Media critic

Were the Erik Wemple Blog anointed the chief scheduler for U.S. Journalism, we’d direct that all major scoops regarding President Trump hit the Internet between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on weeknights. Why? The better to uproot Sean Hannity’s nightly program, of course.

Because when news intrudes, the Fox News host exudes irritation. “I am told by my sources tonight that the New York Times is full of crap, that those are not — a lot of those questions are not the questions that the special counsel is asking,” said Hannity on Monday night after the newspaper published its scoop of 49 questions that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has formulated for Trump.

People might just remember another moment this past when Hannity dissed a breaking scoop from the New York Times, this time about how Trump in June 2017 had ordered Mueller’s firing. “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.”

Later that night, Hannity was forced to confirm the news. “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 on his Jan. 25 show. “Does he not have the right to raise those questions? You know, we’ll deal with this tomorrow night.”

Well. At noon on Tuesday, Fox News host Melissa Francis told viewers of the show “Outnumbered,” “President Trump is reacting to the leak of dozens of questions special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly wants to ask him. Fox News has now obtained those questions after the New York Times first reported on them. … The questions were reportedly read to the president’s lawyer by Mueller’s team in March,” said Francis.

So: That makes two instances in which Hannity relied on his own sources to debunk the reporting of the New York Times, only to watch as his colleagues confirmed the paper’s findings. One more and we have a full-blown trend.

Whatever the source, Hannity didn’t like the leaked questions anyhow. “This New York Times thing — put it in your fireplace and burn it, because we have sources that say — half of these questions are dumb anyway. You know, what was in your mind at the time? You don’t punish people or charge people, not that you can charge a sitting president, and the president has every right to fire anybody he wants, for the thoughts they have in their head.”

Everyone has a distinct notion of what constitutes a dumb question. Have a look at the list and reach your own conclusions. There’s material relating to fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Russian meddling and so on.

But who is Hannity to cast judgment on the inquiries of the special counsel? Is this a fellow who should be rating the questions of other people? To measure the prime-time opinionator’s credentials on this front, we grabbed a sampling of Hannity’s utterances from his January 2017 and October 2017 interviews with the president — some of which are actual questions and some of which are comments, usually very supportive ones. Please note that the Hannity utterances aren’t sequential, but they should yield an idea of whether he’s a more skilled questioner than, say, a career law enforcement official who has served as director of the FBI and has won bipartisan respect in Washington. (There was a live audience at the October 2017 interview, which accounts for the parenthetical notes about “cheers”.)

Forty-nine of Sean Hannity’s questions for President Trump

October 2017:

1) “You don’t get a lot of good news in the media.”

2) “The market is up 25 percent since you won.”

3) “You tweeted this out that nobody in the media brings it up so I said, you know, what, I am going to bring it up tonight. $5.2 trillion in wealth created. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 16 years. We have the best labor participation rate in seven years and the best — the lowest number of people on food stamps in seven years.”

4 “You are trying to incentivize those trillions to come back here with a low repatriation rate. How low will that be and how much do you think you can bring back into the United States and what does it mean?”

5) “Now, the rate for some people goes down but if you live in a state like New York or Illinois and New Jersey or California, you won’t be able to deduct your local or state income tax. In other words, if you elect politicians that want to raise taxes, you will going to pay the penalty. So, that is not really true that this is a tax cut for the wealthy as you are portraying it. What is your answer to that?”

6) “But you’re also, a big part of it, you’ve already done. And that is, you’ve ended a lot of the Obama era regulations. Especially in industries like energy and coal.”

7) “There seems to be, you have a very strong commitment, you just recently went forward with ANWR, you put in place opportunities for the coal mining industry.”

8) “Fracking. We do have an opportunity to be energy independent. And there seems to be millions of high paying career jobs for people available if that decision is made. How big a part is that for the economic recovery?”

9) “You also won Pennsylvania. Right? Is he going to win Pennsylvania in 2020, too?” (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

10) “The biggest obstacle before you arrived here, I had an opportunity to interview a lot of people in this great crowd. And I asked them basically three different questions. What they thought of you. Overwhelmingly, there is a lot of support for you here. Congress –” (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

11) “We saw what happened with health care in John McCain. This economic plan sounds a lot to me like what Reagan did and that created 20 million new jobs and revenues doubled. This is important for your agenda.”

12) “Do you agree with that? Fake news?”

13) “Right. Barack Obama was the first president in history that never hit three percent GDP growth in a single year of his presidency which I think speaks volumes.”

14) “Yes.”

