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Sean Hannity: Actually, it’s all the other media that are dishonest

Should someone have had a lot of confidence in the accuracy and integrity of Fox News host Sean Hannity, the past few weeks must have been somewhat jarring. Internal communications obtained by Dominion Voting Systems as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the broadcaster reveal how Hannity and other Fox News hosts privately excoriated false claims about fraud in the 2020 election — but, worried about losing viewers, gave airtime to the conspiracy theories anyway.

Before we get into Hannity’s show on Wednesday evening, it’s important to walk through this issue in detail.

In a deposition as part of the Dominion suit, Hannity insisted that he “did not believe … for one second” the allegations made by attorney Sidney Powell of vote-switching by electronic voting machines. Yet, on Nov. 30, 2020 — well after his colleague Tucker Carlson had noted on-air that Powell had no evidence for her claims — Hannity interviewed her anyway. The segment was so obviously riddled with nonsense that another Fox host took time to debunk it and other, similar allegations.

“Hannity had told his audience on November 11 that the hand recount in Georgia would be critical regarding the questions about Dominion,” a filing from the voting-machine company states. “By November 30, the hand recount had been completed and proved Dominion’s machines worked properly and did not flip votes in Georgia. Yet Hannity still invited Powell on his show and chose to broadcast her lies. He said nothing about the results of the Georgia hand recount.”

Why? A text exchange from earlier in the month explained.

“Respecting this audience whether we agree or not is critical. Fox has spent the month spitting at them,” Hannity wrote to colleagues on Nov. 24, according to Dominion. “Right,” one replied — “our best minutes from last week were on the voting irregularities.”

There are numerous other examples of Hannity promoting false allegations or making untrue statements on his show. (Here are some.) But the release of Dominion’s filings has provided an unusual level of detail about how Hannity and his employer subjugate truth to what their audience wants to hear. On this one issue, we see the network’s willingness to promote a false narrative that pleases its audience at the expense of sharing accurate information — a trade-off that the available evidence suggests occurs at Fox News on a near nightly basis.

Fox News employees appear to be forbidden from discussing the lawsuit, for perhaps obvious reasons. But on Wednesday, Hannity did his best to rebut the idea that Fox News and he himself were unusually dishonest — by hosting a panel in which he and guests such as former Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway asserted that it was instead the traditional press that was hopelessly biased.

Hannity began the segment by listing examples in which mainstream outlets corrected their reporting — or in which he insisted that they for some reason should have done so.

“The Washington Post [and] other outlets referred to the Wuhan lab leak as a debunked conspiracy theory?” he said. “No, it was true.”

This isn’t accurate. The Post challenged the idea that the coronavirus had been created in a lab to be more dangerous or leaked intentionally, but this distinction has been lost in the effort to cast the media as hostile to the truth. Note, of course, that as he is accusing The Post of being inaccurate, Hannity makes the indefensible claim that the “lab leak” theory is “true,” which has by no means been established.

He offered several other examples stretching across multiple news outlets and reaching back to 1996, as neat a distillation of cherry-picking as one can imagine. (Contrast that with this list of false or unsupported claims from Carlson alone over the span of about a year.) To the approval of his audience — for some reason, Hannity now has a live audience — the Fox News host declared that “the mob in the media, they lie, they make things up.”

Then he introduced his guests, including Conway.

Conway, you will recall, was one of myriad actors on the right who went from criticizing Trump to working for him. She drew national headlines when, two days after Trump took office, she tried to defend White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s misleading claims about the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that,” Conway said, coining a phrase that neatly encapsulated the divergence between accurate information and the right-wing media universe.

On Hannity, Conway of course agreed with his presentation.

“I want to challenge people watching tonight who don’t wear red hats, don’t consider themselves MAGA” — that is, hardcore Trump supporters — “don’t consider themselves very strong political people,” she said. “I want you to ask yourself how many times you’ve been lied to not just by this government, but how many times you’ve been lied to by the people whose job it is to tell you the truth, in the media, all in the service of getting the president.”

Her examples?

“We wasted so much of their money on the Russia collusion investigation, the [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller investigation, the Mueller report, the Mueller testimony, the two impeachments that didn’t remove him from office. The Jan. 6 investigation,” she said. “It just goes on and on.”

Well, yes. All of those things happened, though, if you notice, it’s actually only three things: the investigation into Russian interference in 2016 and potential connections to Trump’s campaign (of which Conway was a member), the investigation into Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to aid his political efforts and the investigation into the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

That the impeachments didn’t convict Trump or remove him from office — because there weren’t enough Republican senators willing to reach the two-thirds margin needed to do so — doesn’t mean they didn’t prove their case. Trump clearly tried to leverage the nation’s relationship with Ukraine to get that country to damage Joe Biden politically. Trump is obviously responsible for the riot at the Capitol, given that it depended on his false claims about the 2020 election and his encouraging people to be in D.C. that day.

And while people such as Hannity try to dismiss the Russia probe — The Post and the New York Times “won Pulitzer Prizes for lying about the Trump-Russia collusion hoax,” he falsely claimed in introducing the segment — the reality is that Russia did try to interfere and that members of Trump’s team welcomed that interference. Multiple investigations have shown that a probe was warranted; the one investigation aiming to prove Hannity’s point was a dud.

None of this will be heard by Hannity’s audience, which is the point. Conway could sit next to him and claim that the media was hopelessly biased against Trump without cause because she knew that Hannity wouldn’t challenge her, and she knew that the audience would clap. Hannity has worked very hard to reinforce the primacy of Fox News relative to traditional, good-faith outlets because the more he builds an us-vs.-them view of media, the more loyal the “us” is to tuning in to his show.

It’s just jarring to see this argument from that host in this moment. Hannity’s dishonesty and opportunism has always been clear but rarely so well documented. So he goes on his show and, with the help of a professional Republican spin artist, claims that truth is falsehood and falsehood truth.

And why not? This is precisely the approach that has earned him a huge salary and a popular show. What more could a member of the media ask for?

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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