Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
HannityÂ proved them both liarsÂ last night.
While Trumpâs campaign had described Hannity as a âspecial guestâ at the Missouri rally — Trumpâs last before the midterm elections — both the Fox star and his network insisted he was just there to interview the president. But after the interview, TrumpÂ summoned his loyal propagandistÂ to the stage, and Hannity went. HeÂ mugged with TrumpÂ for the cheering crowd,Â praised the administrationÂ for keeping its promises, and slammed journalists covering the event as âfake news.â Fellow Fox host Jeanine Pirro followed him on to the stage, basking in Trumpâs praise before urging the crowd to vote for Republican candidates.
In April, after Hannity brazenly disregarded a basic tenet of media ethics,Â journalists at credible news outlets questionedÂ whether Fox would censure, suspend, or even fire the host. âGoing to find out what kind of org Fox is today,â NBC Newsâ Chuck ToddÂ tweetedÂ the morning after that news broke.
Few seem to be bothering this time around. Thereâs a shared understanding that there arenât really any rules that Fox is willing or able to enforce against him. In 2010, the networkÂ reined him inÂ when he tried to use his show to raise money for a tea party group; in 2016, a Fox spokespersonÂ issued a statement after he appearedÂ in a Trump ad, promising that it wouldnât happen again. These were modest steps at best — Fox executivesÂ never formally reprimandedÂ Hannity for his actions, much less suspended him — but they at least signaled that the network had some lines he couldnât cross.
But since Trumpâs election, Hannityâs ties to the White House and role as a Trump confidant have apparentlyÂ rendered him untouchable by the network. Hannity has spent multiple days on his showÂ pushing a despicable conspiracy theory, defended the presidentâs lawyerÂ without noting that heâs alsoÂ Hannityâslawyer, and now campaigned with the president after he and his network both swore he wouldnât, without apparent consequences.Â In the unlikely event Fox News finally decides to take action, it would be long overdue — and also completely out of character.
Hannity isnât the only one Fox treats with kid gloves. Pirro also appeared on stage with Trump last night. Lou DobbsÂ laughed offÂ Fox banning one of his guests over anti-Semitic rhetoric last week. Laura Ingraham knows that no matter how depraved her commentary,Â Fox will have her back. And Tucker Carlson hasÂ effectively turnedÂ the networkâs 8 p.m. hour intoÂ Stormfront TV.
There are some at Fox who operate within standards that, if you squint hard enough, resemble those of a traditional media outlet. They may complain about the behavior of the networkâs stars, either toÂ other reportersÂ orÂ more publicly. But Foxâs business model is built on hard-right propaganda garnished with a fig leaf of ârealâ reportersÂ whom network executives like Lachlan Murdoch can point toÂ defray criticism. ThatÂ has been the play for years, and the Fox âstraight newsâ people have been happy to keep cashing their checks. They are complicit in the worst failings of their colleagues.
As I noted after Hannityâs ethical disaster in April, âbecause Fox does not hold its stars to the most basic codes of ethical behavior, let alone the standard principles of journalistic conduct,Â criticsÂ hoping for accountabilityÂ have little recourseÂ but toÂ appealÂ directlyÂ to theÂ networkâs advertisers.â
Fox and Hannity have both responded to the controversy by neither admitting fault nor promising that this wonât happen again. Both farcical statements suggest that the networkâs real concern is that Hannity impugned the Fox employees present among the press throng when he went onstage and said of the media at the rally, âall those people in the back are fake news.â
An anonymous Fox spokespersonÂ released the following statement: âFOX News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events. We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.â
The statement is notable for its brazen lie: Regardless of what the network says it does or âdoes not condone,âÂ more than a dozen Fox hosts and contributors raised funds for Republican Party organizationsÂ in the first year of Trumpâs administration — continuing aÂ yearslong pattern.
The statement is also notable for what it is missing: Any direct criticism of Hannity or Pirro by name, or any consequences for what they did.
At the same time the networkâs statement went out, HannityÂ tweetedÂ that his appearance on stage âwas NOT planned,â and that he âwas not referring toâ his Fox colleagues when he described the assembled journalists covering the event as âfake news.â Absent was an apology, an acknowledgment that what he did was wrong, or a statement that he would not do it again.
He probably will.
Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters