Cute analogies aside, Hannity and Goldberg are brawling over something that matters, which is the fissure in conservative media over the racist and mendacious campaign of Donald Trump. Goldberg sees Trump as a fraud: “Simply put, he is a glandular, generally friendless (by his own admission), zero-sum conniver who has made it clear that he sees nothing wrong with breaking promises — in business, in matrimony, and in politics — so long as he’s dubbed a ‘winner’ by a narcissistic standard of his own choosing.” Hannity sees Trump as the obvious conservative alternative to Hillary Clinton: Conservative Supreme Court justices as opposed to liberal Supreme Court justices; a hard-core policy on refugees as opposed to a lenient one; devolving education policy to the states as opposed to federal regulation. “If you’re going to be against this guy, this is what you’re getting…You will reap what you sow,” Hannity says.
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Those remarks are consistent with a rant from Hannity last week on his radio show: “You own Hillary Clinton. National Review, you own it. Glenn Beck, you own it. Ted Cruz, you own it. … She wins, I’m blaming all of you.” Other media figures in Hannity’s corner include Matt Drudge, Breitbart News and its former-top-executive-turned-Trump-campaign-CEO Stephen Bannon and a few political commentators on CNN hired for the exclusive purpose of fashioning absurd arguments in support of the Republican presidential nominee. “I don’t think any one person — Beck or NRO or George Will or any of these people in particular — are having singlehandedly a negative impact on Trump,” Hannity tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “but I think cumulatively they’re creating doubt in far too many people who would otherwise vote for Trump.”
Hannity asserts that he has no personal animus against these folks. His criticisms, he says, derive from his patriotism. “I don’t think you understand what drives me, what motivates me, what gets me up in the morning,” said Hannity. “It’s about the country…America, the country I love, the country my father fought four years in the Pacific for.” Conservative figures in the NeverTrump movement, he argues, are focused on “stylistic differences rather than substantive differences.” Furthermore: “What I am doing is challenging people as somebody that’s interviewed Trump, that knows his policies extremely well.”
We’ll grant him that: Hannity has spent countless hours interviewing Trump on his show, always on a nice, puffy mattress of easy questions. A favorite example of this blog is the time that Hannity orchestrated a round of applause for Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims entering the United States. That moment came in the bustle of the primary campaign. In an April piece documenting 41 Hannity-Trump softie interviews, ThinkProgress highlighted other classics, like this one from Feb. 11: “I read a story today that you sent your plane to help a 3-year-old kid in California because the airlines wouldn’t fly him because of the medical equipment that was needed. How often do you do those things? And why don’t you ever talk about them?”
Such examples matter. After all, Hannity’s argument to his ideological cohort is binary: It’s either Trump or Clinton! Yet the right had many other choices on the Republican side in the primary season. And to hear Hannity tell it, he proceeded on a fair-and-balanced basis, making good on a pledge made at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to give all the GOP candidates equal time on his show. An April post on Hannity.com declared the mission fulfilled:
Time on ‘Hannity’ TV Show since each candidate announced:Texas Senator Ted Cruz: 34 appearances
Businessman and Entrepreneur Donald Trump: 32 appearances
Governor John Kasich of Ohio: 20 appearances
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul: 20 appearances
Florida Senator Marco Rubio: 19 appearances
Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie: 17 appearances
Businesswoman Carly Fiorina: 15 appearances
Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush: 14 appearances
Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee: 14 appearances
Dr. Ben Carson: 13 appearances
Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker: 6 appearances
Former Governor of Texas Rick Perry: 4 appearances
Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal: 3 appearances
Former Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum: 3 appearances
Senator Lindsey Graham: 1 appearance
Former Governor of New York George Pataki: 0 appearances
A dissenting view comes from ThinkProgress, which requested a Media Matters analysis of the comparative airtime for Trump and Cruz. Whereas Trump had cornered 14.5 hours of airtime, Cruz clocked in with 9, the analysis found.
“I gave more time to Ted Cruz on radio and equal time to Cruz and Trump” on television, says Hannity. “Every time I gave Donald Trump and hour, I gave Ted Cruz an hour. Frankly I had to work four times as hard to get Ted Cruz on the air,” continues Hannity, noting that for his town-hall events in the primary season, he paid for charter planes to transport himself and Fox News crews.
A few weeks ago, the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg reported that Hannity had been passing along advice to Trump. Such activity, Hannity cautioned this blog, doesn’t make him an “adviser” to the Trump campaign. “What I said was, ‘I’ll give advice to anybody. My experience with Donald Trump is that he’ll talk to anybody…If it was Ted Cruz, I would talk to Ted Cruz too.” On this front, Hannity has been clear with his audience — he is not a “journalist.” He wants to see President Donald Trump, as he told Rutenberg.
Turning his focus to the Erik Wemple Blog, Hannity ripped, “The difference between me and you is I’m honest.” He called the Erik Wemple Blog a “liberal” and investigated our leanings in the upcoming election (anti-Trump, likely Clinton — it’s reminding irregular readers here that this is an opinion blog).
“Opportunistic” might be another term Hannity could have used instead of “honest.” Years ago, he wondered aloud why authorities didn’t arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after its release of tens of thousands of government documents. At the same time, Hannity found some of those documents newsworthy. Just last night, he conducted a highly respectful interview with Assange, even going so far as to praise his work. What changed? Assange led an organization that embarrassed Hannity’s foes in late July by leaking a whole bunch of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. And now Assange is threatening to leak damaging “information” about the Clinton campaign. Explaining his evolution on Assange and Wikileaks, Hannity last night told his viewers, “Part of me in the beginning was conflicted about you,” said Hannity last night, citing his concerns about “privacy.” “On the other hand, you have done a lot of good in what you have exposed about how corrupt, dishonest and phony our government is, and I applaud that.”
Asked about Assange, Hannity explained his sense of conflict about the man. “I said at the time, ‘Wow, he’s really done us a public service but I did feel it was criminal. I’ve softened a little bit on that because at the end of the day, the benefits of what he has done outweigh the damage,” says Hannity.
One more thing: What about Hannity’s early defense of Roger Ailes, right after the Fox News chief was accused of sexual harassment by former host Gretchen Carlson? He told CNN’s Brian Stelter there wasn’t much to the story:
Turns out there was quite a bit to the story, as 21st Century Fox yesterday announced a $20 million settlement with Carlson. To boot, Ailes himself was bounced from Fox News over the scandal.
Hannity’s current take: “I have no comment about any of these topics involving the Fox News Channel and what’s happened,” says Hannity. “I don’t have any insight or information at all. I used my information and knowledge, apparently limited, at the time.”