It is difficult to understand all of the fanfare over Fox News host Sean Hannity being outed as Donald Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen’s third client.
The way the cable news world exploded over the revelation, you would have thought that it was a journalist whose name was mentioned.
It was fitting that on a day when the Pulitzer Prizes, the top awards for actual journalism, were announced, including New York Times and Washington Post coverage of the Trump presidency, as well as the Times and the New Yorker’s coverage that launched the “Me Too” movement, that an egregious example of the worst of today’s journalism also found itself in the spotlight.
Sean Hannity has claimed he is not a journalist, but an entertainer, though he plays the same notes more often than a garage band musician with a three-string guitar. His three-hit repertoire consists of praising President Trump, demonizing Trump’s investigators, and blasting Hillary Clinton as if Trump’s former opponent still had relevance.
Hannity tries to have it both ways, though, often speaking of information he received from sources, promoting “real” news that you won’t see on other media outlets and, of course, being featured on a network that has the word “news” in its name.
Hannity’s sin, judging from media commentary, is that he never revealed while he was interviewing Cohen and bashing the FBI search warrant that led to Monday’s courtroom drama that he had consulted Cohen. Hannity committed a breach of journalistic ethics, critics said, though the idea of having journalistic ethics and Hannity spoken in the same sentence is amusing.
Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik was one of those who decried Hannity’s actions.
Zurawik, a frequent guest on CNN’s Reliable Sources, was one of those criticizing Hannity’s failure to disclose his relationship with Cohen.
“The big question: If there was nothing to hide, why didn’t Hannity tell his audience that Cohen was his attorney?”
Zurawik noted Hannity’s claim, both on his show and on Twitter, that Cohen had never represented him and that he had mostly talked with him about real estate.
The Washington Post, in an editorial posted Monday, said Hannity’s actions brought his status with Fox News into question and also raised concerns about his ability to report information concerning Cohen, including advice that Cohen has given to the president or possible crimes committed by the attorney.
The editorial indicated Hannity had already crossed the line many times, with this latest news merely adding to his list of ethical transgressions.
“Hannity is way too compromised to compromise himself further. With each revelation, though, it’s clear that Hannity’s programming is driven more by personal ties and loyalties than by whatever principles he may retain at this point.”
During an appearance on Hannity’s program Monday night, attorney Alan Dershowitz, a frequent guest since he began criticizing the Mueller investigation, took Hannity to task for his lack of candor regarding his connection to Cohen, the New York Daily News reports.
“You could have said that you had asked him for advice or whatever. But I think it would have been much, much better had you disclosed that relationship.”
Although Hannity disagreed with Dershowitz and brushed aside the attorney’s scolding, his entry — even in a peripheral fashion — as a player in the Trump investigations creates serious problems for Fox News.
In the past, the cable network has said that its evening programming, including hosts Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Hannity, is opinion/entertainment, a distinction also afforded to the network’s morning show (and Trump favorite) Fox and Friends.
Other programming during the afternoon and early evening hours is presented by the network’s news division and often offers information that is completely at odds with that presented during primetime.
If the Fox News Channel hopes to maintain any journalistic integrity, the way it handles Sean Hannity, both as it concerns his relationship with Michael Cohen and his regular mixture of Trump boosterism and right-wing conspiracy theories, could provide a turning point.
As afternoon news anchor Shepard Smith, a critic of some of the things Hannity has promoted on his program said when the Hannity-Cohen story broke Monday, for Fox News this is the “elephant in the room.”