My Short, Strange Career In The Fox Hole With Lying Sean Hannity
I write a column like this one almost every day. To help out the cause and receive my columns in your email inbox, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
They first called in the early winter of 1996, when I was living in Los Angeles and working in the movie and TV business writing scripts. The voice on the other end of the phone was that of a young booker at Fox News. Was I familiar with the Hannity & Colmes show?
Not really. Fox News and the Hannity & Colmes show had only been on the air for a few months, having started up in early October of that year. The booker patiently explained the concept of the show to me. Sean Hannity was a little known radio talk show host who had been working in Atlanta, Georgia; Colmes was Alan Colmes, another radio talk show host who had been syndicated for a time after a career at ABC and NBC radio. Now he had a show on the Fox News Radio network. Was I familiar with either of them?
Not really. Well, the young booker from Fox continued, the concept behind the Hannity & Colmes show was that a conservative host, that would be Hannity, and a liberal host, Colmes, would spend an hour on TV every evening, basically arguing over a featured issue for each program. They invited guests on the show to join in the political back-and-forth, in the keeping with the theme of the show, a conservative and a liberal, who were encouraged to argue with each other and with the hosts. It was all in good fun, the booker explained to me. You’ll love it!
She went on to tell me tonight’s show was about gun control, and they had seen a recent op-ed article I had written in the New York Times, and would I come on the air that afternoon – it would be filmed live at 6 p.m. Pacific time -- with Hannity and Colmes to argue about that subject? There would be a conservative guest as well, but they didn’t know who that was. They would send a car to take me to the Fox News studios over in West L.A. around 4 p.m., in time to get me prepped before show time.
It sounded interesting. I had never even heard of Fox News, the channel was so new. Nor had I heard of either Hannity or Colmes, but I was game. So at the appointed time, a black Lincoln Town car pulled up in my driveway in Los Feliz and the car took me to West L.A. to…a spaceship. At least, that’s what the building looked like from the street. It was a round thing, a single story with a sloping roof, with windows around its perimeter, mounted on concrete pillars that provided parking below the building. Someone came down a set of stairs and led me up to a makeshift studio that had been set up in one of the conically shaped offices – several others were occupied by a dentist, a Pilates studio, and a nail salon.
Inside, the room was piled with boxes and rolls of cable and a bunch of lighting fixtures were jumbled together along one wall. They had screened off the windows with an enormous black curtain and set up a green screen in the middle of the room with a gray metal stool in front of it and a television camera across the way, with several large can-lights mounted on tripods pointing at the stool. It looked like the audio-video room in a high school somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. A producer emerged from a door to an adjoining office and introduced himself and apologized profusely for the makeshift studio and escorted me into a bathroom where a make-up artist awaited me with another metal stool facing the mirror over the sink.
They put some make-up on me and escorted me back into the studio. A technician came around from behind the camera and clipped a microphone to my jacket and fit me with an earpiece. In a few moments, a voice came over the earpiece. It was a producer in the New York control room welcoming me and explaining that I would be on the show with a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. “Oh, they’re not very happy with me at all,” I told the New York producer. “Well, that’s the idea!” the voice from New York chirped.
A few minutes later, the lights came on and I looked into the eye of the camera and I was on the Hannity & Colmes show for the first of what would turn out to be many times over the next year or so. They called me for gun control shows and for shows on “gays in the military” as the controversial issue was then called, since I had written another Times op-ed a few years earlier advocating for the end of “don’t ask/don’t tell” and the right of gay Americans to serve openly in the military. For the military shows, I was usually on with retired Col. David Hackworth, a decorated Vietnam War hero who wrote a column in Newsweek and appeared on countless television and radio shows talking about the problem of PTSD and other military-related subjects.
I can’t recall what I said on that first show. It was a fairly frantic exchange of ideas, I guess you would call it, with Hannity and the NRA guy doing their best to filibuster and limit as much as possible what Colmes and I were able to get into the few gaps in their orations. It turned out that the bookers in New York started using me to fill in for guests who got stuck in traffic from the airport, or traffic in the city, and weren’t able to make it to the Fox studio in New York. They would call me with maybe an hour and a half to go before showtime, send the car, and tell me what the subject was on my way over there.
Colmes, the resident liberal, wasn’t that much of a liberal, and he was no match at all for the voluble and animated Hannity. Most of the time when I was on the show, Colmes would sit back and let me and Hannity have it out. I soon got the impression, especially when I was on the show to discuss gays in the military, that Hannity didn’t like me at all. My position on that subject was fairly simple. From my experience, and that of my father and brother, the gay people we had met in while serving in the Army were there for the same reason we were: they wanted to serve their country. Some of them, like us, came from an Army family, and were following their fathers’ examples. My father had commanded a company in Korea that was saved by machine gunner who happened to be gay from a Chinese attack during a brutal retreat. The gay soldier fired his machine gun at the attacking enemy until the rest of the company had escaped to safety and gave his life in the process. My father made sure he got a posthumous Silver Star for heroism.
