Sean Hannity | Media Matters for America

Sean Hannity

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  • Sean Hannity’s effort to tie Robert Mueller to Whitey Bulger was bullshit

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and adviser to President Donald Trump who has turned his broadcast into a nightly attack on special counsel Robert Mueller, smeared the head of the Russia probe by referencing one of the darkest chapters in the FBI’s history on four consecutive broadcasts last week. “During Mueller’s time as a federal prosecutor in Boston, four -- four men wrongfully imprisoned for decades framed by an F.B.I. informant and notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger, all while Mueller’s office looked the other way,” Hannity said in one such report last Wednesday.

    That’s nonsense, according to Nancy Gertner, the retired federal judge who presided over the wrongful imprisonment trial of the four men and ordered the government to pay them and their families $101.7 million. As Gertner explains in a Wednesday op-ed in The New York Times, there is “no evidence” linking Mueller to the case -- and in fact, the case didn’t even involve Bulger, the infamous head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang.

    The swift unraveling of Hannity’s latest shoddy effort to discredit Mueller points to Fox’s inability or unwillingness to restrain its top-rated host as he barrels through journalistic ethics rules and ignores basic fact-checking standards.

    The Bulger story has its roots in an apparently coordinated right-wing effort that kicked off last month after Trump lashed out at Mueller for the first time by name on Twitter. Those tweets, which followed reports that the special counsel had issued a subpoena for Trump Organization records, triggered a series of reports from pro-Trump sources about Mueller’s record that reportedly bore “the hallmarks of professional opposition research.”

    In one such missive, headlined “Questions Still Surround Robert Mueller’s Boston Past,” Fox News contributor and Hannity fixture Sara Carter wrote on her personal website that the special counsel’s tenure as an assistant U.S. attorney and acting U.S. attorney in the 1980s “raised questions about his role in one of the FBI’s most controversial cases involving the FBI’s use of a confidential informant” -- whom she identified as Bulger -- “that led to the convictions of four innocent men, who were sentenced to death for murders they did not commit.”

    The story heavily drew on criticism from David Schoen, a civil rights and defense attorney who had previously linked Mueller to Bulger while appearing alongside Carter in a February Hannity segment. Carter’s report quoted Schoen claiming Mueller had been “neck deep” in the case.

    As Gertner explained in her Times op-ed, there’s no reason to believe any of this is true:

    Based on the voluminous evidence submitted in the trial, and having written a 105-page decision awarding them $101.8 million, I can say without equivocation that Mr. Mueller, who worked in the United States attorney’s office in Boston from 1982 to 1988, including a brief stint as the acting head of the office, had no involvement in that case. He was never even mentioned.

    The case wasn’t about Whitey Bulger but another mobster the F.B.I. was also protecting, the hit man Joseph Barboza, who lied when he testified that the four men had killed Edward Deegan, a low-level mobster, in 1965. Mr. Barboza was covering for the real killers, and the F.B.I. went along because of his importance as an informant.

    [...]

    Mr. Mueller is mentioned nowhere in my opinion; nor in the submissions of the plaintiffs’ lead trial counsel, Juliane Balliro; nor in “Black Mass,” the book about Mr. Bulger and the F.B.I. written by former reporters for The Boston Globe.

    Carter, a former reporter for the Sinclair Broadcast Group website Circa, regularly produces shoddy reports that appear to channel the talking points of Trump’s lawyers and Republican congressional investigators. But while she now writes only for her personal blog, she is a key player in the right wing’s anti-Mueller effort because she regularly appears on Hannity and other pro-Trump Fox programs to discuss her stories.

    In this case, Hannity hosted Carter and Schoen to discuss her “brand new report” on March 20, the night after she published it. Hannity termed Mueller’s purported connection to the wrongful imprisonment of the four men “one of the worst stains” on the special counsel’s record. He returned to the story on the next two editions of his show.

    Hannity did not mention the case again until last Monday, when he responded to the FBI’s raid of Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer (who, as would later be revealed, had also done legal work for Hannity himself).

    During his unhinged performance that night -- promoted by the president on Twitter -- Hannity mapped out the “Mueller crime family,” which he said included Bulger. He trumpeted Mueller’s purported malfeasance in the case that night and during his next three broadcasts.

