Amidst a firestorm of criticism, reportedly “furious” Fox News executives have yanked Sean Hannity from taping his April 15 show at a Cincinnati Tea Party event which charged admission and had “all proceeds” benefiting the organization. As Media Matters for America had reported, Hannity's appearance, which was promoted on 18 different editions of his Fox News program, elicited criticism from news and broadcast veterans who questioned the ethics of raising money for a political organization during a production of a Fox News show.
The plan: Want to see Hannity? Pay the Cincy Tea Party
Hannity attendance required paid admission. As Media Matters documented, Hannity was scheduled to tape his April 15 show at the Cincinnati Tea Party's (CTP) 2010 Tax Day Tea Party, which required paid admission. A promotional flier for the event promised a “Taping of Sean Hannity's Fox News Show,” a “Hannity Book Signing,” and speeches from local Ohio figures. According to CTP, “All proceeds benefit the Cincinnati Tea Party.” CTP's flier:
Higher ticket prices for better viewing of Hannity. CTP sold more expensive tickets by promising better viewing of Hannity's Fox News program. For instance, CTP offered “premium reserved seating by the Hannity show” for $20; VIP seats, which included a “Floor ticket to event and dinner at the UC restaurant overlooking the arena!” for $100; and general admission seating for $5. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on April 13 that the $20 premium seats give you “a chance to be on TV” and added that organizers “expect a sold-out crowd” of 13,000.
Tea Party organizer says they “coordinated” with Hannity's Fox staff “to plan the logistics”
"[O]ur tea party people coordinated with his staff to plan the logistics of the event." On April 13, Media Matters emailed the Cincinnati Tea Party and asked if Hannity was being compensated for his appearance and if the organization worked “with Mr. Hannity's Fox News staff.” CTP communications manager Sue White replied: “Mr. Hannity is not being compensated by any tea party, but our tea party people coordinated with his staff to plan the logistics of the event.”
Media Matters report: Hannity Tea Party show plan raised ethical eyebrows
On April 14, Media Matters investigative reporter Joe Strupp reported that “Hannity's plan to do his show Thursday night from a Tea Party event in Cincinnati that will charge admission is raising ethical worries among several news and broadcast veterans. The idea that a news show that covers the Tea Party issue, among others, would seek to raise money for the event during a production of the show has some in the industry crying foul."
- Society of Professional Journalists' Smith: "[I]ncestuous" and “clear conflict of interest.” Strupp quoted Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, who stated:
“Unequivocally, from our standpoint, this is wrong,” declared Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “For a news organization to charge people for access, then take that money and roll it over to a political action group that they cover quite a bit.”
Smith added, “It has gotten to the point where you cannot delineate between Fox News and the Tea Party movement - it is incestuous. There is a clear conflict of interest here.”
- NPR ombudsman: Undermining “fair and balanced” slogan. Strupp wrote: “Alicia Shepard, ombudsman for National Public Radio, also found fault with the plan. 'If the job of a news organization is to present the facts in an unbiased way and if Fox is charging people to raise money for a political cause, then they are undermining their mission to be fair and balanced,' she said. 'Is Sean Hannity's mission to be fair and balanced or to be a pundit with a political bent? It is clearly new territory.'”
- GWU's Sesno: Violates “virtually every [journalism] rule.” Strupp wrote: “Frank Sesno, who spent 21 years at CNN in Washington and now serves as director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said: 'It violates virtually every rule of every ethical guideline that journalism covers. The idea that you would support a [political] movement and ask your audience to pay for it.'”
- Poynter's Steele: The “traditional standards are both eroding and corroding.” Strupp wrote: "'The traditional standards are both eroding and corroding,' [The Poynter Institute's Bob Steele] said when told of the plan. 'Does Sean Hannity consider himself a journalist? Does Fox News consider his program journalism? If either or both of those answers are yes, there is a serious problem with what he is doing with this event and the financial piece.'"
