In September 2016, Fox News publicly chastised Sean Hannity for getting too close to Donald Trump. “We were not aware of Sean Hannity participating in a promotional video,” a network spokesperson said after being informed that the conservative host had endorsed Trump in a campaign ad, “and he will not be doing anything along these lines for the remainder of the election season.” Some questioned whether Hannity might face disciplinary action for committing what would be a damning ethics breach at any other media outlet, and wondered where his truly loyalties lay. “Who Does Sean Hannity Even Work for Now: Fox News or Donald Trump?” asked The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng.
Two years later, that question has been answered: Both, because it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. That’s the takeaway from Hannity’s appearance tonight as a “special guest” for Trump’s final campaign rally before the midterms.
Trump’s ascension to the presidency triggered a merger with the right-wing network. Fox is now functionally a propaganda arm of his administration, despite quibbles to the contrary from its executives.
And Hannity, on the one hand a Trump friend and adviser, on the other the network’s biggest name, is the keystone of that alliance, an untouchable star in Fox’s firmament.
That status was on display when the Trump campaign announced yesterday that Hannity would be appearing at Monday night’s rally, along with conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. The pair, according to the campaign’s press release, “are longtime friends of President Trump” and “strong advocates for the President’s America First agenda.”
This is a bit too on the nose for Fox, which has responded by telling reporters that Hannity will be attending the rally to interview Trump, not to campaign for him. But of course, this is a distinction without a difference -- Hannity’s Trump “interviews,” like the rest of his program, are indistinguishable from White House promotional material.
That’s what we should expect to see tonight -- a mutually beneficial performance in which Trump gets access to Fox’s Trump-loving audience and Hannity enjoys the reflected glory of being a trusted White House confederate.
Hannity will serve up softballs, leading the president through his talking points, bolstering his denunciations of his enemies, and helping him fearmonger about immigrants. The crowd will cheer Trump and boo his enemies on cue.
Under those circumstances, it’s difficult to imagine the president floundering. And indeed, hours before it begins, Fox is already promoting Trump’s “powerful interview”:
Trump’s campaign couldn’t have put it better itself.