Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday night launched his program at 11 p.m., about a half-hour after President Trump concluded his State of the Union address. By that point, fact-checkers across the media world had descended on the various dubious statements that the president had made to advance his agenda before a national audience.
One of them was this: “We have created 5.3 million new jobs, and importantly, added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs, something which almost everyone said was impossible to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started,” said the president. False: Those numbers are 4.9 million and 436,000, according to Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler. “This is false,” noted a New York Times fact check. Far from “impossible,” the job-creation pace is comparable to “some two-year periods during the Obama administration,” the Times noted.
And no: 436,000 is not round-uppable to 600,000. It represents a mendacious inflation rate of 37 percent.
So how did Hannity treat this bit of news? Well, he took a video clip of Trump touting those unfathomable job numbers — and he then repeated them: “5.3 million new jobs, 600,000 new jobs in the manufacturing sector alone — jobs we were told were never coming back. The economy is breaking records, and hitting on all cylinders.”
Appalling, but predictably so. This is “Hannity,” after all.
The news side of Fox News — as opposed to Hannity’s propaganda-cateogrized-as-opinion show — preceded the SOTU edition of “Hannity” with the usual post-speech chatter. Longtime Fox Newser Brit Hume called it “quite a striking speech.” Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox News Sunday,” called it a “very well-written speech.” Prime-time host Laura Ingraham said the White House needed to make use of Cabinet members to follow up the address with roving politicking. Host Dana Perino said that the president had made good use of the guests in the gallery. Liberal Fox News voice Juan Williams called the address “humdrum.”
All legitimate viewpoints. But then the crew handed off the reigns of Fox News to Hannity.
So over an hour and a half of postgame discussion — this analysis covers the period from the end of Trump’s speech till midnight — Fox News failed to counterprogram the falsehoods and distortions in his high-profile appearance. Worried that we might have missed something, the Erik Wemple Blog checked in with Media Matters for America, an organization that tracks Fox News from dawn to reruns. Laura Keiter, a spokeswoman for Media Matters, said that they didn’t see any fact checks on air.
“None of the networks really covered themselves in glory — it’s truly disappointing that at this late date, given the voluminous evidence of President Trump’s dishonesty, that they aren’t fact-checking his speeches on-air in real time — but Fox News certainly did the worst job,” noted Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz. “If you’re committed to informing your audience about whether the president was truthful, you don’t leave your political team with only 15 minutes to discuss both the State of the Union and the Democratic response, go to commercial, and then turn your airwaves over to Sean Hannity’s nightly propaganda hour.”
Placing Sean Hannity within a bus stop of breaking news can be disastrous, as we discovered during the Republican National Convention, when the pro-Trump host ignored a story about Melania Trump as competing outlets were all over it.
It wasn’t as if the job numbers had been the only factual outrage in Trump’s State of the Union address, either: There was a whopper about how El Paso graduated from “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities” to a safer spot thanks to the construction of a “powerful barrier”; a misleading claim about the San Diego security wall; an evidence-free assertion about war with North Korea; and more.
All three of the major cable-news outlets left their screens clean during the speech itself, declining to use their prodigious chyronning capabilities to fact-check the president on the fly:
Such treatments are far too deferential for a president who thrives on planting falsehoods that find insufficient real-time resistance. Memo to cable-news networks: You have a screen; use it.
Both CNN and MSNBC, however, did tweet out fact checks as the speech unfolded:
Fox News, meanwhile, has stopped tweeting, much less tweeting fact checks.
In the 11 p.m. hour, both CNN and MSNBC aired fact checks, though they came long after the president finished speaking. Top producers at these outlets prioritized the forgettable comments of pundits regarding a forgettable speech over fact-checking.
On MSNBC, Cal Perry and Stephanie Ruhle double-teamed the truth-squadding.
Meanwhile, Fox News America headed off to bed, thankful that El Paso got that crime-stopping barrier.