    Meanwhile, other players in the pro-Trump media, including radio host Rush Limbaugh and Boston Herald columnist and radio host Howie Carr, picked up the story. These conservative commentators, desperate to damage Mueller’s credibility in order to forestall his investigation and set the stage for his firing, don’t much care if these stories are true.

    “When Mr. Hannity and others say Mr. Mueller was responsible for the continued imprisonment of those four men, they are simply wrong — unless they have information that I, Balliro, the House investigators and the ‘Black Mass’ authors did not and do not have,” Gertner concluded, referring to a book by Boston Globe reporters about Bulger and the FBI. “If they do, they should produce it. If they don’t, they should stop this campaign to discredit Mr. Mueller.”

    Hannity doesn’t have any additional information, but don’t count on him to stop running with the talking point now that it’s been debunked -- or issuing a correction, as would happen at any other network. At Fox, there are no rules for Hannity.

  • 83 times Hannity did not mention that his pro-Trump legal guests also had done legal work for him

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox host Sean Hannity has been under fire for not disclosing his legal relationship with President Donald Trump’s associate Michael Cohen. Hannity also has a legal relationship with Trump-linked attorneys Jay Sekulow, Victoria Toensing, and Joseph diGenova. Hannity hosted them (and Cohen) a total of 83 times on his Fox News show Hannity without disclosing the relationships.

    Michael Cohen

    Jay Sekulow

    Victoria Toensing

    Joseph diGenova

    Michael Cohen

    Trump connection: Michael Cohen is Donald Trump’s longtime associate, who has been described as Trump’s “personal lawyer and fixer.” He is currently under federal criminal investigation.

    Hannity connection: On April 16, Cohen’s lawyer disclosed in court that Hannity was Cohen’s client. Hannity has since attempted to downplay their relationship. Despite widespread criticism of Hannity’s actions, Fox News reportedly has no plans to hold Hannity accountable for his failure to disclose his relationship with Cohen.

    Cohen has appeared as a guest on the Fox show Hannity 15 times in the past five years. Additionally, Cohen was mentioned or discussed during Hannity’s show 11 times. Cohen has also been on Hannity’s radio show twice and has been discussed on Hannity’s radio show at least six times. While Hannity has said things such as “we’ve been friends a long time” and “we’re friends … I know you” to Cohen, giving some insight into their relationship, Media Matters found no instances on Hannity where the host disclosed his legal ties to the lawyer. Here are the times Cohen appeared or was discussed on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    4/16/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    4/12/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    4/11/18 - Fox News - Mentioned  Cohen

    4/10/18 - Fox News - Mentioned  Cohen

    4/9/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/11/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/9/18 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    4/28/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    4/3/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    1/18/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    1/12/17 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/11/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    1/10/17 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/5/17 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/19/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/4/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    4/18/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    4/8/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    3/4/16 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    1/4/16 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    10/5/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/24/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/10/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    8/4/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    7/28/15 - Fox News - Mentioned Cohen

    7/24/15 - Fox News - Hosted Cohen

    Jay Sekulow

    Trump connection: Jay Sekulow announced on June 9, 2017, that he was joining Trump’s legal team. He has been on the team since then and is currently the primary attorney for Trump in regard to the Russia probe.

    Hannity connection: In April 2017, after a far-right troll suggested that the CIA “targeted” Hannity for surveillance during the election “because of his perceived ties to Julian Assange,” Hannity claimed that he had hired lawyers Jay Sekulow and Joseph diGenova to investigate and pursue a civil action. Additionally, The Atlantic reported that an Oklahoma radio station received a cease-and-desist letter on May 25, 2017, after right-wing radio host Debbie Schlussel accused Hannity of sexual harassment, that was signed by Sekulow and Victoria Toensing, listing them as “Counsel for Sean Hannity.”

    Since Hannity announced that he hired Sekulow nearly a year ago, Sekulow has been a guest on Hannity’s Fox show 53 times. Sekulow has also appeared on Hannity's radio show at least 27 times in that period. Media Matters found only one occasion throughout Sekulow’s 53 appearances on Hannity’s television show in which the host mentioned he had legal ties to Sekulow. On May 23, 2017, two days before the Oklahoma radio station received a letter from Sekulow on Hannity’s behalf, Hannity stated, “Joining us with reaction, from the American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow, by the way, who's done legal work for me in the past.” Here are the times Sekulow appeared on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    3/8/18 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    2/2/18  - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    1/23/18 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    1/22/18 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    12/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    12/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    11/14/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    10/30/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    10/26/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    10/23/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    9/21/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    9/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    9/5/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/8/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/7/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/4/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    8/3/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/27/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/18/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/17/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/14/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/11/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    7/10/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/29/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/27/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/26/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/23/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/22/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/21/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/19/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/14/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/13/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    [Sekulow joined Trump legal team]

