Sean Hannity of Fox News represents the low-brow, anti-intellectual and reactionary wing of the Republican party and the conservative movement. His arguments, to use a boxing metaphor, are like sucker punches thrown below the belt and after the bell.
With mediocre debating skills and a braying delivery, Hannity could not win a fair fight so he turns his TV show on weeknights into a kangaroo court, loaded with a right-wing jury and an occasional progressive defendant.
He’s the political cable champion at either flattering or insulting people and putting together two half-truths to make one whole lie.
But now, as Donald Trump’s chief sycophant in the media for his presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, Hannity is starting to hear criticism from not only the left wing but also the right—and even those who come close to neutrality, like host Brian Stelter of Reliable Sources on CNN.
Stelter noted Sunday that Hannity and Bill O’Reilly of Fox both interviewed Trump last week without pressing him with follow-up questions about his claim that the November election will be “rigged” against Trump.
“Hannity’s not a journalist,” Stelter said. “But he has a megaphone and he’s using his megaphone irresponsibly . . . Right now, it’s the Republican candidate for President who is delegitimizing our democratic process without proof. It is unpatriotic for any interviewer or any journalist to help him.”
Before that, Hannity was word-whipped late last month by Jon Stewart, the tart-tongued political comedian who came out of retirement to appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS.
Referring to Hannity only as “Lumpy,” Stewart used video clips to show Hannity’s double standard regarding President Obama and Trump.
When Obama reads from a teleprompter, it proves he is not smart, in Hannity’s way of thinking. But when Trump uses one, it proves he is disciplined and on message.
Stewart played clips of Hannity claiming Obama was an elitist who doesn’t understand regular folks—before showing a photograph of Trump sitting in a gold chair.
“Meanwhile, here’s how Lumpy feels about the guy who sits on a literal golden throne at the top of a golden tower with his name in gold letters at the top of it,” Stewart said.
The clip showed Hannity at his smarmy best, remembering fondly how Trump, on Hannity’s own show, once described his father as a “blue-collar millionaire.”
Stewart soon summed up.
“It’s easy for people without ethics or principles to embrace someone who embodies everything they said they hated about the previous president for the past eight years because, really, for the president, it’s all about what’s inside,” Stewart said. “And that’s where Lumpy and friends really found Obama lacking.”
After playing a clip in which Hannity challenged Pope Francis over his objection to Trump’s immigration policies, Stewart summed up Hannity’s overall approach of dime-store jingoism and cloying outbursts of religious sanctimony and patronizing patriotism.
“You don’t own patriotism,” Stewart said. “You don’t own Christianity. You sure as hell don’t own respect for the bravery and the sacrifice of military, police and fire-fighters.”
Alluding to Hispanics and other immigrants as well as to people low on the economic ladder, Stewart concluded his message to Hannity with: “So, I see you. You’ve got a problem with those Americans fighting for their place at the table. Well, if you have a problem with that, take it up with the Founders.
“Those fighting to be included in the ideals of equality are not being divisive. Those fighting to keep those people out are. Lumpy, you and your friends have embraced Donald Trump.”
Like Trump, Hannity is a thin-skinned “counter-puncher” who can be baited into an over-the-top reaction. So, on his radio show, Hannity attacked Stewart.
“I see they brought that idiot Jon Stewart back from the dead,” Hannity said. “Great. Attack me all you want. I was right about Obama and you were a fool who had your head so far up Obama’s ass, Jon Stewart, I’ve never seen anybody kiss an ass like you kiss his. And now you’re sucking up to him, putting your head up Hillary’s ass and sucking up to her, too.”
He concluded that Stewart was a “rich liberal.”
Last but not least, Hannity has engaged in a war of words with Bret Stephens, the editorial page editor at the conservative Wall Street Journal. He called Hannity “Fox News’ dumbest anchor.”
Hannity responded to this on Twitter.
“If Hillary wins I will hold assholes like you accountable,” Hannity said.
He called Stephens “a typical arrogant elitist” and a “dumbass.” Another conservative publication, National Review, referred to Trump as “the very epitome of vulgarity” and blamed Hannity and the right-wing media for Trump’s success.
“They have created an intellectual ghetto that no one else wants to visit,” National Review said.
