The great “unmasking” scandal has fizzled, though please do not tell viewers of the Fox News program “Hannity.”

Surely the host of that program doesn’t want to. On Tuesday night’s broadcast, Sean Hannity discussed Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s appearance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the presidential race, former vice president Joe Biden’s mental acuity and Hunter Biden. On Wednesday night, the topical lineup was pretty much the same. Everything, in other words, except for one of Hannity’s favorite stories:

“‘Unmasking’ probe commissioned by Barr concludes without charges or any public report,” reads the headline on a Tuesday Washington Post story by Matt Zapotosky and Shane Harris. The story capped more than three years of froth and speculation. It all began during the presidential transition, when officials in the Obama administration requested that a person who turned up in foreign intelligence reports be revealed — or “unmasked.” That person ended up being Michael Flynn, a close Trump ally who ended up serving for a few weeks as President Trump’s national security adviser. He resigned from his White House post under pressure in mid-February and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition. Conservative lawmakers and media decided the “unmasking” was part of a nebulous “Obamagate” scandal — the details of which the president himself couldn’t define. In May, the Justice Department announced that Attorney General William P. Barr had assigned U.S. Attorney John Bash to investigate whether the “unmasking” was improper. As The Post reported, Bash found nothing.

That’s not surprising: By all accounts, “unmasking” has long been a standard practice in the national security realm. Intelligence reports redact names of U.S. citizens who get swept up in foreign surveillance, the better to protect their privacy. Yet U.S. officials who later read the surveillance reports may seek a more detailed understanding of the conversations. So they can make a request to provide the identity of such a person.

But there’s no one like Hannity when it comes to turning standard procedure into dastardly conspiracy. “If you have rogue intelligence people, and they’re intercepting, illegally intercepting phone calls of Americans, that’s illegal,” said Hannity in a chat with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) shortly after Flynn’s departure. Nunes pushed the focus toward the Obama White House: “What I’m assuming is, is that this was picked up as they were tracking someone else. And if that’s the case, that would have had to go up to the highest levels of the Obama administration to get approval to unmask who that person is. And in this case, it was General Flynn,” said the congressman.

Once a conspiratorial notion this juicy finds its way into the Hannity narrative rotation, it sticks. “Hannity,” after all, is an accretive jumble of half-baked slams against liberals and Democrats. In December 2017, he warned of “all the attempts to take this president down. For example, the surveillance, unmasking of Trump and associates by the Obama administration.” The following April, he decried “unmasking, leaking, surveillance, FISA abuse, exonerations before investigations, felonies just not being prosecuted. Every one of these stories is unbelievable.” That October he declared, “And by the way, those leaks, we knew from the get-go were illegal, because that was — we all know surveillance unmasking that, never shouldn’t have happened or leaked in the first place.” And in March 2019, he wailed that “they all must be now put under oath, investigated because they weaponized the powerful tools of intelligence and resources and they literally broke the law.”

“Hannity” viewers might have thought this hype train was headed somewhere as recently as this spring. On May 7, then-acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell arrived at the Justice Department carrying a briefcase; a Fox News camera was pre-positioned to catch this newsy moment. The goods in transit: a declassified list of Obama administration officials who’d sought to unmask the person who ended up being Flynn. Two weeks later, Hannity devoted a “‘Hannity’ history special” to this alleged controversy. After declaring that he spurned the approach of the “media mob,” the host declared, “We got it right, they got it wrong. Now, we start three years ago in 2017 when we first sounded the alarm about unmasking, leaking raw intelligence and surveillance.” On May 27, DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec joined Hannity to discuss the decision to sic Bash on the “unmasking” allegations. This particular inquiry, noted Kupec, was adjacent to the inquiry of John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut who’s reviewing the Russia investigation.

Then in June, Hannity sounded exasperated with how long this whole thing was taking. “Now, I know tonight, many of you have been frustrated because the wheels of justice move painfully slow. Yours truly as well. The first — we first started on this with unmasking, illegal surveillance, leaking raw intelligence in March of 2017,” he said.

Well, this week his impatience has been rewarded. The Post’s scoop on Tuesday has now been matched by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, with the so-called straight news side of Fox News carrying the story on Tuesday evening.

We know how much Hannity likes to cite such publications — when they confirm his priors. Yet Hannity’s segment on the Bash “unmasking” review is nowhere to be seen. Why? The findings of Bash’s review have been passed along to Durham, according to reports — so perhaps Hannity is waiting for the outcome of the Durham probe to assess his approach to “unmasking?” But waiting isn’t Hannity’s style.

So why the delay in updating his viewers? Because Hannity has no respect for those viewers — the very people who’ve turned him into a millionaire many, many times over. They exist to absorb his nightly rants and boost his ratings. That’s it. Their loyalty doesn’t entitle them to honesty, integrity or introspection. Not even close.

And it’s not as though “Hannity” as a propaganda product suffers, either. There are, after all, plenty of other topics that Hannity can promote, now that “unmasking” has been all but torn from him. The cogency of Biden and the actions of his son Hunter, for example, are elastic standbys, available to fill however many minutes the host might need. Then there’s the Russia “hoax,” the sins of the Democrats and the “media mob,” and so on. In this he’ll be joined by many other voices across the network: CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted that the “unmasking” controversy permeated other precincts at Fox News.

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Fox News about the sudden “unmasking” void on “Hannity.” We’ve posed the question to Hannity himself as well on Twitter:

No response just yet.

The real-world consequences of Hannity’s scandal-mongering require little in the way of guesswork. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of Fox News viewers see voter fraud as a “major problem when it comes to voting by mail in U.S. presidential elections.” That scary number isn’t surprising, considering that Fox News repeats the bogus claims of President Trump — and the alleged pitfalls of mail-in voting is a big one — with minimal interference. People believe Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham — and possibly even the “Fox & Friends” crew. As this episode suggests, the Fox Newsers have little worry that their audience will find, and trust, contradictory reports from other outlets. So why not just ignore them?

Read more from Erik Wemple: