Fox's One-Man Clean-Up Crew: A History Of “Hannitization”

In advance of Sarah Palin's interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Slate's David Weigel proposed a new definition to the neologism “Hannitize”: “to clean up a messy situation with a softball interview.” Indeed, Hannity has become the go-to interviewer for right-wing figures following scandal or controversy.

Sarah Palin

George W. Bush

Meg Whitman

Christine O'Donnell

Rand Paul

Michael Steele

James O'Keefe

Weigel: “Palin To Be Hannitized”

Weigel: “Second Definition Of 'Hannitize': To Clean Up A Messy Situation With A Softball Interview, Typically ... [With] Sean Hannity.” In a January 13 post on his blog following Palin's announcement of her upcoming interview with Hannity, Weigel wrote that the news called for “a second definition of [the neologism] Hannitization.” From the post:

“Hannitize” is not my neologism. It's what listeners call it when the radio host is given a chance to speak to and convert someone -- he has been Hannitized.

This news begs a second definition of Hannitization:

Sarah Palin is scheduled to sit for her first extended interview since the Tuscon shooting rampage on Monday night, on the Fox News Channel.

An executive at Fox News Channel said that Ms. Palin would appear on the program of the conservative host Sean Hannity, and that the interview was scheduled to run through several commercial breaks.

Through the commercial breaks! It's as important (or disturbing) as The Day After! Also, a special TV interview/event four days after a book-closing video statement -- doesn't this imply that the statement was not a media-tweaking home run, and actually sort of a disaster?

Anyway, the second definition of “Hannitize”: (v) To clean up a messy situation with a softball interview, typically one conducted by Sean Hannity. [Slate, 1/13/11]

Hannity Hosts Palin To Defend Herself And Use Of The Phrase “Blood Libel”

Hannity Interviews Palin After Her Controversial Use Of “Blood Libel” Following Tucson Shootings. On January 17, Palin granted Hannity her first interview since the Tucson shooting. Much of the interview referred to Palin's January 12 Facebook video, in which she addressed unfounded accusations that alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner was politically motivated and accused the media of manufacturing a “blood libel” against her. In his interview, Hannity repeatedly asked questions suggesting he felt Palin was treated unfairly following the shooting, blamed the mainstream media for this treatment, and invited her to defend herself. At one point, Hannity said to Palin, “I don't think a lot of people on the left have been very civil toward you,” and went on to claim, “I really don't hear you [Palin] complaining a lot about it.”

From the interview:

HANNITY: A lot of these initial stories, Governor, had to do with this map that your PAC had put up during the last campaign, and the fact that Congresswoman Giffords was one of the people on, quote, “the target list,” in the crosshairs that were there. What could you tell us about this map? And I'll get into more questions after that.

PALIN: Well, that map wasn't an original graphic. In fact, for many, many years, maps in political races have been used to target certain districts ... And the graphic that we used was crosshairs targeting the different districts. And, again, that's not original. In fact, Democrats have been using it for years. In fact, Bob Beckel, I believe that he had bragged on your show, Sean, that he is the one who invented these crosshairs or these targets ...

HANNITY: Did you or your PAC have this taken off the Web site immediately after the shooting? Because that's been bantered about.

PALIN: You know, I believe that someone in the PAC, in fact, the contract graphic artist, did take it down. And I don't think that that was inappropriate. If it was going to cause much heartburn and even more controversy, I didn't have a problem with it being taken down.

But screenshots, of course, have been taken of that. And I don't know if the Democrats have taken down theirs in these ensuing days, but, again, knowing that that had absolutely nothing to do with an apolitical or perhaps even left-leaning criminal who killed these innocents and injured so many, I didn't have a problem with it being taken down if, in fact, it actually has been taken down.

HANNITY: Governor, you mentioned earlier the DLC has used this. Bob Beckel did say this; Pat Caddell, a Democrat, over the years has said this -- this is a DLC map we are looking at in the screen here, a bulls eye map targeting districts, and it says it right there, targeting strategy. All these war analogies. Clintons had a war room. It's very common in politics. Why do you think you were singled out and the left singled you out in this, Governor?


HANNITY: ...Governor, when -- you specifically said when these war terms are used, this is not a call for violence. All of that was ignored by the media.

Does that frustrate you more?

