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Herschel Walker, left, and Sean Hannity on set of Fox News "town hall"

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Fox News host Sean Hannity turned his prime-time show into a full-on campaign rally Monday night for Republican U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker, after the former football star had skipped an official debate Sunday night. Walker’s appearance with Hannity was hastily announced Sunday evening, as incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) prepared to face Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver (and an empty lectern in place of Walker) on the debate stage in Atlanta.

The episode of Hannity was officially billed as a “town hall,” a label that the host used multiple times during the hour. But attendees in the audience never actually asked any questions of the candidate, instead simply delivering applause at various moments and engaging in call-and-response routines with Hannity or other speakers.

To be clear, this was simply a campaign rally for Walker, organized and promoted by Hannity and Fox News, and featuring special guests such as Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott from neighboring South Carolina. (Hannity closed out the program by promoting another supposed “town hall” episode of his show scheduled for Wednesday, featuring Pennsylvania GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz — another candidate whose campaign Hannity was instrumental in boosting — as well as Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a favorite of far-right media.)

Walker’s appearance with Hannity followed his participation in another debate that took place Friday, which is likely to be the only televised face-off between the two major-party candidates in the Peach State. During that debate, when Warnock made comments about Walker’s documented history of violence, including when he had threatened a “shoot-out with police,” Walker responded by producing an honorary “prop” police badge from his jacket pocket as alleged proof of his close relationship with Georgia law enforcement.

Walker appeared on Hannity on Monday after he didn’t attend Sunday’s debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club. Hannity opened the pseudo-“town hall” with Walker by declaring that Sunday’s debate was an attempted “ambush,” citing an article in the right-wing Washington Free Beacon that attacked some of the organization’s members who had donated to Democratic candidates in 2020. (The debate moderator was radio host Scott Slade, who has been a fixture of Georgia political news for more than 50 years.)

Dismissing other media coverage, Hannity further declared that “in Friday night's debate, Herschel Walker proved them all wrong and he won that debate,” followed by a clips reel of Walker speaking on stage. (Walker has actually been widely lampooned for his stunt involving the prop badge, a moment that Hannity’s team did not include in the clips reel.)

Of course, Hannity’s protests of alleged press bias for Democrats really ought to ring alarm bells for anyone who has observed both Hannity and Fox News in general.

Hannity is a longtime political operative who practically recruited Walker into the Georgia Senate race, and he has repeatedly used his show to promote other Republican candidates in the midterm elections. In addition, the rest of Fox News also helped pick the Republican Senate candidates while burying negative stories about Walker in its running coverage.

The pseudo-“town hall” was also marked by Hannity feeding Walker talking points for their discussion. Following Hannity’s lengthy opening monologue, the host finally brought the candidate onto the show around 10 minutes into the program, then proceeded to recount a conversation the two supposedly had about Walker’s dedication to public service. (Walker didn’t remember it.)

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): So, I told you before you ran, I said, this is going to get ugly, they’re going to attack you, they’re going to smear you, they’re going to slander you. And do you remember what you said to me?

HERSCHEL WALKER: No.

HANNITY: You said to me, “Sean, I have fought my whole life, and they can do whatever they want. But I’m going to go and be the — I'm going to go be a public servant for the people of Georgia.”

The campaign rally atmosphere continued midway through the program, when Graham and Scott joined the stage, urging viewers to help elect a Republican Senate majority.

“If we want to help Georgians and all of America, let's start winning the majority right here in Georgia,” said Scott.

Graham also repeatedly asked viewers to go to Walker’s campaign site and donate money. “TeamHerschel.com, folks,” he said. “Help this man.” (Graham’s plea for contributions from Fox’s audience is nothing new; he was notorious for begging for donations to his own campaign during appearances on Fox in 2020.)

During this entire programming block that lasted nearly 15 minutes, Walker began speaking for himself only at around the six-and-a-half minute mark, after lengthy partisan jeremiads from the other men.

Hannity later revved up Walker, and the crowd, by asking a series of simple, loaded questions toward the end of the block, essentially directing the candidate to accept the policy agenda being handed to him live on-air.

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): If you're elected, you're promising the people of Georgia — I want to make sure I'm right — lower taxes, controlled borders, re-fund the police, get rid of this —

HERSCHEL WALKER: Energy independence.

HANNITY: — idiotic no-bail laws.

WALKER: Yes.

HANNITY: You will support energy independence.

WALKER: Yes.

HANNITY: And you will support reading, writing, math, history, science —

WALKER: Yes.

HANNITY: And get rid of the woke agenda.

WALKER: Yes. And our military — I want to continue to say I will support —

GRAHAM: Amen.

WALKER: — our military because our military is our strength.

SCOTT: Amen.

WALKER: And we have to continue to support our military.

An analysis by Media Matters found that Walker himself only spoke for roughly 8 minutes — in what was supposedly a “town hall” with the candidate. Hannity, by contrast, had 19 minutes of speaking time. Another way of looking at this is that Walker’s speaking time was still less than the combined total for the other two major guests, Graham and Scott, who collectively spoke for 9 minutes. (All times were rounded to the nearest minute.)

By comparison, in the hourlong debate that Walker skipped Sunday night, a count by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Warnock and Oliver dominated the speaking time, distantly followed by the moderators.

Hannity’s TV episode with Walker, by contrast, perfectly illustrates a propaganda display that featured a candidate for public office only as a supporting character on the show.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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