Because context is everything, let’s look back at the presentation of Fox News host Sean Hannity on June 12, 2017. The previous month, Robert S. Mueller III had been appointed as special counsel to probe allegations that the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential campaign — a potential death blow to a presidency that Hannity held dear. After all, the Fox News opinion host had gone so far as to tape a video promotion for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, earning a rebuke from his network.

“The special counsel, Robert Mueller’s, investigation is now turning into a witch hunt. It needs to be shut down immediately,” crowed Hannity at the top of his June 12 program. Numerous conflicts of interest, roared Hannity, compromised Mueller’s ability to treat President Trump and Co. fairly, including the fact that fired FBI director James B. Comey was allegedly a “longtime friend” of Mueller’s. There was more in Hannity’s conflict book: “And if that’s not bad enough, then there is this from Four members of Mueller’s team have donated to Democrats! Oh, imagine if conservatives tried to do this, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? This is beyond now ridiculous, and another reason why this special counsel Mueller needs to be shut down immediately, on top of the fact that we know there’s no collusion.”

The attack on Mueller by intimate Trumpites such as Hannity prompted concerns about an effort to clear the way for the president to fire the special counsel, an extraordinary step that would have led to a constitutional crisis, or at least some kind of crisis. The very day that Hannity unleashed his conflict-of-interest spiel, in fact, Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy — also very close to Trump — reported that Trump was indeed considering Mueller’s dismissal.

A half-year later, the story apparently landed in the wrong hands, at least for Hannity. “Now tonight, for example, they’re trying to change the story,” proclaimed Hannity on his Thursday night broadcast. “At this hour, the New York Times is trying to distract you. They have a story that Trump wanted Mueller fired sometime last June, and our sources, and I’ve checked in with many of them, they’re not confirming that tonight. And the president’s attorney dismissed the story, and says, ‘Nope, no comment, we’re not going there.’ And how many times has the New York Times and others gotten it wrong?”

So there you had it: Hannity, who has claimed before that he’s no journalist, assured viewers through his sources that there was nothing to the New York Times story.

A bit later, Hannity checked in with Ed Henry, part of the Fox News’s hard-news division. You know, the fellows who try their best to tiptoe around Hannity’s conspiracy theories. “It is my understanding … that there are anonymous sources again,” Hannity said to Henry in the classic Hannity put-down. Never mind that Hannity himself didn’t name any of the sources that he’d reportedly consulted in batting down the New York Times scoop.

“It is anonymous sources,” responded Henry, who then recapped the New York Times piece. Seeking to explain the June time frame, Henry said, “Remember the reports that you and others were citing at the time, last summer, that Robert Mueller hired a lot of lawyers on the special counsel team who had donated money to Democratic candidates.” Though Henry had managed to confirm a piece of the story — that there was some kind of “fee dispute” with Mueller at a Trump property long ago — he didn’t have independent confirmation of the whole thing.

And so Hannity continued on his way with his regularly scheduled programming. Prompted by Hannity, commentator Gregg Jarrett said of the New York Times journalists behind the Mueller story: “Yeah, these are not reliable reporters.”

Then: Just before Hannity signed off for the night, he turned in his finest hour. “All right, so we have sources tonight just confirming to Ed Henry that, yeah, maybe Donald Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for conflict,” said the host. “Does he not have the right to raise those questions? You know, we’ll deal with this tomorrow night.” Should be fun, considering that Trump, participating in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said, “Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story.”

Hannity later tweeted some remarks:

Here at the Erik Wemple Blog, we’ll take it. If Sean Hannity wants to lay down his usual horse hockey for the first 59 minutes of his show, and then admit the truth in the final minute — isn’t that an upgrade over the usual formula? Wouldn’t that be a win for democracy?

Don’t get too eager to see a format change, however. After sheepishly coming forth with Henry’s confirmation, Hannity didn’t appear too interested in prolonging his correction. Instead, he went to another pressing story: “We have a shocking video of the day to bring you, by the way. This footage comes to us from Arizona where — you see that red SUV, high-speed police chase? Ultimately the suspect’s vehicle slams into another car, flips several times before coming to a stop. The driver eventually comes out of the car — the wrecked vehicle — but instead of running, he stands  around until police arrive and then promptly arrested him,” said Hannity.

In Hannity’s world, there’s no collusion, just collision.

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