    6/9/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/8/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    6/7/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/30/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    [Radio station KFAQ received letter signed by Sekulow as “Counsel for Sean Hannity”]

    5/23/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow, “who's done legal work for me in the past”

    5/22/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/19/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/18/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/16/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/15/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/10/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/9/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/3/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    5/2/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    4/28/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    4/19/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    4/12/17 - Fox News - Hosted Sekulow

    Victoria Toensing

    Trump connection: Trump reportedly wanted to add Victoria Toensing and her husband diGenova to his legal team. Ultimately, neither of them did due to what Sekulow called “conflicts” that prevented them “from joining the president’s special counsel legal team.” He added: “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters.”  

    Hannity connection: Hannity has leaned on Toensing in the past to help push conspiracy theories about both Benghazi and Uranium One. Toensing represented the alleged FBI informant who made allegations about foul play by the Clintons in the Uranium One deal and who was frequently discussed on Hannity’s show. Additionally, Toensing was identified, along with Sekulow, as “Counsel for Sean Hannity” in a letter received by an Oklahoma radio station in March 2017 after right-wing radio host Debbie Schlussel accused Hannity of sexual harassment.

    Hannity has hosted Toensing on his show 11 times in the past two years. And Toensing has been discussed or mentioned on the show nine times. Hannity has previously alluded to Toensing being “one of the great attorneys” and a “friend for years,” and he has actually claimed on multiple occasions that he’d love to hire her. But a Media Matters review found no instances in which Hannity disclosed on his Fox News show that Toensing was or had been his attorney. Here are the times Toensing appeared, or was mentioned, on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    3/26/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    3/22/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    3/9/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    3/8/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    2/21/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    2/8/2018 - Fox News - Guest Mentioned Toensing

    2/7/2018 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    1/29/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    1/4/2018 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    12/4/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    11/28/2017 - Fox News - Guest Mentioned Toensing

    11/21/2017 - Fox News - Guest Mentioned Toensing

    11/20/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    11/13/2017 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    11/6/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/26/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/25/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/24/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    10/18/2017 - Fox News - Hosted Toensing

    5/5/2016 - Fox News - Mentioned Toensing

    Joseph diGenova

    Trump connection: Trump wanted to hire Joseph diGenova to his legal team after he reportedly watched diGenova’s Fox News appearances defending him and presenting the Russia probe “as a conspiracy against him.” But diGenova and his wife Toensing ultimately did not join his team because of unspecified “conflicts” related to their ability to join “the president’s special counsel legal team.” Sekulow added: “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters.”

    Hannity connection: In April 2017, after a far-right troll suggested that the CIA “targeted” Hannity for surveillance during the election “because of his perceived ties to Julian Assange,” the WikiLeaks founder, Hannity claimed that he had hired lawyers Sekulow and diGenova to investigate and pursue a civil action. Additionally, The Atlantic reported that Toensing’s signature in a May 25, 2017, cease-and-desist letter sent on behalf of Hannity to an Oklahoma radio station “sits above her name and that of her husband Joseph E. diGenova, the members of diGenova and Toensing LLP, who are identified as ‘Counsel for Sean Hannity.’”

    Since Hannity said he hired diGenova nearly a year ago, diGenova has been a guest on Hannity’s Fox News show five times. DiGenova was also discussed on Hannity’s show on one other occasion. Separately, diGenova has appeared on Hannity’s radio show at least seven times in that time period. In March of this year, while discussing diGenova and Toensing, Hannity stated on his show, “I’d hire them in a second.” But a Media Matters review of diGenova’s appearances on Hannity’s Fox News show found no instances in which Hannity disclosed that diGenova’s firm represented him. Here are the times diGenova appeared or was mentioned on Hannity’s Fox News show:

    4/16/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    4/11/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    4/4/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    3/22/18 - Fox News - Mentioned diGenova

    2/7/18 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    5/11/17 - Fox News - Hosted diGenova

    Nick Fernandez, Zach Pleat, Sanam Malik, Steve Morris, and Tyler Monroe contributed to this post.

