For years, Sean Hannity crossed moral lines with his role on a television network with the name “news”. Never before has it been as serious as it is now, however, with the committee investigating last year’s Capitol uprising seeking his testimony.
The January 6 selection committee revealed a series of texts that Hannity privately advised former President Donald Trump before, during and after the attack, and is seeking his insight into what happened in those days.
The popular Fox News primetime host has not said what he will do, but he has slammed the congressional investigation as a partisan witch hunt. His attorney raised First Amendment concerns about this requirement.
It’s not unheard of for journalists to give advice to politicians – history records Ben Bradlee’s friendship with former President John F. Kennedy – but the ones who give advice to politicians, said Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center. Such actions call into question their independence and allegiance to the public interest Research Ethics in Media and Law at the University of Minnesota.
Just last month, CNN fired popular host Chris Cuomo as it became apparent his efforts to mentor his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, more broadly than had been previously assumed. previously acknowledged.
In a document released by the committee on Tuesday, Hannity wrote to Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on December 31, 2020, that “we cannot lose the entire WH advisory office.” and said Trump should announce that he would lead a nationwide effort to reform election integrity.
In a previously disclosed text, Hannity urged Trump on January 6 to tell people to leave the Capitol peacefully. On January 10, Hannity texted Meadows saying that Trump should never mention the election again – advice that Trump clearly failed to take.
Noting that Hannity texted on January 5 that he was “very worried about the next 48 hours,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the committee, said he wanted to know what was in relation to the presenter. .
During the Trump administration, Hannity spoke regularly with the president. The text for Meadows sets specificity to certain communications.
Hannity’s identity as a conservative talk show host has been locked down for two decades, both as an official host on the Fox News Channel and on the talk radio. His identity as a journalist took a turn for the worse.
Fox refers to him as an opinion host. In 2016, Hannity told New York Times that “I never claimed to be a journalist.” A year later, he told the same newspaper that “I am a journalist. But I am an advocate journalist, or an opinion journalist. ”
He does interviews on his show, sometimes with people he is personally mentoring.
“He seems to consider himself a journalist when it suits his purposes and an entertainer when it doesn’t,” says Kirtley. “And he can’t have it either way.”
Fox News executives did not immediately comment on revelations about what Hannity texted Meadows or criticism of his ethics or the network.
There was a time when Fox News acknowledged journalistic standards regarding Hannity. He was forced to cancel a 2010 appearance in Cincinnati when it was revealed that he was participating in a Tea Party fundraiser. When Hannity was featured in a 2016 Trump campaign video, he was asked not to do it again.
In 2018, Fox called it an “unfortunate distraction” when Hannity was called to speak at a Trump campaign rally.
“It clearly raises ethical issues for Hannity,” says Kirtley. “But it also poses ethical issues for Fox. What do you want to be? What do you aspire to be? You have to decide where your allegiance lies, whether your goal is to be a microphone for a particular political program or to serve the public interest.”
Fox has long tried to differentiate between news programming and opinion. Especially in the past few years, these lines have become less obvious, as they have been in some news organizations. Several prominent Fox journalists, like Chris Wallace last month, have left.
“I don’t consider Fox a news organization,” said June Cross, a journalism professor and documentary expert at Columbia University. “They’re in the business of what I call ‘entertainment news,’ which may or may not have anything to do with news.”
For a traditional news organization, hidden in text messages is another kind of confusion: that someone on its payroll already knows about some important, reliable piece of information — about what’s going on. discussed in the White House before and after the Capitol riots – that was clearly kept secret.
If opinion journalists elsewhere are in a similar position, such as Maureen Dowd’s New York Times or Eugene Robinson’s washington articles“I assume they have an obligation to inform their news organizations,” Cross said.
“If your allegiance is to the public,” says Kirtley, “you should disclose this.”
In his letter to Hannity, Thompson said the committee had “great respect for the First Amendment.” He said the members wanted to confront Hannity about a series of specific and narrow factual questions, not about his broadcasts, reports, or opinions.
“We are sure that you love our country and respect our Constitution,” he wrote. “Now is the time to step forward and serve your country’s interests.”