Hand me the remote . . .
FOX NEWS SUNDAY Host Chris Wallace opened with a debate between Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and Newt Gingrich (R-Fox).
The subject turned to Trump’s wife, Melania, and questions about her visa status when she posed for nude photographs as an unmarried model while in the United States in 1995. She was born in Slovenia and did not yet have a working visa.
GINGRICH: “This is the only immigrant you’re worried about.”
BECERRA: “Interesting that the immigrant basher (Trump) is unwilling to explain how his wife, an immigrant, got (unintelligible) status.”
GINGRICH: “He (Trump) just likes his immigrants to be legal.”
Gerald Steib of The Wall Street Journal discussed the reported “intervention” of top Republicans regarding Trump’s undisciplined, surly campaign.
“Republicans looked at the Trump campaign and said ‘It’s in trouble but—you know what?—it’s the kind of trouble that can drag us down,’” Steib said.
Lisa Boothe of the Washington Examiner called Trump’s recent tribulations “the best thing that could have happened to him because, sometimes, candidates need to get their teeth knocked in.”
When asked if it was fair for Democrats to examine the past immigration status of Trump’s third wife, Boothe replied: “If their line of attack proves to be true, then that is a very damaging line of attack against Donald Trump, who has made immigration sort of the center point of his campaign.”
On a remote camera from his farm in Arkansas, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton made much of American payments to Iran, part of the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration. In the $1.7 billion agreement, about $400 million in various currencies was transferred to Iran in a nondescript cargo plane.
“The U.S. government was acting like a drug cartel or a third-world gun-runner,” Cotton said. “Some of this money very likely ended up in the hands of terrorist organizations.”
Regarding Trump, Lisa Lerer of the Associated Press said “He essentially made up facts about the deal. There was no video, as he later admitted . . . He claimed it was secret. It wasn’t secret. It was announced on Jan. 17.”
She added that a Washington Post review discovered Trump said “nine untruthful things in 300 words.”
George Will, the conservative intellectual who quit the Republican party in opposition to Trump, warned: “If there is a terrorist event here or a big one abroad, it will change the dynamic of the campaign dramatically.” Sounded as if he meant to the benefit of Trump.
MEDIA BUZZ On Fox, host Howard Kurtz interviewed John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, who described Trump’s feud-fueled campaign in less-than-flattering terms.
“This is the behavior of an erratic, would-be tinpot dictator,” Avlon said.
Krystal Ball noted that the only woman Trump suggested for his cabinet was his daughter, Ivanka. She said Trump paused five times during a Washington Post interview to watch himself on TV. No, she said to Kurtz, the media isn’t going “over the top” with its Trump coverage.
“It mean, it’s nuts,” she said of Trump’s campaign. “I don’t think the coverage goes far enough.”
Kurtz asked AB Stoddard why the immigration history of Melania Trump was a big story.
“Because Trump’s made immigration a big story,” Stoddard said. “It appears that she worked for free and that wasn’t illegal. I think that she’ll be exonerated by the facts if she didn’t do anything wrong. But is it fair game to look into that kind of thing and find out if there’s dishonesty when that’s a primary issue in the Trump campaign? Absolutely.”
Kurtz also showed a full-screen quote from right-winger Erick Erickson, another conservative opinion-leader fleeing from Trump.
He referred to the Republican nominee as a “cult leader” and said of his followers “You should be ashamed of yourself. You people reflect the evil character of your god . . . You disgust me in cheering him on.”
When Greta Van Susteren stopped by for a visit, Kurtz asked her “How do we cover this crazy campaign in such a hyper-partisan atmosphere in which Donald Trump often is depicted not just as unprepared and even bigoted but crazy and a threat to Western civilization?”
“We can all take a deep breath and we could all step back,” she said. “The media sees which way the wind is blowing. They’re watching way too much cable TV.”
RELIABLE SOURCES As is usually the case, Stelter hosted interesting guests. One was Michael Wolff of The Hollywood Reporter. He tried to explain the campaign in brief.
“Hillary Clinton is a politician,” he said. “Trump is an entertainer. If it comes down to that comparison—politician/entertainer—it becomes very volatile.”
Clinton, he said, “is not only not an entertainer, you might say she’s anti-entertainment. It’s homework to listen to her.”