15) “When you look at the Obama years, Chicago, one city, his adopted home town, 3,900 people were murdered.”

16) “And his economic policies hurt black Americans and Hispanic Americans more. How will your policies help minorities that are still struggling?”

17) “We watched a lot of high-profile incidents during the Obama years. Ferguson, Trayvon Martin down in Florida. Freddie Gray. He said the Cambridge police acted stupidly. It seems every two or four years, and I’ve been now 30 years in radio. I just started my 23rd year at Fox. That every two or four years, the Democrats will play the race card. And I resent it as a conservative. Because they will say, oh, the policies, they are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic. And meanwhile, their policies have not helped the minority communities in America. Is there a way from the federal government’s perspective that you can bring economic opportunity and safety?”

18) “Is it fair to say if he keeps firing missiles, that is going to end?”

19) “Why not, right?”

20) “It has to be built.”

21) “No amnesty. No chain migration.”

22) “No DACA, until you fund the wall.”

23) “Dana Rohrabacher met with [Julian Assange] him and he said he had proved positive evidence that would show the Trump campaign never colluded with Russia. It’s in the best interest of the country that if he has that information, he should give it? It seems he wants and returned to be left alone. Should the country — that the country deserve to know the truth?”

24) “I’m glad to have you.”

January 2017

25) ”What a week this has been.”

26) “Well, that’s what I wanted — first, I got some time to talk with you earlier in the week…”

27) “The thing that really stood out to me is you seem to be enjoying yourself and very focused on all the promises you made in the campaign. Is it your intention to keep every promise?”

28) “Would it be gambling if … at some point, when there is a procedure in place, if you can ascertain whether or not somebody’s been radicalized or not, or if radical groups actually trained some of their soldiers to say the right things to get in, but if you can’t positively ascertain they’re safe and find out what’s in their heart, does that mean no go? Does that mean you won’t gamble?”

29) “You’re talking about a real wall, impenetrable.”

30) “Let me talk about a big decision you’re going to make next week. You’ve announced on Thursday, you will make your Supreme Court choice … announcement. Two questions on that. One, will it be from the list that you gave out during the campaign?”

31) “Will it be an originalist?”

32) “You mean they’re leaking in Washington? That’s a shock.”

33) “Right.”

34) “Let me ask you — I don’t remember you saying this in the campaign, and I was on the road with you quite a bit. We did a lot of the town halls together. But you’re now talking about a 10 percent reduction in spending — in other words, eliminating baseline budgeting — a 20 percent reduction in the government workforce. How important is a balanced budget to you? And were you surprised Republicans before you got here raised the debt ceiling $9.7 trillion?”

35) “I heard you got the price down quite a bit already.”

36) “One of the worst ways, it seems, to spend money is going through the Washington bureaucracy. Every congressman has their pet project. There’s been talk about infrastructure, anywhere the Democrats want a trillion dollars…”

37) “Right.”

38) “Yes. By the way, I hear your helicopter out there in the background.”

39) “You took great pride in meeting with Carrier, saving jobs, meeting with Ford, savings jobs. You’ve met with union people…$7 billion by the way.”

40) “But you want to get rid of 75 percent of regulation.”

41) “Or more.”

42) “Right. The media — a little bit of a contentious start, if you will, with them. They want to — I’ve seen now the New York Times, CNN, NBC — they’ve used the word “liar” to describe you as it relates if you’re talking about crowd size or the border…”

43) “I said journalism’s dead, so we agree.”

44) “So then, here’s my question. Between Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, I think you reach 50 million people. … But if — we know now through WikiLeaks, some of these networks were colluding … with Hillary’s campaign to defeat you.”

45) “I’ve seen major newspapers, two cable networks that used the word liar. And my question to you is, does that make you want to rethink entirely how this administration will deal with the media?”

46) “But I don’t remember them treating Barack Obama this way.”

47) “When you saw the Women’s March this week and then you hear Madonna say ‘I thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.’ Imagine if I said that when Barack Obama was here.”

48) “Last question, and then we’re going to — you will take us to the Oval Office, which is nice. You were very passionate last night about Chicago and about the violence. In the course of Barack Obama’s presidency, 4,000 people died, murdered, and another however-many-thousand more shot. You might go in and help fix it if they can’t fix it.”

49) “It’s inauguration night. You gave your speech. … You go to the balls, you come back and you’re in the White House, in the residence with Melania. And by the way, that’s Marine One right there. … And so my question is, what’d you say? What are you thinking?

Bolding added to highlight a “dumb” question.

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