Fox News' Sean Hannity promised to throw a tea party event for Republican Senator Mike Lee (UT), a founding member of the Tea Party Caucus who was instrumental in the Republican-led government shutdown. Hannity and Fox News have a long history of questionable ethics when it comes to supporting tea party causes and candidates.
Lee was an instrumental player in the effort to shut down the government. Indeed, Time magazine dubbed him “The Man Behind The Shutdown Curtain” :
On July 17, three months before Sens. Mitch McConnell and Reid forged a deal to open the government and avert default, Lee welcomed the conservative leaders of national grassroots organizations into his office after-hours to discuss tying government funding to the Obamacare battles. Sens. Cruz, Mike Enzi, Jeff Flake, Jim Inhofe, Ron Johnson, Jim Risch, Marco Rubio, and Pat Toomey were in attendance, as well as representatives of Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, and other conservative groups. The room was “packed,” said Jenny Beth Martin, President of Tea Party Patriots. Lee spoke first, led the discussion, and asked for support.
“That was the moment that brought everyone together,” said L. Brent Bozell III, the founder of the Media Research Center and a participant in the meeting. Bozell said that every outside group agreed with the strategy, and only one senator openly questioned the shutdown or defund tactic. “Mike Lee is the intellectual powerhouse of this entire movement,” added Bozell.
Lee has a natural ally in Hannity. The Fox News host cheered the shutdown strategy, urging Republicans as far back as March to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act:
HANNITY: Republicans right now, if they really want to -- not just symbolically -- if they want to repeal health care, Dr. [Ben] Carson, Obamacare, they've got to shut the government down and be labeled 'the full faith and credit of the United States is in jeopardy.' Which is not true. But if they really want to do that, that's what it will take. I want them to do it.
On the October 23 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity hosted Lee to discuss the Affordable Care Act and the government shutdown. At the end of the interview, Hannity told Lee, “I promise I'll do everything I can do -- we'll go out to Utah, we'll have a big tea party out there, and we'll remind them why you were elected” :
This is not the first instance in which a Fox personality has seemingly crossed the ethical line. In April 2010 Hannity caused a controversy by planning to host his Fox show from a tea party rally in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Los Angeles Times reported:
Angry Fox News executives ordered host Sean Hannity to abandon plans to broadcast his nightly show as part of a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati on Thursday after top executives learned that he was set to headline the event, proceeds from which would benefit the local Tea Party organization.
But senior Fox News executives said they were not aware Hannity was being billed as the centerpiece of the event or that Tea Party organizers were charging for admission to Hannity's show as part of the rally. They first learned of it Thursday morning from John Finley, Hannity's executive producer, who was in Cincinnati to produce Hannity's show.
Furious, top officials recalled Hannity back to New York to do his show in his regular studio. The network plans to do an extensive post-mortem about the incident with Finley and Hannity's staff.
Furthermore, Fox News itself has come under fire for promoting tea party rallies. The Huffington Post reported in May 2009 that CNN and MSNBC questioned the way Fox News was promoting the movement. Former CNN host and current Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz criticized Fox for the promotion of the rallies during the CNN program The Situation Room:
In a package that aired on the “Situation Room” Monday, media critic Howard Kurtz said Fox seemed to be a “co-sponsor” of tea parties. Kurtz closed by saying “the question is whether Rupert Murdoch's network wants to be so closely identified with what has become an anti-Obama protest movement.”