PALIN: Well, I have repeated over and over my condemnation of violence and specifically trying to explain that when we talk about being up in arms, we're talking about getting to the voting booth in -- in a democracy within our republic. We want to make sure that we're exercising our right to vote. That is our arms. [Fox News' Hannity, 1/17/11, transcript via Nexis]

Later, Hannity invited Palin to defend her use of the term “blood libel” in the January 12 Facebook video:

HANNITY: Governor, when you finally released your video, not surprising, more controversy involving you. I want to give you a chance to respond to this. One was the timing of the release of the video, which was I believe the day before the memorial. And the second one was the term -- “but especially within hours of the tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.” And, you know, some of your critics saying, you didn't know the historical significance. Other people criticized you for that phrase. But I want you to address the timing and that phrase.

PALIN: I don't know how the heck they would know if whether I did or didn't know the term “blood libel,” nobody has ever asked me. And “blood libel” obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands. And in this case that's exactly what was going on. And yes, the historical knowledge that people have of the term blood libel, it goes back to the Jews who were falsely accused back in medieval European times of using the blood of children. And you know, the criticism of even the timing of this statement is being used as another diversion, because I believe that there are many on the left, many critics, who don't want, for instance, Congress, to buckle down, get back to work.


HANNITY: What did you think of the criticism of those, though, in the Jewish community about the use of that term? I know others came to your defense, but what did you think about the critics?

PALIN: I think the critics, again, were using anything that they could gather out of that statement. And I'm, you know, you can -- you can spin up anything out of anybody's statements that are released and use them against the person who is making the statement. But, no, I appreciated those who understood what it is that I meant, that a group of people being falsely accused of having blood on their hands, that is what blood libel means. And just two days before I released my statement, an op-ed in the “Wall Street Journal” had that term in its title and that term has been used for eons, Sean.


PALIN: So, again, it was part of that double standard thing and goes back to if it weren't for those double standards, what standards would they have, I suppose. [Hannity, 1/17/11]

Hannity Routinely Hosts Right-Wing Figures For Softball Interviews Following Controversy

Hannity Led Bush's Rehabilitation Tour. Hannity was one of the first media figures to interview former president George W. Bush following the November 9 release of his book, Decision Points. The November 9 edition of Hannity featured a pre-taped interview Hannity conducted with Bush while driving around the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas. During the interview, Hannity allowed Bush to twist the facts behind controversial decisions he made during his presidency, such as the decision to go to war in Iraq. After bringing up weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), Hannity asked Bush if it was "[f]rustrating for you" that there was an “absence of WMD stockpiles.” From the interview:

HANNITY: You talked a little about WMD. When Saddam didn't use WMD on our troops, I was relieved. You talk about the absence of WMD stockpiles. Frustrating for you?

BUSH: Unbelievably frustrating. Of course, it was frustrating. Everybody thought he had WMD, everybody being every intelligence service, everybody in the administration.

HANNITY: A lot of Democrats said it.

BUSH: Yes, a lot of members of Congress. [Hannity, 11/9/10, via Nexis]

In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, there was disagreement within the intelligence community during the early 2000s about Saddam's possible weapons programs. [Media Matters, 11/15/10]

Hannity also asked Bush many softball questions during the interview, observing that Bush “seem[ed] even more at peace now” and later asking him, "[Do y]ou remember what you felt" when you realized “the purpose of [your] presidency” was "[t]o protect our people, defend freedom?" [Media Matters, 11/15/10]

Hannity Praised Whitman As Doing “Complete And Due Diligence” Following News That She Employed An Undocumented Immigrant. On October 1, Hannity hosted California GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman for an interview about allegations that she knowingly employed an undocumented immigrant. Hannity praised Whitman's conduct with regard to the hiring of the housekeeper, saying, “It seems to me you did complete and due diligence.” From the interview:

HANNITY: All right. It -- it gets complicated. But I think this is really important, because you hired this woman back in 2000. You used an employment agency. Correct?

WHITMAN: Correct. We did use an employment agency and we asked specifically for someone that they knew was documented.

HANNITY: OK. You specifically -- and they provided you with documentation. They provided you --

WHITMAN: Correct.

HANNITY: -- with a Social Security number, right? And -

WHITMAN: We actually had a copy of the Social Security card, a copy of the driver's license and an I-9 form filled out by Nicky Diaz that says that the employee signed saying under the penalty of perjury I - I assert that I am legal to work in this country.

HANNITY: Now, all right. So it seems to me you did complete and due diligence. All right.

So now with Gloria Allred moves forward and she - she goes to this letter that I guess you and your husband received from the Social Security Administration, correct?