- Sienna's Smith: It's “ethically challenged.” Strupp wrote: “Then there is Dow Smith, who spent 27 years in broadcast news and served as news director at television stations in Miami, the District of Columbia and Detroit. He called it 'ethically challenged.' 'There is no way you should be doing this,' said Smith, who is now a journalism professor at Siena College in New York. 'If I was a news director and found out one of my reporters had done this, I would have fired them on the spot.'”
Balt. Sun critic: What “Hannity and Fox News are doing is wrong.” Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik also criticized Hannity and Fox News, writing that “as a down-the-middle media critic, who has defended Fox News more than perhaps anyone else in the mainstream media when it came under fire last year from the White House, I need to go out of my way to say that what Hannity and Fox News are doing is wrong”:
Look, I'll not pre-judge the show. But as a down-the-middle media critic, who has defended Fox News more than perhaps anyone else in the mainstream media when it came under fire last year from the White House, I need to go out of my way to say that what Hannity and Fox News are doing is wrong.
Even if you buy the argument promoted by Fox management that Hannity's show is opinion, not news, and everyone on the planet knows that, it is still wrong to use your broadcast in such an overtly poilitical manner.
Providing a forum for voices of dissent is one thing. Indeed, I have argued it is a good thing, and praised Fox News for doing it when so much of the rest of the media seemed to be on bended knee before Obama in the first few months after his inauguration. The administration seemed to lack any plan to help the millions of Americans who were losing jobs left and right, and it seemed as if the most the press could do was celebrate Obama with a cult of personality chorus of hosannas. Fox was one of the few media outlets delivering on its watchdog responsibilities.
But for Fox News to let Hannity take his show on the road and use it as a political tool to help mount dissent and fan the flames of protest is another thing altogether. The ratings might be nice, but Hannity and Fox News are playing a dangerous political game by putting the program in league with such Tea Party roadshows, and for once, I agree that they deserve all the criticism they are getting from the left.
LA Times on April 15: “Fox News yanks Sean Hannity from Cincinnati Tea Party rally he was set to star in”
Fox exec: We “never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity's television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event.” The Los Angeles Times reported in an April 15 article that "[a]ngry 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." From the article:
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.
Rally organizers had listed Hannity, who is on a book tour, as the headliner of the four-hour Tax Day event at the University of Cincinnati. The rally, expected to draw as many as 13,000 people, was set feature speakers such as “Liberal Facism” author Jonah Goldberg and local Tea Party leaders. Participants were being charged a minimum of $5, with seats near Hannity's set going for $20, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, which reported that any profits would go to future Tea Party events. Media Matters for America noted that Hannity's personal website directed supporters to a link to buy tickets for the Cincinnati rally.
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.
“Fox News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity's television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event,” said Bill Shine, the network's executive vice president of programming. “When senior executives in New York were made aware of this, we changed our plans for tonight's show.”
Critics of Fox News have accused the network of promoting Tea Party even as it covers the political movement as a news story. A spokeswoman for the network said that Neil Cavuto was the only host other than Hannity at a Tea Party event Thursday, stressing that Cavuto was covering the Atlanta event for both Fox News and Fox Business Channel, not attending as a participant. Carl Cameron provided news coverage of the Tea Party events around the country out of Washington.
Hannity promoted his Cincy appearance on 18 shows since early March
Hannity: “We will be in Cincinnati. Hope you can join us. Go to Hannity.com for details.” According to a Media Matters search of the Nexis database, Hannity promoted his Cincinnati appearance 18 times since March 5. In doing so, Hannity routinely directed viewers to his personal website (Hannity.com) to find out how “you can join us” and “be a part of the studio audience, meet us on our tour.” Fox News also routinely aired on-screen text directing viewers to Hannity's website. On his personal website, Hannity linked viewers to the University of Cincinnati box office to buy tickets. From Hannity's website:
Hannity's link directs to the University of Cincinnati's box office purchase page for the “CINCINNATI TEA PARTY”:
The following are the 18 instances of Hannity mentioning his Cincinnati stop (via Nexis) on Fox News:
- April 14: “Now, before we go tonight, we want to thank the folks here at the Gwinnett Center. Tomorrow, tax day, we will be in Cincinnati. Hope you can join us. Go to Hannity.com for details. See you tomorrow night.”
