Sean Hannity isn't apologizing for failing to disclose his attorney-client relationship with Michael Cohen, even as he has spent weeks defending President Trump's lawyer in the face of increasing legal jeopardy. In fact, the Fox News host says he has “a right to privacy” when it comes to his relationship with Cohen.
An earlier version of Hannity may disagree.
There have been few bigger warriors when it comes to rooting out alleged conflicts of interest and media bias than Hannity. For months, he's been pointing to alleged conflicts in Robert S. Mueller III's investigation, and for years he's been accusing the mainstream media of allying with liberals and Democrats.
All of that collided in one story in 2015, when it was revealed that ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos failed to disclose $75,000 in donations to the Clinton Foundation. This was at issue because Stephanopoulos had just grilled conservative author Peter Schweizer over his book on the Clinton Foundation. For the better part of a week, the Stephanopoulos story was a mainstay on Hannity's show.
And plenty of things Hannity said about Stephanopoulos then could just as easily apply to Hannity and Cohen today.
“He was acting like an advocate, a special pleader, if you will, for the Clintons in that interview,” Hannity said. “The idea that they're saying that they — 'Oh, it was an honest mistake' — I don't believe that. I think he thought he'd get away with it and didn't disclose it.”
He added: “I mean, you don't think it's an innocent mistake? Once a Clinton crony hack, always one? He didn't think to disclose this? I don't buy it for one minute.”
Hannity also attacked Stephanopoulos for his long-running ties to the Clintons.
“Let's go back to 2006: He was a featured attendee and panel moderator at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting,” Hannity said. "2007, a featured attendee at the annual meeting. 2008, a panelist at the meeting. 2009, he served as a panel moderator at their annual meeting. 2010, 2011, an official Clinton Global Initiative member. 2013, '14, he and Chelsea Clinton served as Clinton Global Initiative contest judges.
“Now, he didn't talk about that.”
I was also able to find another prominent example of Hannity saying a media figure should have disclosed a conflict of interest. It had to do with conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, who in 2005 was found to have failed to disclose $241,000 in payments from the Bush administration to promote the No Child Left Behind education law on his TV appearances and newspaper columns.
Even in defending Williams as having been forthright about his views on education, Hannity said it was appropriate for him to apologize for his failure to disclose the conflict.
“You did make a mistake,” Hannity said. “And I think you were right to apologize. And I think people ought to accept it.”
Outside the media realm, Hannity has keyed on conflicts of interest among those in law enforcement who have taken on Trump. When Trump accused the judge in the Trump University case, Gonzalo Curiel, of having an inherent conflict of interest because of his Mexican heritage, Hannity defended Trump.
“There are real legitimate concerns about a conflict of interest, about whether recusal would have been appropriate for this judge in this case based on his stated agenda and associations, no?” Hannity said, accusing a group Curiel belonged to of having “a history and an association with helping illegal immigrants.”
“That to me seems like you have a conflict,” Hannity said. “I would argue that you need some type of objectivity.”
And for months now, he has attacked Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and members of Mueller's team for being conflicted because of past events and alliances. The phrase “conflict of interest,” in fact, appears in dozens of “Hannity” transcripts since mid-2017.
You could make an argument that it's different to be conflicted when you're in law enforcement, given that you have power over whether to criminally charge people or hold them legally accountable. Perhaps Hannity feels the bar for journalists should be lower. And in the case of Stephanopoulos, perhaps Hannity sees a difference between what he says is a “minor” relationship with Cohen and Stephanopoulos's long history with the Clintons.
But it's also true that Stephanopoulos's work for Bill Clinton was no secret (and he also came to repeatedly apologize, unlike Hannity). Hannity's relationship with Cohen, meanwhile, might have been secret forever if not for the court proceedings Monday. And however “minor” Hannity's relationship with Cohen, it seemed to have been significant enough that Cohen's lawyer would feel the need to declare it in court — after, curiously and notably, trying to keep it secret.
In the end, another 2015 Hannity quote about Stephanopoulos may explain why Hannity isn't feeling pressured to make amends for his conflict of interest.
“Why hasn't ABC News punished Stephanopoulos after he admitted to donating tens of thousands of dollars to the Clinton Foundation?” Hannity asked rhetorically. “Well, maybe it has something to do with the report from today's New York Post that shows that he signed a seven-year, $105 million contract with the network.”
Indeed. Well-paid anchors do seem to have a way of escaping punishment for failing to disclose conflicts of interest — as Hannity seems intent upon proving.