Might this mean trouble for Clinton in a one-on-one debate?
“It’s a significant drawback when you stand next to somebody who is—for whatever reason—the most, maybe this is an exaggeration, maybe the most compelling person on Earth,” Wolff said.
Regarding Fox News—and how the “resigned” emperor Roger Ailes has been replaced by Rupert Murdoch and his two sons—Wolff predicted a new attitude on the way.
“It will change entirely,” he said. “They (the Murdochs) have been embarrassed by Fox.”
STATE OF THE UNION Near the top of the CNN show, host Jake Tapper showed a clip of Trump speaking of Clinton.
“She is a liar,” Trump said. “She is a horrible human being.”
When the screen returned to Tapper, he looked in the lens and said “Wow!”
Then he launched a taped, lengthy interview with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of many Republican politicians who polished his rhetorical skills by working at Fox News. Along with 15 others, he lost to Trump in the primaries.
Kasich still hasn’t endorsed Trump, a fellow Republican, and might not. Kasich confirmed that Donald Trump, Jr., called an aide to Kasich to discuss the vice-presidential slot. Instead, Trump chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Some reports say the Trumps offered Kasich control of both foreign and domestic policy.
KASICH: “I’m running foreign policy in Ohio. We got Michigan on our border.”
TAPPER: “Going to build a wall, I’m sure.”
In a more serious vein, Kasich discussed boycotting his own party’s convention in Cleveland, in his own state.
“Some people are really furious with me,” Kasich said. In a vague allusion to his differences with Trump, Kasich said you “operate on the dark side of the street or operate in the light.”
On the liberal side of the street sat Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who warned of Republican efforts to suppress Democratic votes and said “We have somebody that’s running for president that scares the CIA.”
THIS WEEK Anchor Martha Raddatz on ABC kept asking Rudy Giuliani about Trump and Giuliani kept answering with comments critical of Hillary Clinton.
Raddatz then cited a long list of people who consider Trump unfit to be president.
RADDATZ: “Does that not concern you?”
GIULIANI: “It doesn’t concern me at all.”
Then he turned to the “unfair media” and said “You don’t treat us the same way you treat Democrats.”
Former acting CIA director Michael Morell appeared to restate his fears about Trump’s verbal, long-distance bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin, he said “has manipulated people much smarter than Donald Trump. He played this perfectly . . . Donald Trump didn’t even understand that Putin was playing him.”
On the pundit panel, Matthew Dowd said Trump—when finally endorsing Paul Ryan and others while reading from a script—“seemed like a tranquilized circus lion that had bitten too many people in the audience.”
Cokie Roberts said Republican columnists and commentators are now saying “Your grandchildren will call you wicked if you support him.” Roberts said Trump’s calling Clinton “unhinged” and “not looking presidential” is “totally code for ‘we shouldn’t elect a woman.’”
Roland Martin said Trump “wants to be whiner-in-chief. I mean, he complains about everything.”
FACE THE NATION John Dickerson topped his CBS show with a long conversation with Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who has not yet endorsed Trump.
When told that friends say Trump is much different in private than in public, Flake said “If you could govern in private, I guess that would be OK. But you can’t.”
With so many Hispanic voters in his state, Flake said of Trump’s anti-Mexican bigotry: “You can’t offend a large and growing demographic needlessly. He’s got to change those positions.”
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see he’s going to make the changes that he needs, not only the tone and the tenor,” Flake said.
On the pundit panel, Michael Duffy of Time magazine discussed Trump’s charge that the forthcoming election is already “rigged.” He said Trump’s problem is not just temperament but also judgment.
“He’s either laying the predicate for his own failure,” Duffy said, “or, he is setting the table for saying later that the outcome is illegitimate.”
Funniest moment of the show was a clip of Colbert showing a video of top Trump aide Paul Manafort appearing on CBS This Morning and accidentally saying the wrong words—perhaps a Freudian slip—about Ryan of Wisconsin, the Speaker of the House and a party leader.
“I know after next week I’ll be supporting him as a candidate for president, too,” Manafort said before stopping in embarrassment with a sheepish look on his face.
Then back to Colbert.
“It’s funny,” he said, “because, God, I hope it’s true.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.