The approach I took with Hannity was to ask him, didn’t he think that gay people should have the right to be patriotic and serve their country the same way straight people did? Hannity didn’t have a good answer to that question, and not having served, he had no personal experience to relate, so he didn’t do too well in those exchanges. Hackworth, on the show on the conservative side, ended up agreeing with me half the time, especially on the issue of patriotism. I think I recall him saying at one point that everybody’s blood runs red when they’re shot, so what’s the difference if the man bleeding is gay or straight? Colmes began calling me after the show thanking me for taking on Hannity so forcefully. I watched a few shows that I wasn’t on, and Hannity walked all over Colmes, frequently interrupting him in mid-sentence and eye-rolling at what Colmes said right on camera. I could tell the tension between me and Hannity was taking pressure off Colmes every time I was on the show.
It went on that way for about a year or so. Then while I was on a book tour and making a couple of appearances in Dallas, my phone rang the minute I turned it on when I got off the plane. Could I be on the show that night? The topic was women in the military, about the different physical requirements for women in the Army and Marines. Where was I staying? They would send a car to my hotel and take me to the Fox studio in Dallas.
I didn’t have anything scheduled that night beyond dinner with some friends, so I readily agreed. I took my friends with me in the Town Car to the Dallas studio, and they sat and watched as I got made up and had my mic clipped on and got ready for the show. The whole thing of getting from the plane to the hotel to the studio was such a rush-job, it never occurred to me to ask who the other guest would be.
When the show started, Colmes introduced the topic of women in the military and me as the guest. I waited for the introduction of the other guest, but there wasn’t one. They had never broken the show format like that before, and I soon discovered why.
After Colmes’ introduction, Hannity took over and immediately went on the attack, literally waving a sheet of paper around and telling me he had been told that I had been court martialed while I was in the Army for dealing drugs to my own troops. He never said the paper was the “evidence” he had, but he acted like it was. He went on for some time, exclaiming that he had never known this before, and if he had, he would not have invited me on the show previously. There was a monitor on the ground next to the camera in the studio, and although it was on a 3 second delay, I could see the shock on Colmes’ face. He obviously had no idea what Hannity had planned.
I was completely unprepared for this outright lie to be sprung on me. While Hannity was waving the sheet of paper around and lying at top speed, I pulled myself together to reply. It was a classic trap. Just as I was ready to reply, the show went to commercial, and a producer in New York came on my earpiece and started apologizing up and down. He said they would go to another topic with another guest when the show came back on, but I told him I wanted to respond to Hannity’s lies.
When the show started again, I said I had never been court martialed for anything and asked Hannity what evidence he had that I had been a drug dealer in the Army. He sputtered for a moment, and I continued: He was making a serious charge against his own guest on the show. Had he checked with the Pentagon to get the records of this alleged court martial? More sputtering. Then I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing making such a libelous charge on live television, and the show went to commercial before he could respond.
By that point, people from the control room at the Fox studio in Dallas were appearing behind the camera. The voice of the producer in New York came back in my earpiece apologizing profusely to me. They had no idea Hannity was going to do this. Another producer came on, introducing himself as the executive producer of the program, apologizing again. I was still sitting on the stool in the studio, and I had his undivided attention, so I told him they would be getting a letter from me demanding a written and on-air apology from Fox News and from Hannity, or I was going to sue them. Then I took my earpiece out, unclipped my mic, and walked out of the studio with my friends and got into the Town Car and went back to the hotel.
It made for some good conversation at the dinner table that night, I can tell you that.
Hannity went on the air on some night following that broadcast and scowled out a brief apology, barely managing to get my name out, saying something like he had been given wrong information. Later, I would hear from the executive producer that Hannity had been holding the print-out of an email someone had sent him. I asked the producer if they made it a habit to allow their hosts to use random emails from God-only-knew-who as “proof” to make spurious charges on Fox News. He said no, it was against company policy and apologized again. A brief written apology from Fox News CEO Roger Ailes arrived in the mail some time later.
Little did I know that “policy” at Fox News, especially on the show hosted by Sean Hannity, would become exactly what occurred that night while I sat in a studio in Dallas. Lies unsupported by facts of any kind whatsoever delivered to an audience that Fox had gradually conditioned to believe anything Hannity or any of the rest of them said about anything at all, including a presidential election and a deadly disease that was killing Americans by the hundreds of thousands.
Looking back on it, I got off lucky because the Fox lie machine was in its infancy and they had not yet discovered that they could get away with practically anything, at least until the Dominion Voting Systems Corporation came along. I am willing to bet, however, that neither Sean Hannity nor Tucker Carlson or any of the rest of the lying liars of today will utter even a syllable of an on-the-air apology to Dominion or anybody else.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.