After the Helsinki summit, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace was sitting down with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Fox News opinion host Sean Hannity was sitting down with President Trump. (Host Tucker Carlson’s interview with Trump is to air Tuesday night.) Folks who saw the result of both Monday sessions might ask: Do these fellows work for the same company?
True to the reputation he has built over the decades — lately on “Fox News Sunday” — Wallace treated Putin to a civil, cerebral and almost brutal interrogation about his record, his methods, his hostility to the United States, the U.S. indictment of Russians on suspicion of election interference, the killing of political foes, the bombing of civilians in Syria and other important topics. Here was a key moment:
WALLACE: You say nothing happened to you, but I need to ask you, domestically — not internationally, domestically, inside Russia — why is it that so many of the people that oppose Vladimir Putin end up dead or close to it? Former Russian spy and double-agent Sergei Skripal, the victim of a nerve agent attack in England. Boris Nemtsov, a political opponent, gunned down near the Kremlin. Investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in an apartment building. Why is it that so many people who were political enemies of Vladimir Putin are attacked?
PUTIN: Well, first of all, all of us have plenty of political rivals. I’m pretty sure President Trump has plenty of political rivals.
WALLACE: But they don’t end up dead.
PUTIN: Well, not always — well, haven’t presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about — well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. King?
In a bit of a stunt, Wallace attempted to hand to Putin a copy of the recent indictment of the 12 Russians accused of participating in election-oriented hacking. Putin steadfastly refused to make tactile contact with the document, gesturing to Wallace to leave it on a table. It may well have been the first time on Monday in Helsinki that anyone got in the face of the Russian president.
Perhaps Putin’s PR handlers did not know that the Fox News of Chris Wallace is not the Fox News of Sean Hannity. If there’s one thing we know about Hannity, it’s that he’s expert at identifying any signal whatsoever that a president might just be betraying his own country. In 2012, for instance, Hannity wondered why the president back then was “always apologizing for this country.” In 2014, Hannity even got upset with President Barack Obama for an inadequate salute.
With Hannity bearing witness in Helsinki, the current president on Monday made common cause with the Russian president. In the process, he bailed on his own government, his own national security establishment — everyone. He did this on foreign soil. He did this with casual indifference, even cluelessness, at a disastrous post-summit news conference.
So how did Hannity kick off his interview with Trump? As follows: “You literally just finished the press conference with President Putin moments ago. A lot came up. You were very strong at the end of that press conference,” Hannity said. “You said, where are the servers? What about what Peter Strzok said? Where are the 33,000 emails? And there was this mystery answer that I think surprised a lot of people by the president of Russia, as it relates to the [Robert S.] Mueller [III] investigation.” The tone didn’t much change from there, as Hannity indulged Trump’s claim that U.S.-Russia relations had changed dramatically over the course of the day, made some limp points about NATO and generally supplied talking points for the president. When the topic of NATO burden-sharing arose, Hannity said, “The secretary general gave you the credit.” Then the two agreed that Trump had done wonders with NATO, with Hannity adding, “Do you really believe the media would report that?”
And when the topic moved to the economy, Hannity earned his nickname as Trump’s “shadow chief of staff.” Check out this exchange:
HANNITY: Fourteen states set [unemployment] records.
TRUMP: Fourteen states, I didn’t know that.
HANNITY: Record low unemployment.
TRUMP: Surprised that’s only 14, actually. That’s a disappointing number.
HANNITY: Well, keep working hard, I think it will get there. But the more amazing thing, too, is we have more jobs available than we actually have people on unemployment.
But the Hannity–Trump interview is worth watching: While the host stuck to his talking points and his well-established pattern of complete Trump sycophancy, his body language suggested a lack of enthusiasm for this particular propaganda outing. It’s as if he has realized that his history of cheerleading has left him cornered, incapable of addressing the president’s betrayal.
And indeed, Hannity is isolated even at his own network. “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade said of the predicament: “I will say this to the president: When Newt Gingrich, when General Jack Keane, when Matt Schlapp say the president fell short and made our intelligence apparatus look bad, I think it’s time to pay attention. And it’s easily correctable from the president’s perspective. Nobody’s perfect, especially in 10 intense days of summits, private meetings and everything on his plate, but that moment is the one that’s going to stand out unless he comes out and corrects it.” Host Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business — a reliable pro-Trumper — called it the “probably the low point” of the presidency.
Such assessments have come pouring in over the past day, nullifying Hannity’s claim on his Monday night show that there was some media orchestration afoot: “As you can see, it was all a predetermined outcome. It didn’t matter what happened at today’s meeting. Your mainstream media has just blind hatred for President Trump and they long predetermined that anything the president does is terrible. It’s devastating, apocalyptic. And at this point, they are just a broken record.”
Large discrepancies between the news side of Fox News — the home of Wallace, Shepard Smith, Bill Hemmer, Bret Baier, Sandra Smith and others — and the Hannity-heavy opinion side aren’t new. But just as Trump’s open collusion with Putin on Finnish land threatens to roil personnel in the White House and federal agencies, a similar convulsion is possible at Fox News. Not even a disgraceful display of actual anti-Americanism is sufficient to move Hannity from his position as chief television propagandist for President Trump. How long can his colleagues live with that?