WHITMAN: Yes. Neither of us remembered receiving this. But, then it showed up. And you are exactly right in your intro it said nothing about immigration status. It said, you know, we're looking into W-2. And what it read like was a clerical form and we were worried that Nicky wasn't getting - going to get credit for her Social Security contributions or a tax refund if she was due it. [Hannity, 10/1/10]

Hannity Conducts Softball Interview With O'Donnell Following Video In Which She Admitted To Once “Dabbl[ing] In Witchcraft.” On the September 21, 2010, edition of Hannity, Hannity interviewed former GOP senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell. Hannity gave O'Donnell the opportunity to defend herself from allegations of past tax troubles and from a video of her claiming that she “had dabbled into witchcraft.” From the interview:

HANNITY: A lot has happened. Let's start with Mike Castle, your opponent ... It seems to be -- if you look at Lisa Murkowski, and a lot of other races, Charlie Crist, as an example, I'm almost calling it the sore loser syndrome. The -- what is your take?


HANNITY: [Bill Maher] comes up with this tape, it was in 1999 you made an appearance.


HANNITY: Talking, I guess, about a boyfriend when you were a teenager?

O'DONNELL: Right. Right. Right.

HANNITY: OK. Saying that you had dabbled into witchcraft. Why don't you explain for people that may be -- what was that about?


HANNITY: Well, it seems a lot of issues and one of the things I've noticed is that there is, in this campaign, I don't hear any Democrats running on health care.

O'DONNELL: That's right.

HANNITY: Running on the stimulus. Their support for Obama, Reid and Pelosi. So what are we to make of the attacks against you?


HANNITY: All right. First of all, your reaction [to a campaign ad against O'Donnell]? We'll get to the specifics.

O'DONNELL: It's a shame because again, you know, they're taking a play from my opponent's book that don't go after her on the issues because she's right on the issue. But specifically, that comment on the taxes. There is no truth in that. I've paid my taxes. They are trying to go after an erroneous tax lien that the IRS admitted was a computer error. [Hannity, via Nexis, 1/18/11]

Hannity Hosts GOP Candidate Rand Paul To Defend Controversial Statements On Civil Rights Act. On his June 10 program, Hannity hosted GOP senatorial candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) to push back against claims that he wanted to repeal parts of the Civil Rights Act. Hannity said to Paul: “When I first saw the news coverage of it, I said, 'What? He doesn't support the Civil Rights Act?' That's how it was portrayed. And you clearly laid out just the opposite, and it was very clear.” Hannity also claimed that the media “tried to purposely distort” what Paul had said. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/10/10]

Hannity Interviews Steele To Defend Nightclub Fundraising Trip. On the April 9, 2010, broadcast of Hannity, the host interviewed then-RNC chairman Michael Steele following news that the RNC reimbursed a trip to a nightclub to impress donors. As Weigel noted, “Steele gave his first interview about the mess to Hannity,” of which Hannity made scant mention during the interview. From the interview:

HANNITY: You walked out here tonight and you got a massive reception from the crowd here in New Orleans. You had a strong defense from Newt Gingrich. Governor Palin defended you. Some have attacked you. Some have gone after you.

What is your reaction to that and response to those that have been --

STEELE: Well, my reaction is, look, you know, I'm trying to do the best I can as national chairman. I've made mistakes --

HANNITY: You have three victories under your belt.

STEELE: I've got three victories under my belt, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia. Right? [Hannity, 4/9/10; Slate, 1/13/11]

Hannity Interviews O'Keefe Following Charges He Illegally Attempted To Gain Access To Sen. Landrieu's Office. On the February 1, 2010, broadcast of Hannity, the host interviewed conservative activist James O'Keefe to allow him to respond to allegations that he and his cohorts had falsely represented themselves as employees of a phone company in order to gain access to Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) New Orleans office. Hannity allowed O'Keefe to call the incident “a huge misunderstanding.” From the interview:

HANNITY: OK, so now -- and I don't know all the facts so I want to make sure because you disputed a lot of claims in the media in your statement. So did you dress up as a telephone repairman or telephone repair people?

O'KEEFE: Yes, I mean, as far as that's concerned, I mean, investigative journalists have been using a lot of these tactics for years. I mean, NBC, “Dateline”.

HANNITY: Yes, but -- all right. But did you dress up as a repair guy?


HANNITY: You did?

O'KEEFE: We did, yes.

HANNITY: All right. And your attitude is this is something that investigative journalists will do. That they will -- like in, I guess, to catch a predator?


HANNITY: All right. So what -- so if people -- if we were to show this video tonight... What would people conclude?

