Trump calls on state media stalwart Hannity at presidential press conference

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

President Donald Trump called on one of his top propagandists, Fox News host Sean Hannity, during a press conference on Thursday afternoon in Hanoi, Vietnam, following the abrupt and unsuccessful conclusion of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Hannity has been broadcasting live from Hanoi all week in anticipation of an exclusive sit-down with the president after the summit, one of several times this year he has followed Trump overseas to serve up his patented softball interviews. The result has been that “the first snapshot of history gets filtered through a sympathetic lens,” as Politico put it.

It will take a lot of work for Hannity to burnish the failed Hanoi summit. According to Trump, it concluded prematurely because Kim’s demand for full elimination of economic sanctions in return for partial denuclearization was too great. This was not an unexpected outcome; for months, U.S. negotiators had been stymied by this very issue. But Trump had bet that his purported deal-making skill -- and the rapport he built with the dictator by lavishing him with praise -- would allow him to overcome this gap. That didn’t happen.

But Hannity, a fervent Trump supporter and sometime adviser who rarely exposes anything resembling public distance from the president, has been up to the challenge. When called upon at the press conference, the Fox host -- curiously identifying himself only with, “I work in radio and TV” -- offered up a gem that linked Trump to President Ronald Reagan, a conservative icon:

SEAN HANNITY: Mr. President, if you could elaborate a little bit more. We have some history -- President Reagan walked away in Reykjavik. A lot of condemnation at the time, and it ended up working out very well in the end for the United States. Was this mostly your decision or -- and what message would you want to send Chairman Kim as he’s listening to this press conference about the future and your relationship?

We can expect more softball questions such as these when Hannity’s interview with Trump airs. The president has given far more interviews to his Fox News supporters than he has to journalists at other outlets, with none benefiting more than Hannity.

Trump has also favored Hannity over the members of Fox’s “news division.” While several of the latter have been reporting from Hanoi and sought interviews with the president, the White House gave the exclusive to the prime-time star. The White House presumably knows exactly what it will get from the interview -- nothing remotely resembling a challenging question. Fox News’ executives know this as well, and they’re willing participants in the charade.

Hannity is such a sycophant for the president that he appeared on stage with him at an election rally just last November. But there are no rules for Hannity at Fox, no ethical standards the network is willing to defend if it means curtailing the host who has the ear of the president.