Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and now the rest of Fox’s evening lineup, are actively working to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A Media Matters analysis found:
Trump's lawyer and Hannity regular calls for special counsel to investigate Justice Department
Trump's lawyer and frequent guest on Hannity's shows calls for special counsel to investigate DOJ official connected to Russia probe. After Fox News reported on December 11 that “A senior Justice Department official demoted last week for concealing his meetings with the men behind the anti-Trump 'dossier' had even closer ties to Fusion GPS,” President Donald Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told Axios that the Department of Justice and FBI “cannot ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests.” Sekulow added, “These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate.” [FoxNews.com, 12/11/17; Axios, 12/12/17; Media Matters, 9/13/17; Twitter, 12/12/17]
Hannity and his guests have questioned Mueller's legitimacy or called for Mueller to remove himself or be fired 79 times since the special counsel was appointed
Sean Hannity and his guests have called for Mueller’s firing, resignation or recusal, or attacked his legitimacy 79 times. Since the investigation began on May 17, Hannity and his guests have questioned Mueller's appointment or called for Mueller to remove himself or for his firing 79 times. Hannity has questioned Mueller's legitimacy or demanded Mueller’s firing, resignation, or recusal 44 times. Guests of his Fox show, Hannity, who have attacked Mueller in a similar fashion include former Secret Service agent and conspiracy theorist Dan Bongino and Fox legal analyst and ardent defender of President Donald Trump Gregg Jarrett.
Hannity and his guests have made over 364 statements suggesting Mueller and/or his team have a “conflict of interest” since the special counsel was appointed
Hannity and his guests brought up alleged “conflicts of interest” 364 times. Since May 17, Hannity and his guests have made 364 statements alleging that Mueller and/or his team have a “conflict of interest” that would prevent him from fairly conducting the probe. Of those statements, Hannity himself made 294.
Two of Hannity’s most frequently cited “conflicts of interest” are not really conflicts. Of the 294 statements that Hannity made about the alleged “conflicts of interest,” two of the most popular so-called conflicts, cited a combined 173 times, are not actually conflicts at all:
On 115 occasions, Hannity claimed that Mueller’s team was compromised or had conflicts of interest because it included several investigators who had previously donated to Democrats. As a group of political science professors wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “According to the Justice Department’s own rules, campaign donations do not create a conflict of interest.”
On 58 occasions, Hannity suggested that Mueller has a conflict of interest because of his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey. But, as The Associated Press (AP) pointed out, Mueller and Comey are “not known to be especially close friends.” Additionally, “legal experts say whatever connection they do have doesn't come close to meriting Mueller's removal as special counsel.”
Hannity and his guests used a variety of other talking points and canards to discredit the investigation and Mueller:
On 43 occasions, Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt.” Of those statements, Hannity made 41. Trump has been reportedly obsessed with this characterization since June.
On 32 occasions, Hannity and his guests suggested that the investigation was a political attack on Trump, his administration, and potentially even the Trump family. Hannity himself claimed that Mueller’s investigation was an attack on Trump 17 times.
Just since November 4, Hannity and his guests claimed on 51 occasions that Mueller and his investigators harbored anti-Trump sentiments. Hannity himself made 35 of these statements. (This variable was only coded for between December 4 and December 8).
Fox’s other evening shows in the first week of December followed Hannity’s lead, attacking Mueller and the probe
In the first week of December, hosts and guests on other Fox evening programs followed Hannity and attacked Mueller's legitimacy, or called on Mueller to remove himself or be fired 27 times. From December 4 to December 8, Fox News hosts and guests on evening shows joined Hannity and commented that Mueller should never have been appointed, should now resign, recuse himself, or be fired 27 times. Most of these statements occurred on Hannity, but also appeared on other shows as well:
- One such statement occurred on The Five;
- One other statement occurred on The Story with Martha MacCallum;
- and three of these statements occurred on The Ingraham Angle.
