Right after “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter finished up his interview with Special Envoy to CNN Kellyanne Conway, his panel got to work quantifying the lies/falsehoods uttered by the Trump aide. Said CNN global affairs analyst (and Washington Post columnist) Max Boot: “She says there’s no evidence of collusion. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence of collusion.… She says the Democrats walked away from the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] deal. That’s not true. Trump walked away from it. She says that Trump is not trying to tear down news outlets, and yet he tears down news outlets every single day with a fake news tags and trying to take away Amazon’s deal with the Postal Service.”
There was one line of Conway analysis, however, that will survive the green-shaded gaze of the country’s most nitpicky fact-checkers. It relates to cable TV news. Springboarding off reporting about how Fox News host Sean Hannity speaks with President Trump all the time, Stelter asked Conway, “You know, there were these stories recently about Sean Hannity as a shadow chief of staff, or shadow comms director. I was wondering if you and Hannity ever coordinate. Can you tell us about that?”
Of course she can!
No, said Conway, she doesn’t coordinate with Hannity. But: “I have a relationship with the president. I speak with him regularly. Sean is running the highest-rated show on cable. And I think there’s a reason for that. He’s providing information that people can’t find anywhere else,” said Conway. “Sean would have low ratings if he was talking about everything else that everybody is talking about. Think about that for a moment. People are starved for unique content, and they seem to not be getting it elsewhere. I think his ratings show that and what he covers every night show that.”
Yes, Hannity is, in fact, providing information that people can’t get from such places as CNN and NBC News and CBS News and the like. The Seth Rich conspiracy is just one example of such information. The steady undermining of the FBI is another example. He has promoted others on Twitter and on his radio show.
Those sub-conspiracy theories feed into the grand conspiracy theory that Hannity has been spouting for the benefit of Trump. Don’t ask the Erik Wemple Blog to abridge it; Hannity routinely does a just-fine job of that on his various platforms. “A soft coup is under way right here in the United States of America in an attempt to overturn November’s election results and forcibly remove a duly elected president from office,” he said nearly a year ago. “Sinister forces quickly aligning in what is becoming now, in my mind, a clear and present danger.”
Here’s where Conway nails it: Other outlets, indeed, don’t discuss this “soft coup.” That’s because they don’t see the evidence for it, and because they refuse to trash our country’s institutions for the sake of access, and because they’re unwilling to exchange their credibility for the ratings of “Hannity.” As Pew Research Center reported in 2017, 4 in 10 Trump voters cited Fox News as their main source of news about the 2016 campaign; Clinton voters showed no such brand allegiance. So the audience dynamic cited by Conway is a bit more complicated than she suggested.
Fitting that this endorsement of “Hannity” content would emerge from the popularizer of the term “alternative facts.”