  • The Fox News pardon pipeline

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plea to overturn his 2010 criminal conviction and 14-year prison sentence on charges related to political corruption, his wife Patti Blagojevich appealed to a higher authority: Fox News.

    “If you could speak to the president, what would you say?” Fox host Tucker Carlson asked at the top of a sympathetic Monday night interview with her. “What would be your pitch to pardoning your husband?” As she explained why she thought the former governor deserved clemency for charges that he tried to sell off President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, the caption "Will Trump intervene in Blagojevich case?" flashed across the screen.

    President Donald Trump himself, who spends hours each day consuming his favorite news network, may have been watching -- a spokesperson for Patti Blagojevich said she hopes he saw the segment. Even if he hasn’t personally seen it, the appeal may find favor with one of the network hosts or regulars whom Trump regularly consults.

    Appealing for presidential relief on Fox is a sound strategy, and one that more lawyers will likely attempt in the years to come. At this point in his presidency, all three of Trump’s pardons have had a Fox connection, and each avoided the standard, complex Justice Department procedures.

    With Trump largely ignoring the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the best path to clemency is getting the president’s attention. And no one has the president’s attention quite like the programs and staffers at Fox.

    Trump’s first pardon went to Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County sheriff notorious to most for the brutal, humiliating treatment undocumented immigrants suffered under his authority and his refusal to stop racially profiling the Latino community.

    But on Fox, Arpaio was a folk hero, the lawman who took undocumented immigration and the border seriously. The president likely had that image in mind when he issued the pardon with a statement praising Arpaio’s “life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”

    A Fox regular may have given Trump the idea in the first place. It was Gregg Jarrett, a Fox legal analyst and Trump sycophant, who broke the news that Trump was thinking about pardoning Arpaio, saying they discussed it at the president’s Bedminster, NJ, golf club. Jarrett, who clearly supported an Arpaio pardon, didn’t say who first raised the idea. For his part, Arpaio credits the work of pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for the pardon; Jones, in turn, has said Fox host Sean Hannity was involved.

    Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor who pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information, was the second recipient of a Trump pardon.

    Saucier’s lawyer specifically attributed the pardon to a Fox-centric strategy that included getting Saucier on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite program and one he frequently live-tweets.

    I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former White House aide, recently received the third pardon, which was widely perceived as a way for Trump to signal that pardons might be available to witnesses who don’t cooperate with the Russia probe.

    Here, too, Fox appears to have played a key role. Libby’s lawyer is Victoria Toensing, the Republican attorney who uses frequent Fox appearances to defend Trump from the Russia investigation and had been in talks earlier in the year to join the president’s legal team. She “declined to say what conversations she had with the White House about Libby in recent days and weeks” in a Washington Post interview after the pardon was announced.

    A president’s tenure typically includes a few controversial pardons that critics say were political. But under Trump, every single pardon has been of that sort, without the usual mix of ordinary citizens who served their time and appealed to the Justice Department.

    Criminal defendants and prisoners who lack resources and who don’t count professional political operatives among their friends -- like the nonviolent drug offenders who received pardons from President Barack Obama -- may be out of luck.

    Attorneys and applicants will likely draw lessons from the unusual way Trump has wielded the pardon power.

    Pardon seekers are more likely to be successful if they have some sort of connection to conservative politics, either as a politician like Arpaio, a cause célèbre like Saucier, or an operative like Libby.

    Trump has loudly proclaimed himself the victim of a political prosecution, and he seems more likely to respond to people making the same case.

    Hiring a lawyer with connections to the president has always been good advice. But under this administration, those connections may well be driven by the lawyer’s willingness and ability to shill for the president on television.

    And, of course, get on Fox if you can, and have your spouse or lawyer do it if you can’t. Thanks to the president’s obsession with the network’s programming, he may be watching.

    Even if Trump doesn’t see your segment, someone who has the president’s ear may.

    “On a show just before we were talking about the former governor of Illinois,” the lawyer Alan Dershowitz said on Hannity Monday, just minutes after Patti Blagojevich’s interview. “Gets 14 years in prison for what people do every single day in state legislatures all over the country, and yet we prosecute him and throw the book at him.”

    Last week, Dershowitz had dinner at the White House with Trump, a reward for making the president’s case on television. Next time he has that opportunity, perhaps he’ll suggest that the president fix a miscarriage of justice and offer Rod Blagojevich a pardon.

