Once upon a time, Sean Hannity was scandalized by emails that suggested members of the mainstream media were allegedly in cahoots with the people they covered. The communications in question surfaced on the Internet in 2016, fruits of Russian interference in that year’s presidential election. Some of the alleged infractions were ticky-tack, such as a Politico reporter sharing a draft of a highly unfavorable investigative piece; some were serious, such as the Donna Brazile question-sharing scandal.

But all of them, regardless of seriousness, drew the sternest of condemnations from Fox News’s master of froth. “They have been so dishonest here. And this level of collusion, this incestuous relationship is far deeper, I think . . . than anybody knew,” said Hannity in October 2016 in reference to an email showing that reporters from several mainstream outlets had been invited for wining and dining at the home of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Well, now we have a new set of communications between a news-media representative and a former presidential campaign operative — specifically, text messages between the supposedly pure Hannity himself and Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman who was later sentenced more than seven years in prison for a range of charges brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The back-and-forth shows that this incestuous relationship ran far deeper than anybody knew.

“Please know you are in my prayers,” said Hannity to Manafort in August 2017. More:

  • “I’m NOT a fair weather friend.”
  • “Look. U call me if u get down. Need a friend. If I can help. Anytime day/night. I’m praying for u and u family. U stay strong.”
  • While attempting to lift the spirits of Manafort, Hannity pressed Manafort to make his lawyer available for an interview on Hannity’s Fox News show, or at least to turn the lawyer into a source for the TV host’s monologues on the evils of the Mueller investigation. “He has to SEND ME STUFF,” messaged Hannity, who secured a pledge from Manafort that the lawyer would indeed.
  • “U on TV is important. And u saying nothing is better. Let lawyer do all talking,” Hannity told Manafort in January 2018. Here you have a fellow ostensibly working for a news organization, advising a federal defendant on how to manage his media strategy.

Sycophancy in Trump world is always a two-way affair. “In a fair world you would get a Pulitzer for your incredible reporting,” declared Manafort at one point.

Last August, a federal jury in Alexandria found Manafort guilty of eight offenses, primarily tax and bank fraud. Underlying the whole scheme was the stock in trade of the Trump era: “Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and lied to get more money when he didn’t,” said a prosecutor at the Alexandria trial. Manafort later pleaded guilty to a separate set of charges in a D.C. federal courthouse. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote of Manafort’s misdeeds: “As prosecutors lay out their case against Manafort, jurors will hear about a man whose vanity and thirst for splendor eclipsed any discretion about whom he joined forces with, where he had to travel to consort with them and how he conducted his business. Sound like any real estate tycoon you know?”

It’s not clear why did Hannity work so hard to console Manafort. But the New York Times ventured a guess: “On his daily syndicated radio program and nightly Fox News show, he serves as a top supporter, leading the charge against Mr. Trump’s enemies,” noted the Times. “But Mr. Hannity also speaks regularly to the president about strategy and messaging, and the messages suggest he sought to play a similar role for Mr. Manafort, raising the specter that he could have helped the two parties coordinate their strategies, or at least given him real-time visibility into both sides’ thinking.”

Hannity responded to the disclosures with a statement: “My view of the special counsel investigation and the treatment of Paul Manafort were made clear every day to anyone who listens to my radio show or watches my TV show.” King of transparency, in other words.

When Manafort asked Hannity to plug his legal defense fund, Hannity responded that it “might be problematic with Fox” — a reference to editorial supervision for “Hannity,” something that the Erik Wemple Blog didn’t know existed.

A few other points here:

  • The text messages show just how precious a voice Hannity is to Manafort and, surely, to other Trumpworld associates. “Ty. Your text yesterday really helped me,” wrote Manafort in August 2017, in a typical appreciation.
  • Fox News has frequently invoked the news/opinion divide to justify the ethical atrocities of hosts such as Hannity and Tucker Carlson. Hannity himself appears to invoke that clever dodge in his statement about the text messages. But there’s quite a difference between having a “view” of the Mueller investigation and advising one of its targets on media strategy. Such activity is hardly surprising when you consider Hannity’s various other acts of boosterism — participating in a video ad for the 2016 campaign, flying Newt Gingrich to a vice-presidential interview, etc. — in the service of Team Trump.
  • Hannity has been hosting TV shows for more than two decades and radio shows for more than three decades. Over that time, he has racked up a flotilla of lapses in news ethics, such that there’s nary a transgression that he sees in the mainstream media that he hasn’t committed multiple times.

Frankly, there’s no safer harbor for committed liars than any program hosted by Hannity.

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