With former CEO Roger Ailes and star anchor Bill O’Reilly gone, attention at Fox News Channel is shifting to Sean Hannity—the last of the channel’s big stars who have been with the network from the Clinton years to Trump. And it looks like network co-president Bill Shine’s departure last week might be the impetus for Hannity following him out the door.
After all, Hannity has said on Twitter (4/27/17) that if Shine leaves Fox, “That’s the total end of the FNC as we know it. Done.” Well, Shine is gone, and the network seems pretty much the same as it did last month. But perhaps Hannity’s words were a precursor to the host’s own departure, a possibility the acerbic anchor has hinted at at different times over the past year.
FAIR has covered Hannity extensively over the past two decades, as one of the news network’s most vicious purveyors of racial hatred, xenophobia and partisan spin. Hannity first broke into the mainstream through talk radio, delivering, with his boyish face and Long Island accent, right-wing rants that often tip-toed up to the line of outright bigotry—or beyond.
“Anyone listening to this show that believes homosexuality is a normal lifestyle has been brainwashed,” Hannity told Christian Right activist Gene Antonio in 1989 on Santa Barbara radio station KCSB. “It’s very dangerous if we start accepting lower and lower forms of behavior as the normal.” Later that year, Hannity’s comments to a lesbian mother—saying he felt sorry for her child, and questioning if she became pregnant by a “turkey baster”—got him fired from that station, but Hannity was just getting started.
In his early radio days, Hannity also promoted white supremacists like Hal Turner, though he denies his promotion of Turner today. Turner affected hurt feelings when Hannity distanced himself from Turner on air in 2008, saying the two men had an affinity, reflected in special treatment.
“When Hannity took over Bob Grant’s spot on 77 WABC in New York City, I was a well-known, regular and welcome caller to his show,” Turner said (Huffington Post, 5/25/11):
Through those calls, Sean and I got to know each other a bit and at some point, I can’t remember exactly when, Sean gave me the secret “guest call-in number” at WABC so that my calls could always get on the air.
Controversy didn’t do much to slow Hannity down. He joined Rupert Murdoch’s fledgling Fox News Channel in 1996 as co-host of Hannity & Colmes, a Crossfire-style show whose working title was Hannity & Liberal to Be Determined. From the beginning, Hannity & Colmes was a one-sided affair. Hannity’s overbearing manner with his more demure co-host and the duo’s guests made him the star, rendering the back half of the partnership an ineffectual soundboard.
Hannity regularly made use of his ability to cut off debate by cutting microphones, FAIR found in a 2002 study. And he used this power disproportionately on guests of color and marginalized status. “All right, turn his mike down,” Hannity said in 1999, referring to African-American football legend Mercury Morris. “We’ll put him back in a second here because he’s not going to shut up.”
There didn’t seem to be much Colmes could or would do about it, either. As FAIR put it in 2003 (Extra!, 11–12/03), Hannity & Colmes was
a debate show that doesn’t add up to a fair fight, say many critics, because Colmes’ wishy-washy views and low-key delivery just can’t stand up to the relentlessly ideological and combative Sean Hannity.
When Hannity & Colmes ended in 2008 with Hannity going solo, FAIR’s Isabel MacDonald (11/24/08) wondered: “Will anyone notice?”
Hannity took on the Obama administration for the next eight years. Unchained from the light weight of Colmes, he indulged the worst impulses of his ideology: his hyper-partisanship, barely veiled racism and xenophobia. Secession and violent revolution were the subject of polls and games on his website as recently as 2009.
Hannity’s rage against Muslims has been another staple over the past two decades, with fake news and conspiracy theories used to promote fear and anger. “This president has committed to nearly 250,000 coming to America,” the Fox host told then-candidate Donald Trump in October of 2015. “That tells me we have a pre-9/11 mindset again.” Hannity’s claims were straight from joke news site Real News Right Now, but that didn’t stop the Fox host from repeating them.