    The Fox pardon pipeline will be back in action.

    UPDATE: In addition to the three Trump pardons, the sole person to receive a Trump commutation also has a Fox tie.

    On December 20, Trump granted clemency to Sholom Rubashkin and ordered his release. Rubashkin had so far served eight years of his 27-year sentence on dozens of charges of financial fraud. Observers were puzzled by Trump’s decision to free him, noting that leniency for the owner of a meatpacking plant that had been the target of a huge immigration raid was at odds with Trump’s generally harsh stance on undocumented immigration.

    Rubashkin had one advantage, though -- his lawyer was Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz had been working on the case for five years and told The New York Times that he had personally asked Trump to consider commutation.

    According to Forward, Dershowitz brought up Rubashkin during a meeting with the president to discuss the Middle East peace process in fall 2017. August of that year saw the publication of Dershowitz’s latest book, which argues that the Russia probe is the result of the “criminalization of political differences” and highlights his Fox & Friends appearances in publicity materials. He regularly made the same arguments on Fox in the months and weeks leading up to the pardon.

    On December 4, a few weeks before Trump issued the commutation, the president flagged one such Dershowitz appearance on his Twitter account:

  • Fox News on Hannity’s Cohen conflict: We don’t care

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    If anything good came from Monday’s revelation that Sean Hannity had concealed a massive conflict of interest from Fox News’ viewers, it was that his conduct was so egregious, and his network’s lack of interest in journalistic ethics so obvious, that it may have cleared things up for any mainstream reporter who still considers Fox a real news outlet.

    As part of Hannity’s campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Donald Trump, the Fox host last week repeatedly denounced the FBI’s raid of the office of Trump personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen on the network’s airwaves. Only yesterday did the public learn of a secret tie between Hannity and Cohen -- Hannity had been Cohen’s legal client.

    For many, including myself, this was simply confirmation of the obvious: Fox has no rules for the likes of Hannity. The network prioritizes keeping its top ratings star happy over its responsibility to the public.

    But for others, this was an opportunity for the network to prove itself:

    Fox has now released a statement on the issue that demonstrates just “what kind of org” the network is:

    The statement’s message is simple: Fox doesn’t care about ethics.

    The network isn’t interested in whether Hannity has a conflict of interest. It will take Hannity’s claims at face value without delving into his relationship with Cohen.

    Fox’s executives don’t feel that they owe it to their audience to apologize.

    There’s no indication that the host will be restricted from discussing Cohen going forward.

    There’s no signal that the network believes Hannity did anything wrong. He certainly won’t be disciplined.

    There’s not even a name attached to the statement taking responsibility for the comments.

    Fox has, through word and deed, consistently shown that the network doesn’t operate like a normal news organization. 

    Journalists should pay attention.

  • The right-wing media figures defending Sean Hannity’s relationship with Michael Cohen

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing media figures are jumping to defend Fox News host Sean Hannity after it was revealed that Hannity has been a client of longtime lawyer to President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen. Hannity’s defenders are suggesting that he has “been victimized” by the revelation of his name, claiming that he “wasn’t engaging” Cohen “as a lawyer,” and even arguing that Hannity possibly “did not know he was a client of Michael Cohen."

  • Hannity’s disclosure hypocrisy

    When ABC News was caught in a disclosure scandal, Hannity went nuts

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Media Matters

    Sean Hannity is the perfectly crystallized representation of Trump-era punditry. Much like the president he slavishly devotes his entire programming schedule to deifying, Hannity is aggressively dishonest, unencumbered by anything remotely resembling a principle, and eager to rigorously impose harsh standards of conduct on his enemies that he would never dream of applying to his allies or himself. And, as with Trump, Hannity thrives despite his toxic, corrupt behavior because he operates within the poisonous world of conservative politics where the myopic pursuit of power and wealth are the only things that matter.

    That brings us to yesterday’s revelation that Hannity was the mystery client of Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who is currently under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Hannity never disclosed his relationship with Cohen, even as he railed against the FBI raids on Cohen’s home and office last week, calling them a declaration of “legal war on the president” and part of an “overreaching witch hunt.”

    This lack of disclosure comes nowhere close to being the worst abuse Hannity has committed, but it does help illustrate how Hannity exploits his utter lack of accountability and holds himself to a far laxer standard of conduct than he holds other media figures to.

