller’s supposed “conflicts of interest” 40 times; and

  • Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” four times.

After it was reported that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Hannity and his guests attacked Mueller’s “conflicts of interest.” In the week after The New York Times reported on July 8 that Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials had met with a Russian lawyer who had ties to the Kremlin in hopes of securing damaging information on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hannity complained about Mueller’s “conflicts of interest” 18 times.

Following report on Trump’s attempts to discredit the investigation, Hannity launched more attacks on Mueller. In the week following a July 20 New York Times report that claimed Trump and his aides were “looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused,” Hannity and his team ratcheted up their attacks on Mueller compared to the prior week:

  • Hannity and his guests brought up Mueller’s supposed “conflicts of interest” 36 times;

  • Hannity and his guests claimed 18 times that Mueller’s investigation was compromised because some of his investigators had donated to Democratic politicians;

  • Hannity and his guests discussed Mueller’s relationship with Comey in order to discredit the investigation seven times;

  • Hannity and his guests asserted seven times that the investigation was a politically motivated attack; and

  • Hannity and his guests called the investigation a “witch hunt” four times.

Following reports of Mueller’s use of a grand jury, Hannity and his guests attacked Mueller for his “conflicts” and wide discretion. A week after reports surfaced that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigation, Hannity and his guests made 21 statements attacking Mueller’s “conflicts of interest” and 20 statements asserting Mueller had too much discretion over the investigation.

After the news came out that multiple Trump campaign associates had been indicted, Hannity and his guests attempted to connect Mueller to Uranium One. Between October 30 -- when it was revealed that three Trump campaign aides had been indicted due to Mueller’s investigation -- and November 3, Hannity and his guests made 18 statements attempting to link Mueller to Uranium One and 14 statements complaining about Mueller’s alleged “conflicts of interest.”

Methodology

Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of Fox News’ Hannity between May 17 and November 3 mentioning the words “Mueller” or “special counsel.” Transcripts were then coded for statements -- which in this study we defined as a sentence -- which included the following:

  • calls for Mueller to resign or recuse himself or calls that he be fired, or suggestions that he never should have been appointed as special counsel;

  • suggestions that Mueller had a conflict of interest with the investigation;

  • mentions of Mueller’s investigators who had ties to Democratic lawmakers;

  • mentions of Mueller’s alleged friendship and relationship with Comey;

  • questions as to whether Mueller should resign, recuse himself, be fired, or have never been appointed as special counsel;

  • claims that the investigation is a political attack on Trump, his administration, or his family;

  • suggestions that the investigation is a “witch hunt”;

  • claims that Mueller had been given too wide a mandate over the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein;

  • claims that Mueller had expanded his investigation too far; and

  • attempts to link Mueller to Uranium One.

Transcripts were reviewed by two independent coders and differences were then reconciled.

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