Sean Hannity got a very high compliment Monday night. Carter Page, a former Donald Trump campaign adviser surveilled by the FBI for suspected ties to Russia, likened Hannity to a journalism icon.
“You have been the Edward R. Murrow of this whole process,” Page told Hannity during an appearance on Fox News, referring to both the famed CBS newsman and the Fox host's coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Hannity has not been quite so immodest about himself, but he has styled his conservative opinion show as a beacon of good journalism in a fog of media deceit.
“What does the media have to prove, as it relates to Trump-Russia collusion, a year later?” Hannity asked viewers last month. “Nothing. No evidence. No facts. They're basing everything on nothing but their own conspiracy theory in their own little media bubble. We have been giving you facts. We have been telling you the truth.”
Fox News, like many media outlets, attempts to separate its news and opinion divisions, and there are often sharp differences in the ways that issues are presented on shows like Hannity's and on news programs such as “Fox News Sunday” and “Special Report.”
Yet Hannity and some of his fellow opinion hosts promote the idea that Fox News's prime-time slate, filled with pro-Trump commentary, is not merely a take on the news but, rather, a model of what the news should look like.
President Trump has contributed to the notion, too.
“You people have been very fair,” the president told Fox News opinion host Jeanine Pirro during an interview on Saturday. “Not good — you've been very fair to me. That's all I asked for, is fairness. ... There is so much fake news, Jeanine, it's just incredible.”
Last week, Tucker Carlson interviewed a survivor of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla., who said he refused to participate in a CNN forum about gun violence because CNN had scripted a question for him. The student, Colton Haab, called CNN's actions, which the network denied, “shocking.”
“It's shocking to us, too, trust me, in the actual journalism business,” Carlson replied.
Carlson's implication was that his show is “actual journalism” and that CNN's programming is not. Haab's claim seemed to fall apart the next day, however, when CNN released email correspondence between a producer, the student and the student's father — along with a version of one email supplied to Fox News that appeared to have been doctored to make CNN look bad.
Carlson was unconvinced by CNN's evidence. He criticized the network, where he previously worked, for “questioning the integrity of a survivor because it suits them.”
“There is also the large and, we think, more important question of what's actually true,” Carlson said. “This is journalism. We don't know what's actually true. So, we're going to do our best to find out, and we're going to tell you if we do.”
Carlson did not follow up on Monday's show, but he said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that “the Haab family is saying CNN is lying and has slandered them. At this point, we have two competing accounts of the same events. Without access to their respective email accounts, it is impossible to know who's telling the truth.”
Later on Tuesday, the student's father admitted to the Associated Press that he altered an email from a CNN producer but claimed that he did not mean to do so. Carlson, on his Thursday-night broadcast, informed his viewers of the father's concession and said that “for the sake of honesty and full disclosure, to which we are committed, there is no evidence, as of right now, that CNN tried to give Colton Haab a scripted question.”
Earlier this month, Laura Ingraham criticized the media for “elevating the concerns of non-Americans over actual Americans” and, in her view, underreporting the threat posed by the MS-13 gang.
“Raise your hand if you are weary of the endless immigration sob stories trotted out by media coast to coast,” Ingraham said.
Ingraham contrasted that approach with her own coverage, which, she noted, included a recent interview with the parents of a teenage girl killed by MS-13 members. The suggestion was not simply that other coverage is flawed but also that Ingraham's is an example of keeping the focus where it should be.
From Fox News and even from the president comes the message that opinion hosts such as Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham and Pirro are not so much commentators as keepers of the journalism flame, delivering news as it should be, when few others will.