It was a historic bit of cable-news thematic knitting: On his eponymous Fox News program last night, Sean Hannity last night managed to pull off a 10-minute segment comprehending Cliven Bundy’s racism, eminent domain, Benghazi and Jon Stewart.
Teeing up the segment was the news development on Thursday that Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher that Hannity has supported for weeks via numerous segments on “Hannity,” had said some racist remarks in the presence of New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney. Speaking of “Negroes,” Bundy proclaimed, ““They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”
As we wrote in this space yesterday, those comments placed Hannity in a bind, considering that he’d used his program to popularize Bundy’s fight against the Bureau of Land Management over his tendency to allow his cattle to graze on public lands. According to the feds, Bundy owes about $1 million in grazing fees and penalties and the like. No stranger to outrage, Hannity deployed a little bit of it in responding to Bundy’s musings about the conditions of the “Negro”: “All right, allow me to make myself abundantly clear. I believe those comments are downright racist. They are repugnant. They are bigoted. And it’s beyond disturbing. I find those comments to be deplorable, and I think it’s extremely unfortunate that Cliven Bundy holds those views.”
A good start. The next logical move would have been to repudiate his own coverage of Bundy. But that was too far a walk for Hannity. Instead, he got into the hair-splitting business, attempting to keep alive the larger theme of his coverage, despite the unseemly comments about race from his ranching hero: “However, I also want to say this. The ranch standoff that took place out in Nevada was not about a man named Cliven Bundy. At the heart of this issue was my belief that our government is simply out of control. Now, to me, this was about a federal agency’s dangerous response to a situation that could have resulted in a catastrophe, and that means people dying and people being shot, kind of comparable to what we saw in Waco, Texas.”
No, Hannity: You don’t get this Cliven-Bundy-a-la-carte option. Either you embrace Cliven Bundy in toto or you reject him.
Despite Hannity’s protestations, this is all about a man named Cliven Bundy. How many other Western ranching freeloaders are there who have stiffed the government for two decades with specious arguments and then rally with gun-toting protesters when the feds move in to round up his cattle?
Perhaps Hannity could be excused for embracing this guy, if only the signs of the rancher’s unhingedness had been shrouded before this latest encounter. They were not. All Hannity’s producers needed to do was check a certain document in the 1998 case United States of America v. Cliven Bundy. Here’s how it abridges Bundy’s stance in the case:
Bundy appears to argue in his Motion to Dismiss…that the Complaint…should be dismissed because this Court lacks jurisdiction since Article IV of the Constitution cannot be imposed upon him. Bundy claims that he is a citizen of Nevada and not a citizen of a territory of the United States, and he also quotes religious texts.
If you’re Fox News, that’s all the information you need to reach a simple conclusion: Perhaps this is a local story.
But no — Fox News, and Hannity in particular, herded this story into the national consciousness. To the point that the New York Times had to do a big takeout piece. To the point that CNN had to interview him following his racist remarks:
In every Hannity scandalito, there’s an element of sheer hilarity, and in this case, it unfolds over several minutes in his monster segment last night about the Bundy story. From the Bundy story of mooching off federal land, Hannity accomplishes a high-wire elision into another issue altogether. Have a look at the transcript, the better to admire the dexterity with which he compacts two unrelated issues: “Before the mainstream media paid any attention to Cliven Bundy and his ranch, we on this program were focusing on similar issues, issues like eminent domain, for many, many years. Now, after all, these stories serve as proof that we have a government gone wild today in America!”
And from there, Hannity goes on a nostalgia tour, re-celebrating his program’s championing of people around the country who have fought off efforts by government to seize their properties via eminent domain. These cases involved land fights in California’s Central Valley; Riviera Beach, Fla.; and Louisiana. It bears asking what these cases have to do with Bundy, who, after all, did essentially the opposite of eminent domain by making public lands his own private grazing grounds.
One guess is that by going back to the eminent-domain highlight reel, Hannity managed to show that his advocacy in the past has stood up for African Americans fighting off government big-footing — just in case viewers might be inclined to associate the Fox News host with Bundy’s vile racism.
At the very end of his Bundy segment, Hannity basically bundles everything else that’s wrong with the world into the context of Cliven Bundy. Addressing government overreach, he riffs:
Now, in recent years, we have seen it play out in a vindictive tax agency’s efforts to target and silence and intimidate citizens who happen to think this country is headed in the wrong direction. We watched tragically as our top diplomats and our commander-in-chief lied in the wake of a terrorist attack that took the lives of four brave Americans.
We’ve also endured the universal nightmare that is “Obamacare.” Premiums have, in fact, increased in spite of promises to the contrary. Plans have been canceled in spite of promises to the contrary. And now a federal agency is telling you what doctors you can and cannot see when you were promised the exact opposite.
In my opinion, Obamacare is the gold standard of government gone wild. But you won’t read the truth about the stories that I mentioned tonight in places like The New York Times. Why? Because that paper has actively helped cover up what really happened in the aftermath of Benghazi. Its reporters don’t have the time or the energy to stand with average Americans being victimized by eminent domain.
And by the way, the same goes for my good friend, funnyman Jon Stewart. He’s far too busy yukking it up on “The Daily Show” with his famous friends, and he simply lacks the moral courage to speak truth to power, even when he’s looking it right in the eye.
Cliven Bundy explains all of American politics.