- April 13: “And last but not least, we are ending. We'll be in Atlanta tomorrow, Cincinnati on Thursday. Thanks for being with us.”
- April 12: "[T]hen our final show will come Thursday from Cincinnati. That's right, tax day, April 15. Now, details about the tour and the book are on my Web site and how you can part of the “Hannity” program and come see us."
- April 9: “Our final show on the 15th, by the way, tax day, a big rally in Cincinnati. We have great guests lined up all next week. And details about the tour and the book are at Hannity.com.”
- April 8: “And then tax day we will be in Cincinnati. If you want to join the show, it's all on my Web site, Hannity.com. And hopefully, you can part of the studio audience. My website, Hannity.com.”
- April 7: “We'll be in Atlanta. April 15, we will be in Cincinnati. If you want to be a part of this show, it's all on my Web site, Hannity.com. Hannity.com.”
- April 6: “And by the way, if you want to find out how you can join us, either there or in Grand Rapids on Thursday or in New Orleans on Friday or the following week in Florida, Atlanta and Cincinnati on April 15, just go to my Web site. Details about the tour, my new book are at Hannity.com.”
- April 5: “This week on Wednesday we will be in Minneapolis, and we'll be with Governor Palin, Michele Bachmann. Then to Grand Rapids. At the end of the week, New Orleans. Then we'll be in Kansas City and in Nashville next Saturday. Then The Villages in Florida, and then we're in Atlanta, then Cincinnati. And by the way, you can come to any of the shows. Go to my Web site, Hannity.com.”
- April 1: “And then off to Atlanta and then tax day Cincinnati. And you can join us. Just go to my Web site, Hannity.com, and you can find out if you can come see a live show of 'Hannity.'”
- March 31: “We will be in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a big Tea Party rally.”
- March 30: “As you can see, we're going to be tomorrow in Salt Lake City, then Minneapolis with Governor Palin, Grand Rapids, New Orleans, Florida, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh and then Philly this weekend. ... So it's [Hannity's book] in bookstores everywhere. It's on my Web site, Hannity.com. Also, go there to get details on how you can join us on tour.”
- March 29: “And we will be in Cincinnati, April 15. Now, on location, 'Hannity.' Go to my Web site, Hannity.com.”
- March 26: “Then we are off to Atlanta, Georgia, on April 14, Cincinnati, Ohio, on tax day, April 15. And we'll be bringing you a lot of live, on location 'Hannity' shows, and maybe you'll come out and join us. All the details for the tour are on Hannity.com, my Web site.”
- March 25: “We'll be in Atlanta, Georgia. Then on April 15, Cincinnati, Ohio. Now, you can be a part of our live studio audience. All the details for all of our stops are on Hannity.com."
- March 24: “We will be in Atlanta, Georgia, and Cincinnati, Ohio. And we're going to bring you live, on location 'Hannity' shows from all these cities. Details about the tour and some other cities we're going to on the weekend are at Hannity.com. Hannity.com, my Web site."
- March 23: “We're going to be at The Villages in Orlando; Cincinnati. All the details as we launch one week from today my brand-new book, my first book in six years, 'Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama's Radical Agenda.' If you'd like to join us to see this program, if you'd like to get an early copy, Hannity.com, my Web site. My last name, Hannity.com, for all the details."
- March 22: “We're going to be in Cincinnati. We're going to be in Orlando. We're going to be at the Villages, Bob, where you and I will play golf together one day. And we'll be in Atlanta. Now, if you want to be a part of the studio audience, meet us on our tour. We'll be in Philly, Pittsburgh. Hannity.com, my Web site. Hannity.com."
- March 5: “All right. [Radio host] Billy Cunningham, in 25 days from now, and then on April 15, we're going to be in the great city of Cincinnati for a big, huge Tea Party rally.”
While Hannity promoted his Cincinnati event, Fox News also regularly aired graphics directing viewers to his personal website. The following are examples from four recent shows: