Sean Hannity | Media Matters for America

Sean Hannity

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  • Sinclair is gearing up to compete with Fox -- by being even worse than Fox

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Recent reports indicate that local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has met with a number of current and former Fox News employees and is gearing up to compete directly with the cable channel -- by attempting to beat Fox News in a race to the very bottom.

    On May 16, Politico’s Jason Schwartz reported that Sinclair executive chairman David Smith met “in the last few months” with the executive producer of Fox News’ Hannity. The producer, Porter Berry, is at least the second person with close ties to Sean Hannity to have reportedly met with Sinclair leadership recently; Schwartz earlier reported that Sinclair was attempting to recruit current Tribune programming executive Sean Compton, a “close friend” of Hannity’s.

    According to Schwartz’s sources, Smith is planning to set up Sinclair as a direct competitor with Fox News after the former’s massive acquisition of Tribune Media is finalized. Smith is said to be developing ideas for a “three-hour block of news-opinion programming” that could air on a cable network Sinclair already owns or another it would acquire in the Tribune deal.

    Sinclair’s apparent dream line-up for this nightly cable news programming amounts to a who’s who of Fox News liabilities and Trump sycophants. Not only has Smith reportedly met with executives close to Hannity, but he’s also been in talks with current Fox News host Jeanine Pirro as well as a handful of former Fox personalities: Greta Van Susteren, Eric Bolling, James Rosen, and (at least at one point) Bill O’Reilly.

    Of this group of six, half left Fox News in connection with sexual misconduct reports. Bolling parted ways with Fox last September amid an investigation into reports he had sent unsolicited pictures of male genitalia to multiple colleagues. Rosen reportedly departed the network around the new year following “increased scrutiny of his behavior” due to an “established pattern” of harassment. And O’Reilly, of course, was fired in April 2017 after reports came out that he had engaged in a decades-long pattern of harassment and that 21st Century Fox had failed to stop it.

    O’Reilly, Pirro, Van Susteren, and Hannity were all vocal defenders of late Fox chief Roger Ailes when he was named for serial sexual harassment in 2016. (Van Susteren later said she regretted defending Ailes.)

    In order to truly compete with Fox News, Sinclair has decided it must be willing to become a safe space for Fox News’ most toxic liabilities -- including powerful media men who have hurt others, created hostile and unsafe work environments, and done little to nothing to make it right. This shameful decision is the latest sign from Sinclair executives that the company simply does not care about the safety of its employees or the actual needs of its viewers.  

    Sinclair’s strategy for competing with Fox also seems to include seeking out top Trump sycophants like Pirro, who spends nearly every Saturday night on Fox yelling about the president’s alleged mistreatment by just about everyone (and who is also informally advising the president). Bolling, too, has been orbiting the Trump White House for months. And Sean Hannity -- perhaps the worst of them all -- has taken Fox prime time to impossibly new lows in the name of defending the president.

    Sinclair is already drastically changing the local news landscape, infecting TV stations across the country with a combination of blatant pro-Trump propaganda, fearmongering rhetoric, and uniform local news that barely counts as “local” at all. Its M.O. of drastic consolidation leaves its own journalists under-resourced and embarrassed by their employer, and it leaves local audiences with less access to the news they need.

    Sinclair is doing more than enough to make local news measurably worse. Will it now sink below even the Fox News fever swamp to bring more horrors -- and even less actual news -- to cable?

  • Here's what you need to know about the right's theory that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In recent days, many on the right have pushed the claim that the FBI "infiltrated" President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign with a "mole." The claim relies upon the testimony of a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired a former British agent who compiled an intelligence dossier about Trump’s connections to various Russians. The claim also builds off of a recent squabble between the Department of Justice and the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), over the release of classified information. Here is what you need to know about the story’s origins:

    • On January 2, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the founders of the research firm Fusion GPS, claimed in an op-ed that the FBI had a source “inside the Trump camp” during the 2016 election.

    • On January 9, the transcript from Simpson’s August 2017 Senate testimony was released, revealing that he had told the Senate Judiciary Committee it was his “understanding” that the bureau had an “internal Trump campaign source.” Simpson also testified during the hearing that conversations he had with the author of the dossier about Trump’s Russia connections, Christopher Steele, led him to believe that the FBI had “a human source from inside the Trump organization.”

    • The same day, reporters tweeted that the Trump campaign insider Simpson referred to was George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and that the FBI's source was an Australian diplomat who informed U.S. officials that Papadopoulos had mentioned to him receiving Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton in May 2016.

    • Between January 9 and January 10, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that the “human source” Simpson had mentioned was allegedly the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer.

    • On January 18, however, a lawyer for Simpson sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asserting that Simpson “stands by his testimony.” The lawyer stated that Simpson was not withdrawing his claim that Steele had “believed the FBI had another source within the Trump organization/campaign.”

    • On May 8, The Washington Post reported that the DOJ was refusing to hand over information requested by Nunes because it could “endanger a top-secret intelligence source.” The source, according to the Post, had developed information that was “provided to the Mueller investigation.”

    • Two days later, The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel published an op-ed in which she speculated that the FBI may have secretly had a source “who used his or her non-FBI credentials” to interact with the Trump campaign.

      • Strassel wrote in the Journal that the DOJ and the FBI “outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation," which could mean that the FBI had a spy linked to the Trump campaign.
      • Strassel wrote that “When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency,” asserting that the FBI could have secretly planted a source who interacted with the Trump campaign.
      • ​According to Strassel, any such move on the FBI’s part would “amount to spying.”
      • Strassel also concluded that "Now we find [the FBI] may have also been rolling out human intelligence, John Le Carré style, to infiltrate the Trump campaign."
    • Strassel doubled down on her assertion during a May 11 appearance on Fox News, claiming, “The FBI was using human intelligence to spy on a presidential campaign.”

    Right-wing media is pushing the "spy" theory 

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed he knows “who the spy is” and that this person was “like an operative employed by the FBI to basically entrap somebody who worked with the Trump campaign in a peripheral way.” He also said that Papadopoulos “was entrapped by three people, including the person who is reputed to be the spy."

    Fox’s Sean Hannity argued that there was a spy embedded in the campaign and called the Strassel op-ed a “stunning new development” that raises “serious concerns and questions about the possibility [of] the F.B.I. planting a mole inside the Trump campaign.”

    The hosts of Fox & Friends devoted multiple segments to Strassel’s op-ed and also highlighted Limbaugh’s theory that the FBI planted a “spy” to “entrap” Trump associates. Fox’s Pete Hegseth argued that Limbaugh is “on to something,” and co-host Steve Doocy asked, “Was the FBI out to frame candidate Donald Trump?”  

    Trump sycophant and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs tweeted: “#ExposeTheMole- FBI & DOJ planted an spy in @realDonaldTrump’s 2016 campaign & didn’t tell congressional investigators.”

    During an appearance on Hannity’s radio show, Fox’s Sara Carter claimed, “It appears [the FBI] had somebody that was reporting back on information inside the Trump campaign, which would mean that they had a mole connected to people in the Trump campaign or within the Trump campaign.” Carter repeated the report on Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show, claiming, “Yes, I believe [the FBI] did have an informant, somebody that was reporting back to them.”

    The Daily Caller pushed the narrative in an article about Rep. Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) appearance on Fox News: “Ron DeSantis Says He May Know Who Was Spying On The Trump Campaign: ‘There Needs To Be Follow Up’.”

    Pro-Trump site The Gateway Pundit ran multiple articles by founder Jim Hoft that pushed the claim, including one in which Hoft claimed to know the “probable” identity of the “spy,” and another that argued there were multiple “deep state” sources.   

    Far-right fringe blog Zero Hedge posted Strassel’s op-ed with the headline, “WSJ: The FBI Hid A Mole In The Trump Campaign,” even though Strassel never claimed the “mole” was actually inside the campaign.

  • Hannity says John Solomon deserves a Pulitzer. The Hill will now classify his writing as opinion.

    The Hill says that effective immediately, John Solomon will only be permitted to write opinion pieces

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    John Solomon, a favorite of Fox News’ Sean Hannity, will only be permitted to publish opinion pieces in The Hill from now on, per The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.

    In February, Hannity claimed that Solomon, among others, deserved a Pulitzer Prize for his work defending Donald Trump from “the phony Russia Trump narrative.”

    It’s clear that Hannity loves Solomon’s work, as Solomon is a fixture on his Fox News show, having appeared 25 times since August, per a review of Media Matters data. He has also appeared four times on The Ingraham Angle, four times on Fox & Friends, and once on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

    While Solomon’s reporting at The Hill has gotten significant attention and praise from conservative media, it has also repeatedly fallen apart amid the slightest scrutiny. He was a main driver of the Uranium One pseudo-scandal, which alleged that the real Russia scandal was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton selling a large amount of America’s uranium to Russia. At one point, Trump tweeted about a Fox & Friends segment on a Solomon story, saying “Uranium deal to Russia, with Clinton help and Obama Administration knowledge, is the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!”

    After getting huge coverage, the story quickly fell apart. As Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noted, the “fatal flaw in this allegation is Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, did not participate in any discussions regarding the Uranium One sale.” Solomon first reported on the existence of an Uranium One informant whom Justice Department officials reportedly deemed not credible. Hannity hosted the informant anyway.

    Solomon also furthered a wild conspiracy theory about FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page secretly influencing the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton. Here is how HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly and Nick Baumann described Solomon’s report:

    When Solomon — a longtime Washington journalist and frequent guest on Hannity’s program — reported last week that Congress was looking into whether Strzok and Page had leaked to the news media, those working to undermine the Mueller probe lapped it up.

    Solomon’s Tuesday report appeared to show that Strzok and Page had advance knowledge of an Oct. 24, 2016 Wall Street Journal article. He didn’t identify the Wall Street Journal article in question, and it is not clear whether he knew which piece triggered the couple’s texts. Although Solomon never wrote that Strzok and Page were definitively behind any anti-Trump leaks, the news that Congress was investigating them and that they had advance knowledge of an article was enough for pundits in the conservative media to jump to conclusions.

    The Hill report was used as fodder for a narrative that Trump-hating FBI agents had leaked information to hurt the then-Republican candidate. Front Page Mag and One America News used sensational headlines, referencing “Hillary’s FBI allies” and the “deep state’s” efforts to undermine Trump. Rush Limbaugh told his listeners that “Peter Strzok and Lisa Page are two of the deep state sources planting lies and false stories in the Wall Street Journal and other places.”

    Reilly and Baumann subsequently found “no evidence that Page and Strzok were leaking information to undermine Trump.” Instead, they found evidence that “cast serious doubt” on Solomon’s claims.

    In December, Solomon, along with Alison Spann, alleged that attorney Lisa Bloom "sought donor cash" for women considering making sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Wemple reported that “a group of newsroom staffers” at The Hill “complained to management” about Solomon’s work.

    In July, Solomon alleged in The Hill that Comey’s memos “contain classified information,” setting off a conservative media frenzy. Similar accusations resurfaced during Comey’s book tour, but as Philip Bump explained, there is still no evidence that Comey leaked classified information to the media.

    Solomon’s issues at The Hill are entirely within character. Before working at that publication, he worked at Circa, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting. What Solomon described as “straight news” for Circa was anything but; the website was explicitly a pro-Trump operation. In July 2017, Solomon appeared on Hannity’s show to discuss whether Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower before the election was possible a “setup” by outside groups. Solomon told Hannity that it was too early to assume that, but did not rule anything out.

    Before Circa, Solomon spent time at the helm at The Washington Times, where there were multiple ethical issues. His time as a Washington Post staff writer witnessed many similar instances. The same goes for his time at The Associated Press. As Mariah Blake wrote in 2012, “Solomon has a history of bending the truth to his storyline.”

  • Video: All of Trump's in-person TV interviews in the past year have been with sycophants

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Ever since President Donald Trump’s disastrous interview with NBC’s Lester Holt on May 11 2017 -- in which he may have admitted to obstructing justice -- Trump has given in-person TV interviews to only friendly journalists who mostly avoid asking tough questions.

    Over the past year, Trump has appeared on television for in-person interviews 14 times and only with fawning reporters. He has given 11 interviews to Fox News and Fox Business, one to Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson, one to Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Mike Huckabee, one to CNBC’s Joe Kernen, and one to ITV’s Piers Morgan. Oftentimes, rather than posing hard-hitting questions, the journalists use their time with the president to compliment his performance, criticize the media, and hype his achievements:

    In total, Trump has given 23 interviews to print, TV, and radio outlets since May 11, 2017 -- 17 of which were with reliably sympathetic hosts:

    May 13, 2017: Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro

    June 23, 2017: Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt

    June 25, 2017: Fox News’ Pete Hegseth

    July 12, 2017: Reuters’ Steve Holland

    July 13, 2017: Christian Broadcasting Networks’ Pat Robertson

    July 19, 2017: The New York Times’ Peter Baker, Michael Schmidt, and Maggie Haberman

    July 25, 2017: The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker, Peter Nicholas, and Michael Bender

    September 28, 2017: Fox News’ Pete Hegseth

    October 3, 2017: Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera

    October 7, 2017: Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Mike Huckabee

    October 11, 2017: Fox News’ Sean Hannity

    October 17, 2017: SiriusXM’s David Webb

    October 17, 2017: Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade

    October 22, 2017: Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo

    October 25, 2017: Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs

    November 2, 2017: Fox News’ Laura Ingraham

    December 28, 2017: The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt

    January 11, 2018: The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Michael Bender, Peter Nicholas and Louise Radnofsky

    January 17, 2018: Reuters’ Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, and Jeff Mason

    January 26, 2018: CNBC’s Joe Kernen

    January 28, 2018: ITV’s Piers Morgan

    February 24, 2018: Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro

    April 26, 2018: Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, and Steve Doocy

  • Fox News repeatedly claims information obtained by torture led to Osama bin Laden’s death. It didn't.

    The 2014 Senate torture report revealed that the US collected key intelligence on bin Laden’s location without torture

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the coverage leading up to and following CIA acting Director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become director, multiple Fox News personalities and guests have asserted that torture helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. However, the Senate’s 2014 investigation of the CIA torture program indicates that there is no evidence for this claim. 

    In recent days, Fox figures and guests have made bold claims that torturing detainees at secret CIA prisons known as “black sites” resulted in valuable intelligence that helped track down the former leader of Al Qaeda:

    • On his May 7 Fox show, Sean Hannity cited an earlier guest to claim that if there had been “no waterboarding we wouldn't have found Osama bin Laden's courier and we wouldn't have gotten bin Laden.” Hannity made the same claim the following night. 
    • In an May 8 appearance on Fox’s The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that the torture program “gave us clues that led directly to helping identify the location of Osama Bin Laden.” Cheney repeated the claim two days later on Fox Business. 
    • On the May 9 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle asserted that “the water boarding led them to Osama Bin Laden's house.”
    • On May 10, all three co-hosts of Fox & Friends agreed that “you don’t get bin Laden” without torture.
    • On the May 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Geraldo Rivera commented that “torture in retrospect may seem regrettable, but there’s no denying that it did lead to the courier that did lead us to the terror mastermind” Osama bin Laden.

    In 2014, the Senate investigated the CIA’s torture program. According to a Vox summary of the 525-page document, the Senate report reveals that the CIA extracted “key intelligence” on bin Laden courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- “‘including information the CIA would later cite as pivotal’ in finding Bin Laden” -- by 2002. However, “the CIA didn't acquire any intelligence on al-Kuwaiti via torture until 2003. The CIA had begun trying to find and identify al-Kuwaiti well before any of that information was in.”

    In 2004, the CIA torture program did capture a man named Hassan Guhl who told the U.S. government that al-Kuwaiti was a bin Laden assistant and that the Al Qaeda leader "likely lived in a house with a family somewhere in Pakistan," according to Vox. However, “Ghul told the CIA all of that before they decided to torture him.” The Senate report explains that “during and after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, Ghul provided no other information of substance on al-Kuwaiti." From the Senate’s report on CIA torture, via NPR:

  • Fox News uses Nuremberg defense to cover for Gina Haspel’s torture record

    Network figures say Haspel was “simply following orders” 

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Gina Haspel’s March 13 nomination as CIA director is reviving the debate about torture, and Fox News is defending her role in the agency’s George W. Bush-era program by insisting that she was “simply following orders” and should not be held responsible for her contributions to the torturing of detainees.

    Haspel, who became the agency’s acting director on April 26 after a long tenure there, oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand where suspected terrorists were detained and tortured, including one man who was waterboarded three times. Haspel was also “a strong advocate” for destroying tapes of CIA torture sessions, The New York Times reported, a stance Haspel herself reiterated in her confirmation hearing. 