In that same time frame, Mueller and/or his team’s alleged “conflicts of interest” were brought up 151 times. Fox hosts and guests made 151 statements during the first week of December asserting that Mueller and/or his team have “conflicts of interest.” On 63 occasions, Fox guests and hosts claimed the “conflicts of interest” existed because of campaign donations. On nine occasions, Fox guests and hosts claimed “conflicts of interest” because of Mueller's relationship with Comey. Other instances vaguely charged Mueller of having conflicts without specifics or evidence.
- Mueller's “conflicts” were mentioned seven times on The Five, with five statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators and one statement about Mueller's relationship with Comey.
- Mueller's “conflicts” were mentioned once on Special Report, with one statement about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators.
- Mueller's “conflicts” were mentioned five times on The Story, with two statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators and two statements about Mueller's relationship with Comey.
- Mueller's “conflicts” were mentioned four times on Tucker Carlson Tonight, with three statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators.
- Mueller's “conflicts” were mentioned 18 times on The Ingraham Angle, with six statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators.
On 158 occasions, Mueller and/or his team was accused of being “anti-Trump.” Hosts and guests on Fox evening programs accused Mueller and/or members of his team of being “anti-Trump” 158 times.
- 12 statements accusing Mueller and/or his team of being “anti-Trump” occurred on The Five;
- 13 statements occurred on Special Report;
- 20 appeared on The Story;
- 19 appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight;
- and 41 appeared on The Ingraham Angle.
On 22 occasions, Fox evening hosts and guests called the investigation an attack on Trump, his presidency, and his family. Hosts and guests claimed 22 times that Mueller’s investigative team was out to get Trump, at one point referring to the investigation as a “scam.”
- Two of these statements occurred on The Five;
- One occurred on Tucker Calrson Tonight;
- and four appeared on The Ingraham Angle.
On 23 occasions, Mueller’s investigation was called a “witch hunt.” Fox hosts and guests referred to Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” 23 times throughout the first week of December. While most occurred on Hannity, two statements also occurred on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
In the first week of December, Hannity far outpaced other Fox evening shows in attempting to discredit Mueller and the investigation. While other evening programs on Fox worked to discredit the Mueller investigation and the special counsel himself, Hannity was far and away the most aggressive about it during the week-long time period.
- 22 statements urging Mueller to be removed from the investigation occurred on Hannity;
- 116 statements discussing Mueller and/or his team's “conflicts” occurred on Hannity;
- 46 statements invoking the political donations made by Mueller's investigatiors to assert the investigation is conflicted were made on Hannity;
- Six statements hyping Mueller's relationship with Comey were made on Hannity;
- 15 statements insisting the investigation was nothing more than an attack on Trump, his administration, and his family were made on Hannity;
- 21 statements referring to the investigation as a “witch hunt” were made on Hannity;
- Four statements attempting to link Mueller to the Uranium One conspiracy theory were made on Hannity;
- and 53 statements asserting the investigation and the investigators were inherently anti-Trump were made on Hannity.
Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of Fox News’ Hannity between May 17 and December 8 mentioning the words “Mueller” or “special counsel.” Transcripts were then coded for statements -- which in this study we defined as a sentence -- which included the following:
calls for Mueller to resign or recuse himself or calls that he be fired, or suggestions that he never should have been appointed as special counsel;
suggestions that Mueller and/or his team have a conflict of interest with the investigation;
mentions of Mueller’s investigators who had previously donated to Democratic lawmakers;
mentions of Mueller’s alleged friendship and relationship with Comey;
claims that the investigation is a political attack on Trump, his administration, or his family;
suggestions that the investigation is a “witch hunt”;
attempts to link Mueller to Uranium One deal; and
- claims that Mueller and/or his team is inherently partisan against the president.
Media Matters also searched Nexis for mentions of “Mueller” or “special counsel” from December 4 to 8 on Fox News between 5 and 11 p.m., including the following programs: The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle. Transcripts were coded for the same variables.
Transcripts were reviewed by two independent coders and differences were then reconciled.
This study includes data from a previous study published on November 21.
CORRECTION: This study previously referred to the official referenced by Sekulow as an FBI official. In fact, he was a senior DOJ official and part of the Criminal Division.