The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection released a letter Tuesday, asking Fox News host Sean Hannity to speak with them voluntarily. Pointedly, the committee also released text messages showing Hannity’s communications with the White House, revealing that he was advising former President Donald Trump’s allies to pull back from the attempt to overturn the 2020 election while telling his audience something completely different.
But more than mere political duplicity, the texts demonstrate the extent to which Hannity has serially lied about what he actually does for a living.
Hannity has a long history of making statements such as, “I’m not a journalist, I’m a talk show host,” flipping back and forth on the “journalist” label as it conveniently suited him, while never being held to any kind of journalistic standards. But really, he is not even a talk show host: He is in fact a political operative involved in both election campaigns and even the inner workings of a Republican administration — who also happens to host some talk shows.
The Fox prime-time host participated in a Trump campaign video in 2016, campaigned with the sitting president at a rally in 2018, and even reportedly scripted a campaign ad in 2020. But more than that, his close association with Trump continued within the White House, as well. The Washington Post reported in 2018 that White House advisers referred to Hannity as Trump’s “shadow” chief of staff. The two would speak several times a week, with Hannity advising the sitting president on such matters as writing tweets, evaluating different White House aides, and even discussing policy areas such as immigration and health care.
As one presidential adviser said of Hannity, “He basically has a desk in the place.”
The newly released texts from the January 6 committee also show that Hannity’s own personal identity was tied to the White House and Trump campaign, through his knowledge of inside information — not publicly reported at the time — that Trump had plotted to install a new acting U.S. attorney general who would attempt to overturn the election result. The plan was stopped, however, after White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other top Justice Department officials threatened mass resignations in protest, which would have robbed such an effort of any shred of public credibility.
“We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office,” Hannity advised Trump’s official chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in a text message sent on December 31, 2020. “I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told.”
One thing Hannity did not do, however, was broadcast such a bombshell story to the general public. Media Matters President Angelo Carusone pointed out on Tuesday night’s edition of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes that this was “exactly the kind of information that a chief of staff would hold close to their chest, while a person in the media would absolutely put out there because it’s such a big and explosive story.”
Hannity again used the term “we” on January 10, 2021, when the “shadow” chief of staff texted Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on how Trump might extricate himself from the controversies surrounding the Capitol riot a few days earlier.
“Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days,” Hannity wrote. “He can’t mention the election again. Ever. I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I’m not sure what is left to do or say, and I don’t like not knowing if it’s truly understood. Ideas?”
(Three months later, Hannity was back to helping Trump directly promote lies about the 2020 election — so perhaps his definition of “ever” simply meant the next nine days to complete Trump’s term.)
Hannity also assisted the Trump White House in mounting propaganda operations to attack the president’s enemies. The Washington Post’s 2018 article on Hannity’s role as “shadow” chief of staff noted that Trump regularly complained to him about the Trump-Russia probe, while publicly promoting Hannity’s televised attacks against special counsel Robert Mueller.
On his Fox show, Hannity created an entire alternate reality about the investigation, seeking to get it shut down — appearing to be less of a talk show host in his own right, and more of a segment producer taking assignments from Trump.
Hannity also played a major part in the propaganda campaign that led to Trump’s first impeachment, by creating a fake scandal surrounding then-presidential candidate Joe Biden that led to Trump attempting to pressure the government of Ukraine into investigating his political opponent. Hannity also tried to downplay his own involvement, and denied allegations made under oath by three different witnesses that top officials at the State Department had contacted him about it. The Fox News “Brain Room” eventually wrote an internal memo on the “disinformation campaign” against Biden, and Hannity’s role in it — even citing statistics compiled by Media Matters.
As for Hannity’s turns at what he sometimes calls “advocacy journalism,” he quite infamously used his Fox show to champion conspiracy theories surrounding the 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, in an attempt to exonerate Russian hackers who hacked the DNC’s emails during the election. The network eventually retracted its story, which was based on discredited sources, and paid to settle a lawsuit from Rich’s parents.