    For example, in May 2015, the conservative Washington Free Beacon reported that ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos had donated money to the Clinton Foundation and “had not previously disclosed it to ABC viewers, despite taking part in on-air discussions about the Clinton Foundation and its controversial relationship with foreign donors.” ABC News and Stephanopoulos recognized this as a breach of journalistic ethics (made all the more thorny by Stephanopoulos’ previous work as a Clinton campaign and White House staffer) and it was covered as such by the media. Stephanopoulos made a public apology to viewers, and the network acknowledged that he had broken rules about charitable giving by “failing to disclose it when covering the recent reports about the foundation.”

    Hannity went wild with this story. “A major scandal developing tonight surrounding ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos who was forced to apologize earlier today over a huge conflict of interest after it was revealed that he donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation from 2012 to 2014,” Hannity crowed at the opening of his May 14, 2015, show. After quoting the “embattled anchor’s” apology for failing to disclose his donations on air, Hannity responded with a snide: “Gee, George, you think?”

    Hannity interviewed the Free Beacon reporter who broke the story, kicking off his questioning by calling Stephanopoulos “such a hack” and asking: “How could he possibly have not known that he should reveal this? Do you believe that?” Hannity questioned whether ABC News “really did an investigation” and suggested that “George Stephanopoulos coordinated perhaps with the Clinton campaign here.”

    “He didn't think to disclose this? I don't buy it for one minute!” Hannity continued later in the program. “I think he thought he'd get away with it and didn't disclose it. And I think ABC News is going to take a credibility hit,” he said, adding: “This goes to the credibility of a news organization.” Hannity closed the show by asking viewers: “Should George Stephanopoulos be punished by ABC News, and if so, what should that punishment be?”

    Now let’s contrast the mocking attacks on Stephanopoulos’ lack of disclosure (and the attendant claims that the credibility of Stephanopoulos’ employer rested on how harshly it treated him) with Hannity’s self-serving and determinedly opaque explanation for why he neglected to disclose his own relationship with Michael Cohen.

    “For hours and hours, the media has been absolutely apoplectic and hyperventilating over some breaking news that I was listed in court today as a client for longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen,” Hannity said at the beginning of his April 16 show, offering himself as the wrongly maligned victim. When his own guest, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, lightly chided Hannity for not disclosing his ties to Cohen “when you talked about him on this show,” Hannity refused to hear it. “If you understand the nature of it, professor -- I’m going to deal with this later in the show,” he shot back. “I have the right to privacy. … It was such a minor relationship.”

    When he finally did roll around to addressing the Cohen situation (at the end of the program) Hannity was by turns defensive and evasive, and he offered as little information as he possibly could. After once again slapping the media for its “wild speculation” and for going “absolutely insane” and providing “wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage of yours truly,” Hannity claimed that he’d never paid Cohen and had only “occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen … about legal questions I had, or I was looking for input and perspective.” Despite his earlier claim that he had in fact paid Cohen because he “definitely wanted attorney-client privilege,” Hannity insisted that “my discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”

    That was it: a vague excuse that offered no concrete details as to the extent of their relationship (Hannity said he sought Cohen’s advice on real estate-related matters) packaged in a wounded attack on the media for even covering it. Hannity, meanwhile, is as deeply immersed in Trump’s world as one can be without actually being a Trump employee and/or family member, but all those unseemly (and unethical) ties to the president apparently have no significance to this supposed non-story.

    Fox News (which, by Hannity’s standard, has its credibility on the line) has been silent on the Cohen issue, and there’s little reason to believe it will take any action against Hannity given that the network has already let him get away with stoking insane murder conspiracy theories. Network executives seem to be perfectly content to let Hannity tell whatever story he wants, and if it turns out later on that he lied, they won’t care about that either. Hannity, like Trump, thrives on lies, flagrant hypocrisy, corruption, and the promise of never facing serious consequences for anything he does.

  • There are no rules for Sean Hannity at Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “It seems that there’s no limit at all into the fishing expedition that [special counsel Robert] Mueller is now engaged in,” Sean Hannity claimed last Monday, after FBI investigators raided the home, office, and hotel room of Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer. “And if he has access to everything that his personal attorney has, I can only imagine where that’s going to lead.”