Hannity has also claimed that terrorists have taken over large swaths of European cities and turned them into “no-go zones,” as FAIR noted in 2015 (1/15/15). “Are the police also searching in these areas that we call the no-go zones, where non-Muslims are usually not allowed, not even police and fire departments, usually?” Hannity asked Fox correspondent Amy Kellogg (1/8/15). Parisians mocked these baseless claims by publishing a guide to “Eating and Drinking in the No-Go Zones”—which included some of Paris’s trendiest neighborhoods.
Hannity has promoted Islamophobes, bringing on Pat Robertson (Hannity & Colmes, 9/18/02) to call Mohammad “an absolute wild-eyed fanatic” and claim that Al Qaeda was merely “carrying out Islam.” The Fox host has also provided a platform for author Mark Steyn (Hannity & Colmes, 1/30/07) to charge that Islam was really “a political project that has opened up branch offices on just about every Main Street throughout the Western world.” His attack on US Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota in 2006 provoked criticism from FAIR for its comparison of Islam to Nazism:
Remarking on reports that US congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was planning to be sworn in with a Quran, Fox News personality Sean Hannity (Hannity & Colmes, 11/30/06) drew a parallel between Islam and Nazism, asking a guest on his show, “Would you have allowed him to choose, you know, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible?” (Hannity insisted he was not equating Mein Kampf and the Quran, rendering his point entirely unclear.)
Trayvon Martin’s murder by George Zimmerman became a cause celebre for Hannity, as Steve Rendall reported (Extra!, 9/13). “There is a mountain of evidence supporting George Zimmerman not being a racist,” Hannity declared (7/23/13) of the man who once called 911 to report the “suspicious activity” of a black child under the age of 10 (Daily Beast, 3/22/13). As a sample of this mountain, Hannity (NewsHounds, 7/15/13) has offered, “Didn’t George Zimmerman date a black woman, take one to the prom?”
In November 2014, Hannity told Tavis Smiley that Smiley needed to take a moment to listen on matters of race and policing in America. “Let me educate you,” Hannity said to an incredulous Smiley, as the Fox host proceeded to excuse every police killing to date.
Finally, Hannity’s thin-skinned partisanship is legend. When the host was famously taken to task by then-candidate Barack Obama communications chief Robert Gibbs in 2008 for using the work of antisemite Andy Martin to attack the future president, he never forgot the slight. Hannity spent Gibbs’ tenure as press secretary mercilessly mocking and attacking him.
That partisanship is almost nowhere more clearly on display than in how his beliefs about extramarital affairs fluctuates depending upon whose is the wandering eye. When John Edwards’ affair was exposed in 2008, Hannity cried crocodile tears for the American people so scandalized by the North Carolina Democrat.
“I’m wondering,” Hannity asked rhetorically, “if you can’t keep the promise to your family, can’t keep your promise to your wife, you’re having an affair, you’re lying about the affair repeatedly, why should the American people trust you when you say you’re not going to lie to them?”
Yet as FAIR pointed out in 2009, Hannity had spent that primary season promoting the candidacies of Rudy Giuliani and John McCain—adulterers both—and frequently welcomed philanderers Newt Gingrich and Dick Morris on his show.
When co-host Alan Colmes (8/12/08) pointedly asked, “How can we trust John McCain,” who “cheated, by his own admission, on his first wife,” Hannity quickly made excuses, explaining that it happened “30 years ago after five-and-a-half years in a prisoner of war camp.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose marriage collapsed in scandal in 2010, found a defender in Hannity, who by 2011 was urging the governor to return to political life. Sanford would do just that in 2013, and is now a representative for South Carolina’s First District today. It seems that as long as you say the right things, your behavior is irrelevant to Sean Hannity.
Perhaps there’s something more to it, though. Hannity may be seeing the writing on the wall now that Shine, who left after mishandling a series of sex abuse scandals, isn’t there to protect him: The host was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox contributor Debbie Schlussel in April—though she later walked back her comments.
Ailes is gone. O’Reilly is gone. Shine is gone. Will Hannity be far behind?