Just when you thought The New York Times couldn’t sink any lower than their piece lionizing conservative Ben Shapiro, and then another one about Ohio Nazi Tony Hovater (who likes Seinfeld, Applebee’s, and ethnic cleansing) their magazine, not to be one-upped, said “hold my beer” and published one on Fox News anchor Sean Hannity.
For the Times to do this for the third time in less than a week makes it seem that they are desperate to get Trump voters to read their paper, and in doing so, have abandoned their liberal readers to write puff pieces fawning over people who should have all their faults exposed to the light, rather than glossed over.
The piece by Matthew Shaer, attempts to paint the Fox News anchor as a regular guy by dropping little facts about him, similar to those about Tony Hovater. We learn that he practices martial arts, he plays basketball in his backyard, and he likes golf. He’s switched to light beer because he’s worried about his weight. He enjoys clams and Kobe beef meatballs. Also he defended a pedophile and believes Hillary Clinton sold US uranium to the Russians, but hey, he says his new workout with his trainer is really hard! The vast majority of his viewers (who probably can’t afford a personal trainer) can really relate to that, right?
We go deep into his childhood, as Shaer accompanies Hannity to his old boyhood home in the Franklin Square neighborhood of Long Island. Here, we learn more childhood facts that “humanize” him: he had a paper route as a boy, he used to cut class to smoke cigarettes, and he grew up enthralled by the radio. But instead of listening to Little Orphan Annie, he listened to right wing hosts like Bob Grant, who described the United States as ripe for a a Camp of the Saints-style takeover from “subhumanoid savages who really would feel more at home careening along the sands of the Kalahari.” How idyllic.
He enjoys hanging out with friends like Geraldo Rivera, who vouch for his kindness, and praise how he steers the conservative movement. Rivera’s anecdote here represents what’s wrong with Shaer’s article in a nutshell:
Rivera recalled the release of [Trump’s] “Access Hollywood” tape last year…At the time, many political commentators on the right were treating the video as fatal to Trump’s presidential bid… Hannity went in the opposite direction… framing the tape as a politically motivated distraction. ‘King David had 500 concubines, for crying out loud!’ he joked to one panelist…
“If you look back at those traumas,” Rivera told me, “you’ll see that Hannity steadied the whole of conservative politics during those crucial times. And I think he plays much the same role now.”
There is nothing about his coverage of possibly the most reprehensible thing ever said by a presidential candidate that can be praised. If Hannity had any sense of responsibility, he would have condemned Trump, but as one friend describes him, he’s a “numbers guy,” and like the President he praises, all that matters are ratings, so of course he’ll cater to the deplorables who will never abandon this President. If Shaer wanted to write a responsible profile of Hannity, he would have pushed back on this mentality, but he just lets the point sit there, as though it’s business at usual for Fox News.
Shaer, to his credit, raises controversies Hannity has gotten himself into, but doesn’t dwell on why his critics see them as evidence of his bigotry. It details an incident early in his career when, as a radio host in Santa Barbara, he got fired for saying on air that people who believed homosexuality was normal were “brainwashed.” While Hannity mentions that his punishment was “deserved,” Shaer colors the story as a reflection of his business model, which he describes as, “Poke, prod, provoke, step back and do it all over again,” instead of being a teachable moment for him to reflect on his behavior. (Although he does mention having gay friends, something I’ve never heard a homophobe say before.)
Even when describing his recent transgressions, like his backing of the Seth Rich conspiracy and his defense of Roy Moore, Shaer treats his subject with kid gloves. Hannity, who believed Rich sent the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, agreed to stop talking about it on the air, but the article reveals that he still communicates with the conspiracy’s most vocal advocates, proof that “by backing off on reporting…but maintaining his contention that ‘something is going on,’ he is effectively having it both ways.” Shaer styles his defense of Moore, and the fallout which ensued, in a similar way, as though he’s praising his business acumen for how he dealt with a man accused of molesting young girls. He describes one of the anchor’s demands for the Senate candidate as “straight out of the pro-wrestling playbook.” To treat these two moments, which reveal Hannity’s conspiratorial and cynical ways, as examples of his knack for giving the audience what they want, is despicable.
In documenting Hannity, Shaer forgets, or doesn’t understand, that when you profile someone like him, you have a journalistic duty to either report on the collateral damage their actions have caused, or at least make the attempt to do so. A strong example of this is the late, great David Carr’s 2001 profile of Harvey Weinstein. According to those who knew him, Carr was aware that the mogul was an alleged sexual predator, and did as much as he could to verify the allegations against him, but could not legally print them. Reading his piece today, he includes some vicious quotes from interviewees that hint he was guilty of much, much worse than just being a stereotypical jerk. Carr may not have been able to write as critical a piece as we would have liked, but he still did everything in his power to tell the truth. (By contrast, author Peter Biskind consciously ignored the allegations against Weinstein when he wrote his 2004 book about him, Down and Dirty Pictures.)
“People don’t know what drives me, what energizes me,” Hannity says at the beginning of the article. Immediately preceding that, he says that he doesn’t grant interviews to mainstream reporters because they’re “disgustingly biased, ideological and corrupt.” Maybe the problem is that we already know what gets him up in the morning: a chance to serve as the mouthpiece for a crooked administration and a corrupt President who considers the anchor “great” and tells him, in the article’s last line, “I’m very proud of you.” With friends like him extolling his virtues, who needs The New York Times to do the same?
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.