Sean Hannity didn't appreciate what Fox News colleague Shepard Smith said in a Time magazine interview published on Thursday, the day the network announced a contract extension for Smith.
That's understandable. Though Smith did not call out Hannity by name, he did say “some of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertaining” and that “they don't really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want.”
In firing back, however, Hannity attacked not only Smith and his comments but also the very nature of news.
Hannity, in this tweet, attempts a breathtaking role reversal: He is the one delivering “REAL NEWS.”
As I noted last month, Hannity has begun to consistently push the idea that his brand of pro-Trump commentary is not merely a take on the news but, rather, a model of what the news should look like. At the same time, he has sought to convince viewers that fact-based reporting is actually just another perspective, no more impartial or authoritative than his own — and probably less so.
A prime example of Hannity's reality-erosion campaign involved Smith, who on one of his afternoon newscasts in the fall thoroughly debunked the theory that Russia won U.S. government approval to purchase a uranium-mining company in 2010 by bribing Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state at the time, with donations to her family foundation.
“The Clinton State Department had no power to veto or approve that transaction,” Smith said, presenting a basic fact that exposed the theory's flawed logic.
Unmoved, Hannity came on the air roughly six hours later, recited his own conspiratorial version of the uranium deal and said, “Where I come from, that sounds like a quid pro quo.”
These are not differences of opinion. Smith is right, and Hannity is wrong. But these days Hannity is styling himself as something like the last honest person in the media — not a source of smart opinions but of important truths that others in the media are trying to cover up.
“The media and the Democrats have lied to you,” he told viewers on Monday. “There is no Trump-Russia collusion.”
Never mind that the federal law-enforcement investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded no such thing or that Donald Trump Jr. was enthusiastically willing to work with a woman he believed to be a Russian government attorney. Sean Hannity is here to tell you what's what.
Until recently, Hannity was not so presumptuous. Even during the 2016 presidential campaign, he called himself a “talk-show host” to differentiate between what he does and what journalists do.
But in an interview with the New York Times Magazine late last year, he said, “I'm a journalist. But I'm an advocacy journalist or an opinion journalist.”
Shortly after, a Fox News spokeswoman told me that “Sean is keenly aware of his role as a talk-show host.”
His awareness seems less than keen. Hannity now claims to be a purveyor of “REAL NEWS,” as he attempts to alter perceptions of what news is. And he will smear as “clueless” anyone who challenges him, even his “friend” Shepard Smith.