How Sean Hannity’s Charlottesville Propaganda Works
Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
It’s been a bad few days for President Donald Trump. His approval ratings hit new lows yesterday in the wake of his widely criticized failure over the weekend to specifically denounce a violent rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, VA. Perhaps because many of his supporters are white racists, the president instead blamed bigotry “on many sides”; while those supporters appreciated it, journalists and pundits from all stripes pointed out this was wildly insufficient, forcing the White House to send Trump out again yesterday afternoon to issue a subdued, paltry, but specific declaration that such groups are bad. Grasping for a familiar foe to blame for his own failures, the president tweeted Monday evening that he had learned a valuable lesson from the fracas: the “Fake News Media will never be satisfied” because journalists are “truly bad people!”
For Trump, the “fake news media” constitutes any journalist who isn’t willing to say nice things about the president regardless of the circumstances. And so the president likely enjoyed last night’s performance from leading lickspittle Sean Hannity, whose Fox News program was largely devoted to explaining that the “destroy Trump establishment media” had unfairly attacked the blameless president. This combination of staunch defense of Trump, no matter what, with a willingness to lash out at the president’s foes characterizes the propagandistic tenor of Hannity’s broadcasts. Like any good propaganda, Hannity’s show has its heroes (Trump and the Republicans who support him) and its villains (Democrats and the media who smear them).
Here’s his sixteen-minute opening monologue from last night’s show:
Hannity kicked off by denouncing the “disgusting,” “despicable” actions of those with “hateful, inexcusable, racist, white supremacist views,” declaring that “there’s no place in this country for these neo-Nazi, fascist, white supremacists.” But for Hannity, the white supremacists aren’t the real villain of the story — or at least, they aren’t worthy of significant attention. They are a player to condemn so you can say you did and then move on to the real point.
And the real point, for Hannity, is that Trump had always condemned white supremacists, and media who say otherwise just want to tear the president down.
Hannity read Trump’s tweets and aired his comment on Saturday, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides.” It’s obvious that Trump had deliberately avoided saying who he had criticized — certainly, the white supremacists noticed that. But here’s Hannity’s explanation of what happened:
Now, all weekend long, I, like many of you, watched the media going insane, acting like they didn’t know what the president was talking about. They ran with a false narrative all weekend. Oh, big story, he didn’t mention the groups by name.
Well, it couldn’t be more obvious, more transparent who the president was talking about. He was standing for equal justice under the law, against racism. And the press, what did they do? They used a high-profile act of violence to bludgeon the president and conservatives politically. So predictable.
Now, it was crystal clear what the president was talking about. But the press, they went after him anyway. And the destroy Trump establishment media — they didn’t care about the violence, seemingly, or the racial tensions they’re creating or the civil unrest as much as they cared about using this tragedy as an opportunity to attack people they disagree with, and in particular, the president, to try and inflict as much damage politically as possible. You know what? Just like they have done since November 8th! That’s a simple truth.
Hannity is making his audience a propaganda sandwich: Attack the press, make excuses for Trump, attack the press again. He primes viewers by drawing a connection to them, suggesting they shared the collective experience of being betrayed by the press. Then he makes an obviously false statement to the benefit of the president: “It couldn’t be more obvious, more transparent who the president was talking about.” Then he explains that the media is only doing this because they are trying to destroy the president like they have since the election.
Hannity supports this viewpoint with lies of omission and commission.
He carefully avoids explaining the fervent white nationalist support for President Trump; that some rally attendees were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats; that these groups expressed love for Trump administration members like chief strategist Steve Bannon; the disturbing interactions the Trump campaign had with white nationalists. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who attended the protest, said that the Charlottesville protests were an indication that “we are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.”
Instead of mentioning any of that, Hannity suggests that the president has been a fervent opponent of that movement. “This is Donald Trump over the years, something the destroy Trump media will never show you, condemning Duke, white supremacists,” Hannity said, before airing a series of interview clips of Trump criticizing Duke. Three clips are from 2016 and one is from 2000, suggesting that Trump had been a consistent Duke foe.
What’s missing, of course, is the reason why reporters were asking Trump about Duke in 2016: Trump created an uproar last February because he repeatedly refused to disavow Duke for supporting his campaign.
Having purportedly demonstrated to his audience that “President Trump and the people that voted for him and that support his agenda … don’t like racists,” Hannity went on the attack. First, he suggested that Democrats are the ones who “divide Americans by playing the race card every single election.” And then he ran through the greatest hits of conservative racial attacks on President Barack Obama — his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, purported ties to Louis Farrakhan, his criticism of the Cambridge police officer who arrested a college professor on his own doorstep, and his support for Black Lives Matter. From there, he was off to the races, lashing out at a panoply of liberals who had made improper comments about Trump, from Mickey Rourke to Kathy Griffin to Snoop Dogg. All the while, he criticized the media for their purported double standard in not giving sufficient coverage to these supposed atrocities.
Here’s how Hannity closed out his monologue, which began with a condemnation of white supremacists who support President Trump:
Every two to four years, Democrats divide the country. They play identity politics. It’s been a part of this playbook the Democrats used for generations.
So it’s time for the destroy Trump establishment media to start recognizing how they have a massive double standard, that they have an agenda and ideology because just like, sadly, white supremacists in Charlottesville, hatred of any kind should not be tolerated or ever given a free pass, period, whoever is involved in the hatred, like the heat we saw this weekend.
Hannity talking to himself is not significantly different from talking to his guests. The remainder of the show featured a host of conservative pundits agreeing that Trump did nothing wrong and the real problems are caused by Democrats and the “destroy Trump establishment media.” By my count of the transcript, the show featured 15 mentions of white supremacists (many of which were declarations that Trump is not one and in fact condemns them). There were 41 mentions of the media or the press over the course of the 44-minute broadcast.
This is what Sean Hannity’s Fox News show is like on a daily basis. It’s pure propaganda, an effort to support the president at every turn, while castigating his enemies — particularly the press. His viewers are living in an alternate reality — one that he’s carefully crafted to benefit Trump.