Sean Hannity speaks during a campaign rally for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in March in Phoenix. (Rick Scuteri/Associated Press)

We’ve made the distinction before, but it bears repeating: There are professional, fair and conscientious news people on Fox News. No one could watch the final debate and deny that Chris Wallace is among the best in the business. Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly have earned their place among top debate moderators and interviewers. What we are about to discuss does not apply to them, but it threatens to diminish the news legitimacy of their employer and depress their own ratings as the Fox News label becomes tarnished.

The degree to which Fox fake-news programming (e.g. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, “Fox and Friends”) has mainstreamed and defended blatant racism is shocking. Overshadowed by Newt Gingrich’s outburst on Megyn Kelly’s show last night was Sean Hannity’s birther dog-whistle. He directed his rant to President Obama:

You want to go to Canada? I’ll pay for you to go to Canada. You want to go to Kenya? I’ll pay for you to go to Kenya. Jakarta, where you went to school back in the day, you can go back there. Anywhere you want to go. I’ll put the finest food — caviar, champagne, you name it. I have one stipulation: You can’t come back.

Now, do we think it’s coincidental that he picked Kenya, folks? Do we think Hannity is not ringing the birther bell, suggesting (affirming, actually) for the benefit of his alt-right audience that, in his mind, Obama is a foreigner, probably Muslim and definitely not “one of us”?

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity was accused of going soft on Donald Trump – even by his coworker, anchor Megyn Kelly. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

We’ve noted before that Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric is an extension of the crackpot right-wing media, his appearance paved by years of conspiracy theories, dog-whistles, paranoia and, yes, appeals to racism and ridicule of women. In the final days of the Trump campaign, we are reminded where the toxic brew that Trump spouts originated.

This is certainly not an isolated incident. Who can forget O’Reilly telling us “slaves that worked there [building the White House] were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government”? Most Republicans acknowledged that Trump’s accusation that Judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased against Trump because the judge was a “Mexican” was racism, plain and simple. Yet Fox allowed O’Reilly to cheerlead for Trump’s racist demand that Curiel recuse himself:

Although appointed by Barack Obama, Judge Curiel is no raging liberal. In fact, he’s a tough guy. At one point, a Mexican drug cartel threatened to assassinate him because of his anti-drug trafficking stance. However, the judge belongs to a group called San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, which does advocacy work on behalf of Latinos.

It’s not associated with the radical La Raza group but confusion is understandable. Because of that, Mr. Trump believes the judge may be biased against him, as it is well known that the candidate has taken a strong stand against illegal immigration, including building a border wall.

Summing up, the Trump U. case is certainly political to some extent and a very high-profile situation. Because of that, Talking Points believes the judge should recuse himself not because he did anything wrong — he did not — but to eliminate any doubt as to motivation in rulings.

There are plenty of federal judges that could step in. It is valid that some may see any recusal as caving to intimidation, but stark justice at this level trumps (pardon the pun) any theoretical argument.

Defending racism because minorities have it in for racists is straight out of the Jim Crow playbook.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity was accused of going soft on Donald Trump – even by his coworker, anchor Megyn Kelly. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

And where did Trump go to fan the flames of birtherism all those years? His go-to Fox shows (“Fox and Friends,” Hannity, etc.) gave him free rein to peddle his snake oil.

Fox execs have every right to put on air whatever garbage they please, but institutionally they are responsible for what they put out. They need to decide whether a multibillion-dollar corporation wants to be identified with the messages its evening stars put out there. Viewers dismayed and disgusted by naked appeals to racism (and years of mistreatment of the network’s women employees) can tune out. If nothing else, conservative news consumers are discovering that there is some very good coverage and honest reporting elsewhere — and they don’t need to feel the urge to take a shower after watching it.

For the fair, competent news people who work at Fox News, this should be a topic of angst and serious reflection. How do real news people operate under the same “Fox News” banner as the sort of shows described above? Should they ever go on these non-news shows? Should analysts/news panelists blur the line by going on the non-news shows? And they have choices as well, careers that could benefit from losing the Fox taint. Good luck to them.