    Seven days later, it led to Hannity himself, as an attorney for Cohen revealed that the Fox News host was Cohen’s mystery legal client, whose identity the lawyer had tried to keep concealed.

    That association raises many questions, not least of which is how Fox could have allowed Hannity to vigorously defend Cohen on the network’s airwaves without disclosing that he had been Cohen’s client.

    That is a serious breach of journalistic ethics that, in any normal newsroom, would lead to a suspension or even firing. “Going to find out what kind of org Fox is today,” NBC News’ Chuck Todd tweeted this morning. “No serious news org would allow someone this conflicted to cover this story.”

    It’s unclear what we could learn from Fox today that we didn’t already know several years ago.

    The rules are different at Fox News -- indeed, it often appears that there are no rules at all governing the behavior of the network’s top talent. This is, after all, a network that was happy for years to pay off employees who reported host Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment in order to keep them quiet. Because Fox does not hold its stars to the most basic codes of ethical behavior, let alone the standard principles of journalistic conduct, critics hoping for accountability have little recourse but to appeal directly to the network’s advertisers.

    The Hannity-Cohen story is a classic case study. Reporters and experts agree that Hannity’s actions are a drastic violation of journalistic norms that demand a severe response. But network executives aren’t answering questions about whether they were aware of Hannity’s conflict of interest or whether he will be subject to any disciplinary action. Fox’s hosts have filled that void: Hannity used last night’s program to say that he hadn’t done anything wrong. And his Fox colleagues have largely rallied behind him.

    None of this is new. Hannity’s unwillingness to hew to journalistic ethics conventions has been causing the network problems for years.

    At times, Fox has tried to rein him in: Hannity’s plan to broadcast from a tea party fundraiser was canceled, and after Hannity appeared in an ad for Trump’s presidential campaign, a network spokesperson said it would not happen again. But Fox executives never formally reprimanded Hannity for his actions, much less suspended him.

    The last two years have only strengthened Hannity’s hand within the network. Trump’s election gave him direct access to the president of the United States. With O’Reilly gone, Hannity has the network’s most popular show and is the only remaining prime-time link to Fox’s founding. And the firings of Fox founder Roger Ailes, who hired Hannity, and Bill Shine, who was Hannity’s producer before climbing the network’s corporate ladder, removed two Fox executives to whom Hannity might have listened.

    Meanwhile, increasing competition from conservative cable network Newsmax and Sinclair Broadcast Group means that Hannity would have options if he and Fox were to cut ties.

    As a largely unrestrained power at Fox who has flipped back and forth on the question of whether he is a journalist who must abide by basic ethics rules, Hannity has been getting into trouble. The network’s response has been damage control, alternatively covering for him or even encouraging his actions.

    Last May, Hannity spent several programs championing the conspiracy theory that a Democratic National Committee staffer had been murdered for leaking emails to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. But as advertisers fled his program, Fox stood behind Hannity. The network subsequently announced an internal investigation into its reporting on the story, but that review has yet to be made public, suggesting that the probe was a public relations tactic.

    In the fall, Hannity hosted O’Reilly for a series of interviews in which the former host attacked the women who reported him for sexual harassment. Fox responded by heavily promoting O’Reilly’s appearance on Hannity’s Fox program.

    And the network appears blissfully unconcerned about the biggest ongoing Hannity ethical disaster of all: his simultaneous status as a personal adviser to Trump and the host of a nightly program on which he worships the president and condemns his perceived foes.

    In fact, Fox has rewarded Hannity for his actions, apparently hiring several conservative commentators specifically to regularly appear on Hannity’s program and those of a small circle of Hannity’s fellow travelers.

    The network’s decision to prioritize Hannity over maintaining basic standards hasn’t sat well with the Fox employees who consider themselves serious journalists instead of Trump propagandists. Fox staffers have privately told reporters at other outlets that they are embarrassed and disgusted by Hannity’s antics. Fox’s Shep Smith has even publicly feuded with Hannity; he also has repeatedly run segments that appear to directly rebut arguments made on Hannity’s program.

    “They don’t really have rules on the opinion side,” Smith told Time magazine last month. “They can say whatever they want.” Fox’s handling of Hannity’s Cohen conflict of interest demonstrates that they can apparently do whatever they want as well.

    UPDATE: A Fox News statement on Hannity claims that the network was unaware of Hannity's conflict of interest, and now that they know, they don't particularly care.