When a Boston Globe columnist criticized Sean Hannity's work last year, the Fox News star defended himself with name-calling and a key distinction.
This is Hannity's go-to rebuttal when media colleagues say his commentary is unfair.
“I'm not a journalist,” he told listeners on his syndicated radio show in April 2016. “I'm a talk-radio host.”
He told the New York Daily News the same thing in 2008 and said something similar on Fox News in 2004: “I'm not a journalist. I am an outspoken, compassionate, thoughtful, independent-thinking conservative.”
Hannity told the New York Times in August 2016 that he has “never claimed to be a journalist.”
Yet in a Times interview published Tuesday, Hannity declared himself a journalist, after all.
“I'm a journalist,” he said. “But I'm an advocacy journalist or an opinion journalist.”
Fox News declined to endorse Hannity's latest self-identification, saying in a statement that “Sean is keenly aware of his role as a talk-show host.” A couple of weeks ago, the network defended one of Hannity's fact-challenged theories by placing him in a different category from Fox News journalists.
Hannity had told viewers that Hillary Clinton was guilty of “selling out national security” as secretary of state, claiming that she approved Russia's purchase of American uranium mining interests in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. On a different Fox News show, anchor Shepard Smith set the record straight by noting that Clinton lacked authority to approve the deal, meaning a quid pro quo was not even possible.
“Shep is an outstanding journalist, and Sean is an outstanding opinion commentator,” Fox News said in a statement on Nov. 15.
Note the separation between journalist and commentator, which mirrored Hannity's own, long-standing differentiation between journalist and talk-show host. The implication has been that Hannity should not be held to journalistic standards of accuracy.
If Hannity now wants to wear the journalist mantle, he must forfeit his claim to leniency.
It was a dubious claim to begin with. Hannity hasn't always been consistent about his journalistic status. Around the time that he told the Daily News he is not a journalist, in 2008, he said this on TV: “I am a journalist who interviews people who I disagree with all the time.”
In a 2015 interview with the International Business Times, he seemed a bit conflicted: “I am a conservative, but I consider myself a talk-show host. If you ask me, am I a journalist? No. Advocacy journalist, you could say that, but I consider myself a talk-show host.”
Hannity is sometimes the only media figure by whom Republicans agree to be interviewed — a status that comes with a measure of responsibility, whatever his chosen label. When Joe Arpaio gave his first post-pardon interview to Hannity, in August, the former sheriff praised Hannity as “a great journalist,” and Hannity did not quibble.
In fact, Hannity often promotes the idea that he is one of few people doing journalism right.
“Members of the lazy, destroy-Trump media aren't interested in doing their job,” he told viewers on Monday. “So we'll continue to do it for them.”
Hannity now purports to be a journalist, both implicitly and explicitly. He should be judged as such.