Fox News host Sean Hannity hung his credibility on the report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz into the origins and integrity of the Russia investigation. For months and months, he has hyped the report and its focus — whether federal law enforcement adhered to rules and procedures — in promising big revelations. Back in July, he said, "My message to the DOJ is very simple: We deserve to see the full report. After all, Mueller’s findings, they were released with extremely limited redactions. And we are expecting the same treatment for the Horowitz report, because the American people deserve the full truth, equal justice must be served. The sanctity of our republic is at stake.”

Last month, as the host licked his chops over the coming feast, he cited sources indicating that the revelations would “shock the conscience.” Such mentions helped Fox News far outrank its competitors in citing the name “Horowitz” on air, as these figures from the GDELT Project and the Internet Archive demonstrate:

Fox News was very excited about the Horowitz report -- Mentions of "Horowitz" on the three major cable-news networks from July 1 through Dec. 8.

On Monday, the report hit the Internet. Hannity sifted through the particulars over several hours and proclaimed on his 9 p.m. show, “Everything we have been reporting for years was dead-on accurate. We were right every step of the way.”


Among the report’s findings was that the FBI mangled beyond recognition the procedures and requirements for seeking authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). There were 17 “significant errors or omissions” in the applications for surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide. That number, however, doesn’t quite deliver the full brunt of the misconduct at issue here. For example: In seeking FISA warrants, the FBI relied on representations in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele — which was commissioned through consulting firm Fusion GPS with funds from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. When the FBI interviewed a key Steele source, it discovered that the source contradicted claims in the dossier about Page.

Yet the FBI continued to tell the FISA court that it found the source to be “truthful and cooperative.” Here’s an assessment from the report itself: "Despite the inconsistencies between Steele’s reporting and the information his primary sub-source provided to the F.B.I., the subsequent FISA renewal applications continued to rely on the Steele information, without any revisions or notice to the court.”

The Horowitz report also dealt firmly with another star of Hannity coverage: Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official with some worrisome adjacencies in the Russia investigation. His wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS. Bruce Ohr met with Steele and relayed his findings to colleagues even after the FBI had cut ties with him. Bruce Ohr committed “consequential errors in judgment," concludes the report.

On his program, Hannity went big on the report, as he riffed about the perfidy of the “deep state,” whose foot soldiers are in “deep legal jeopardy” and who committed “premeditated fraud” and who relied on the “dirty Russian dossier” and who committed “nothing but outright lies, corruption, abuse of power” and who proceeded with “a massive political bias.”

But there was another dimension to the report that Hannity, well, sort of missed on his Monday night broadcast. That dimension relates to the many instances where Horowitz failed to find political bias in the actions of federal law enforcement. For ease of consumption, we’ve placed Hannity’s claims and the Horowitz report in side-by-side format. (Click here if on mobile.)

The Horowitz revelations should probably trigger a reevaluation of Hannity’s policy of wearing “FBI” hats. (The Erik Wemple Blog in 2018 noted that the prominent cable-news host continued sporting such headwear even though he routinely blasted the FBI on air. Fox News officially confirmed that Hannity had “numerous” “FBI” hats that he wears “regularly.”) The appeal of these particular hats is that they enhance Hannity’s tough-law-enforcement-guy image. There’s a touch of populism in the choice, too: “Remember,” said Hannity in March 2018, “I’ve always had the greatest respect for rank and file, not these guys in D.C. that have abused their power. That’s a small portion.”

That sentiment has been a “Hannity” mantra for years. Now it’s a broken mantra, thanks to Horowitz. The FISA problems he cites, after all, are by no means the exclusive province of upper leadership. In addressing the breakdowns in the applications, the Horowitz report declares, “This failure falls most immediately on the shoulders of the case agents and supervisors who were responsible for assisting the preparation of the FISA applications and performing the factual accuracy review.” Responsibility, notes the report, goes all the way up to senior FBI leadership.

So blame at the FBI is a multilevel phenomenon, obliterating the illusory everyman distinction that Hannity has been making on show after show.

The “FBI” hat conundrum speaks to a reality of government and politics: Few things are as simple as Hannity describes them on his nightly misinformation channel. They’re complex and multifaceted instead. No, there’s no stark division of culpability between Hannity’s heroes and top management. Nor did a clean and cognizable political bias drive the whole operation. Horowitz wrote, "Witnesses told us that they did not recall observing during these discussions any instances or indications of improper motivations or political bias on the part of the participants.”

On his Tuesday night program, Hannity did pretty much what he did on his Monday night program. He framed the Horowitz report as a political scandal, “perhaps the biggest in history.” And he, again, ignored the parts of the report that found no political bias and no improper motivation. Even so, he recommended that all the “deep state operatives" get “lawyered up faster than you could say, ‘Good morning.’”

As this unhinged host stacks up his triumphal commentary, he is accomplishing an impressive symmetry with the agency he’s sliming. His abridgments of the report play up its scandalous passages and all but conceal the exculpatory findings. Appearing on the show to discuss the report have been GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.). They’re not the types to point out that Horowitz searched in vain for political bias.

The end result is that “Hannity” is creating his own version of a fraudulent FISA application. He’s like the low-performing case agent who fails to include the proper information so that his bosses — the viewers — can make informed decisions. Somehow he has failed to glimpse this irony.

Fox News watchers are more committed to President Trump than other Americans. Post media critic Erik Wemple went to Fox Nation's Patriot Awards to find out why. (Erik Wemple/The Washington Post)

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