    As debate swirled about Haspel’s involvement in torture leading up to her confirmation hearing, Fox News took the lead in providing media cover for her. Several Fox personalities have zeroed in on some variation of the argument that “she was just following orders” -- a defense made infamous by multiple high-ranking Nazi officials who attempted to defend themselves during the Nuremberg trials.

    In addition to insisting that Haspel was merely following orders, Fox personalities have defended her nomination by suggesting that being tortured is similar to having a difficult job, and that Haspel would make a good TV “hero” for running a secret CIA prison as a woman. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade even suggested Haspel refuse to “apologize for the Americans who are alive today and were not burned alive or had their heads cut off” thanks to torture.

    Haspel’s apparent predilection to follow orders is especially worrisome given that Trump has repeatedly threatened to bring back torture. In Trump’s first days in office, a White House draft order called for a review and possible reopening of CIA “black site” prisons. In his first presidential TV interview, Trump said of waterboarding, "Absolutely I feel it works," adding that America has to "fight fire with fire." During the campaign, Trump infamously called for America to kill the families of terrorists, which would violate the Geneva Conventions. Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," and also called for America to “broaden” the laws prohibiting torture in order to “beat the savages.” And while some, like former CIA Director Michael Hayden, are saying that Haspel will stand up to Trump, her record shows otherwise

    Video by Miles Le

  • Fox News tells Seth Rich's family that they should be grateful for how the network slandered him

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit that the family of slain Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich filed against it, which claims the network published “false and fabricated facts” about Rich’s murder that fanned conspiracy theories circulating about him. In its motion, Fox has included an outlandish claim: The suit should be dismissed because the channel ’s retracted story portrayed Rich as a patriot and a hero.

    Fox News’ attempt to abdicate its responsibility is gross. Seth Rich was a real person whose family members have had to cope with the nightmare of their son’s murder becoming the target of conspiracy theories that he was killed for providing the DNC’s emails to Wikileaks while they mourned his loss. The network, led by host Sean Hannity, was the only cable news outlet to cover the conspiracy theories, presenting them as plausible facts. For weeks, Hannity covered the rumors incessantly on the air -- even after Fox News was forced to retract its initial story claiming that Rich had been in touch with Wikileaks.

    Hannity didn’t declare that he would find the “truth”  out of concern for Rich or his family, but rather to distract his audience from the news about the Trump administration’s dealings with Russia.

    And Rich’s portrayal as a whistleblower out to expose the political establishment wasn’t based in reality; it distorted who he was. By all accounts, Rich enjoyed working at the DNC and, as his his parents wrote, on the day of his murder, he was “excited about a new job he had been offered on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.” Since his death, the far-right has turned Rich into a character his friends and family wouldn’t recognize. His image has been turned into countless memes, his political views and beliefs distorted. And Fox and Hannity have helped fuel the lies. Fox didn’t honor Seth Rich’s life or his memory. It slandered him and his work for its own political gain.

    To this date, Fox has neither explained how it got the story so wrong nor apologized for its actions.

  • Fox doesn’t know how to react to Giuliani’s Stormy Daniels bombshell

    On Hannity, Giuliani revealed that Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the hush money payment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and current member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, revealed on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen through retainer fees for a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. After Giuliani’s bombshell revelation, Fox hosts and personalities scrambled to respond to the news with reactions ranging from downplaying Giuliani’s disclosure to saying that the idea that Trump did not know what he was reimbursing his lawyer for “is unworthy of belief.”

    Sean Hannity was noticeably startled after Giuliani’s revelation.

    Laura Ingraham, host of Fox’s Ingraham Angle: “I love Rudy, but they better have an explanation for that. ”

    Fox’s Brit Hume: “Is that what we’re down to? A dubious campaign finance reporting violation?”

    Fox & Friends hosts: “No one cares about Stormy Daniels.”

    Fox News chief judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano: “If Rudy wants the public to believe that Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen $135,000 and didn’t know what it was for, … that is unworthy of belief.”

    Maria Bartiromo, host of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria : “CNN was reporting this as such a bombshell. I don’t know, James, are you surprised? Is this -- I mean, I sort of knew that the president knew it and paid it back. ... I assumed.”