O'KEEFE: That this is a huge misunderstanding, I think. You know, like in all my videos, like in my ACORN videos, I'm trying to get to the bottom of something. I'm trying to expose the truth. I'm trying to get to the true intent about what these people think about their constituents. I'm trying to show the American people what are they concerned about their constituents. And that's what I was trying to do. [Hannity, 2/1/10, via Nexis]

O'Keefe later pleaded guilty “to entering real property belonging to the United States under false pretenses.” [The Times-Picayune, 5/26/10]

Hannity Has A History Of GOP Political Activism

Republicans Know They've “Got Sean Hannity In My Back Pocket.” Former Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell reportedly chose to go on Hannity because “she felt she would get a certain kind of treatment.” O'Donnell also reportedly told D.C. GOP strategists, “I've got Sean Hannity in my back pocket, and I can go on his show and raise money by attacking you guys.” In addition, former Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle once bragged that when she made an appeal on “Sean Hannity's television show we made $40,000 before we even got out of the studio in New York.” [Media Matters, 9/22/10; Huffington Post, 10/14/10; Las Vegas Sun, 9/21/10]

Hannity Has A Long History Of Promoting GOP Candidates. Hannity has used his shows to relentlessly promote GOP candidates. During the 2010 midterm elections alone, Hannity promoted then-Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio as someone who “could be president one day, or a strong presidential contender”; described a misleading Angle campaign attack ad as “fair game”; said of New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, “I love his confrontational style, he's refreshingly honest”; and defended Paul's controversial comments on the Civil Rights Act. [Hannity, 10/29/10; 10/7/10; 9/30/10 6/10/10]

Hannity Has Consistently Provided A Forum For GOP Fundraising. Hannity has consistently hosted GOP candidates and allowed them to use his program as a forum to raise money. For instance, Hannity allowed Massachusetts congressional GOP candidate Sean Bielat to promote his “money bomb” and directed viewers to his campaign website; allowed GOP senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina to promote her campaign fundraising website; hosted former Fox News contributor John Kasich to ask viewers, “If you have any extra nickels or dimes, please send it our way”; allowed O'Donnell and Angle to fundraise on his show; and aired a Republican Governors Association ad against former Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH). [Hannity, 10/26/10; 10/22/10; 10/15/10; 9/15/10; 9/10/10; 6/14/10; 9/8/10]

Hannity Has Similarly Raised Money For Right-Wing Causes. Hannity has a similar long history of raising money for and championing Republican interests. Hannity was prevented from taping his April 15, 2010, show at a Cincinnati Tea Party event after Fox News executives learned that he was planning on charging admission, which could have been an ethical violation. Hannity has gone forward with many other fundraising events, however. He was the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee in March 2010. He helped raise money for Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign and Jeanine Pirro's 2006 U.S. Senate Campaign. On his radio show, he told New Jersey listeners to “get to the polls” and “stop Obamacare in its tracks.” He frequently promoted the April 15, 2009, “FNC Tax Day Tea Party” and promoted town hall disruptors in August 2009, saying, “That's a pretty good way to fight back.” [Media Matters, 4/15/10;, accessed 1/18/10; New York Daily News, 8/19/10; Premiere Radio Network, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/20/05; Media Matters, 4/8/09; Media Matters, 9/11/09]

GOP Candidates Appear On Hannity To Attack Opponents, Administration Without Challenge. GOP candidates regularly use Hannity's show to attack their opponents in a friendly and unchallenging environment. During the 2010 midterms, Hannity allowed then-Virginia Republican congressional candidate Robert Hurt to attack his opponent, then-Rep. Tom Periello (D-VA); allowed O'Donnell to attack her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons; hosted New York congressional candidate Michael Grimm to attack Obama; allowed “real Republican” John Raese to attack then-Gov. Joe Manchin; included California GOP congressional candidate Nick Popaditch in his “Great American Panel” to attack Obama; and similarly allowed Steele and Rand Paul to attack the president. [Hannity, 10/29/10 (Hurt segment accessed via Nexis); 10/28/10; 10/28/10; 10/27/10; 10/26/10; 10/26/10; 10/19/10]

Hannity To Interview Controversial Radio Host Dr. Laura

Hannity To Host Dr. Laura On January 18 Hannity Broadcast. In one of her first interviews since the n-word controversy that preceded her resignation from her nationally syndicated radio program, Dr. Laura Schlessinger is scheduled to appear on Hannity on January 18. Her appearance is billed on Fox News Insider with the words: “The talk radio host reveals her BIG move in the fight to regain her first amendment rights.” [Fox News Insider, 1/18/11]