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Opinion Sean Hannity, America’s No. 2 threat to democracy: An A-to-Z guide

Fox News host Sean Hannity during a taping of his show, “Hannity,” in New York in 2019. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)
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A month after Democratic candidate Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the presidential election, Fox News host Sean Hannity chatted with Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, who worked for his reelection campaign. Hannity’s guest was on-message: “I want to make it clear to the American people — this is not over,” she said Dec. 4. “So, don’t for a second think that Joe Biden is going to be sworn in on Jan. 20th.”

Provocative remark, right?

Not on “Hannity,” a prime-time Fox News program that pulls in upward of 4 million viewers per night. The Trump plot to overturn democracy has melded into the show’s rhetorical furniture. “We have a duty to investigate every legitimate claim of fraud and abuse,” the host said Dec. 2.

Judging by the past several weeks of programming, however, Hannity has instead channeled a different duty: hyping flimsy attempts to invalidate an election. Long a merchant of false and harebrained lines of attack against Democratic politicians, he has moved to a more alarming perch: advocate for disenfranchising voters. With each errant utterance, Hannity pushes his viewership closer to a breakup with U.S. democracy.

So when the next presidential candidate tries to hijack an election, the “Hannity” base will be primed to believe whatever random allegations about fraud and irregularities get tossed into the public square. It’s enough to qualify Hannity as the No. 2 threat to U.S. democracy, right behind his phone buddy in the White House.

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Here’s an A-to-Z guide to this sprawling and dangerous attack:

Ahem: The major news outlets — including Fox News — called the election for Biden on Saturday, Nov. 7. Two nights later, Hannity told Fox News viewers about another “major development”: “Welcome to ‘Hannity.’ We begin tonight with a major Fox News alert. Attorney General Barr has now authorized the Department of Justice to probe substantial allegations of voting irregularities in multiple states. We’ll have full coverage throughout the hour on this major development.”

Later, he made reference to Democrats and the “media mob” that “never accepted the election results in 2016, but in seconds, Joe Biden won, let’s tell the world. What a bunch of hypocrites.”

Boldface inserted to highlight an ahem:

Babble: Hannity has an unusual position in American media. He can push falsehoods every night — and his audience doesn’t punish him. He can hype stories that never pan out — and his audience doesn’t punish him. He can repeat himself ad infinitum — and his audience rewards him.

Take this snippet from Hannity’s opening statement on Nov. 11: “While the very frail, the very weak, cognitively struggling Joe Biden is probably fast asleep in his basement bunker, dreaming of picking out drapes for the Oval Office, well, investigations continue in multiple key states — where hundreds now of sworn affidavits are being filed, lawsuits are being filed, alleging serious election misconduct.”

Compare that with Dec. 3: “Tonight, we are tracking multiple stories, serious allegations of election irregularities all across the country tonight — a lot of news tonight.” Or Nov. 10: “We saw blatant election-law violations in state after state.”

“Multiple stories,” irregularities everywhere, in “state after state” — on “Hannity,” the scandals against conservative America always come in plurals.

The Fix’s Amber Phillips analyzes how some of the rhetoric from Trump allies could depress Republican turnout ahead of the Georgia Senate runoff elections. (Video: The Washington Post)

Circular reasoning: Time and again, Hannity alerts his viewers to how many people are buying into the idea that the election was stolen. On Nov. 10, he riffed, “Now, tonight, millions of Americans, you do feel betrayed. According to Politico, look at this: 70 percent of Republicans, they don’t believe this election was free, fair, and for a good reason.”

Could it be that a lot of those Republicans get their news from “Hannity”?

Denial: The Post surveyed congressional Republicans and reported Dec. 5 that 220 GOP lawmakers “will simply not say who won the election.”

Stunning? Only if you don’t watch “Hannity,” where a Trump electoral college victory is always around the legal corner. Rudy’s working on it; Kayleigh has some important updates; Newt has insight on the corruption in Georgia; and more challenges are coming up the pike! Why should a Republican lawmaker throw in the towel when the show that he most wants to get on says it’s still a contest? If you declare Biden the winner, what are the chances that a booker from “Hannity” will call?

Emotional coaching: Throughout its nearly 25 baleful years, Fox News has provided, free, an add-on service: anger maximization. “I would argue tonight, every American should be angry, you should be outraged, you should be worried, you should be concerned at what has happened in the election and the lead-up to the election,” Hannity said Nov. 4, days before Biden was declared president-elect by the networks. “And, frankly, you should be angry at what is building and building and building in the last four years in this all-out assault against a duly elected president that we the people elected.”

Guests on “Hannity” fall in line with the host. The night after Hannity’s lecture about normative anger, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) hit the theme: “It is outrageous,” Cruz said. “I talked with the president this afternoon, Sean, and I’ll tell you, the president is angry and I’m angry. The voters ought to be angry.”

Newt Gingrich, a key member of Hannity’s democracy-destruction team, exclaimed on that Nov. 5 broadcast: “You know, I think, I’ve been active in this since 1958, that’s 62 years. I am the angriest I have been in that entire six decades.”

Funny thing: States that broke for Trump have been spared Hannity’s probe of election irregularities. “Now, some huge states like Florida, Texas, Ohio, they all did a great job on election night,” said Hannity on Nov. 13. “They should be commended. Many other critical states clearly dropped the ball.”

Gravitational pull: Fox News’s Bill Hemmer was part of the news team on election night that put Arizona early — and correctly — in Biden’s column. Done deal, right? Not on “Hannity.” The next night, Hemmer appeared on the show to game out the possibility that Trump could still take Arizona. “Maricopa County is something to keep an eye on throughout the night. We’ll see whether or not a case can be made for the White House to argue that Arizona really is still in play with 11 electoral votes on the line,” said Hemmer.

Hypocrisy: Hannity found promise Nov. 5 in a Blaze story by Daniel Horowitz noting that state legislatures determine presidential electors. Calling it a “great piece,” Hannity pointed out that the legislatures “wind up serving as the kingmakers. And so, there is a lot of power there like in a state like Pennsylvania where it’s a Republican legislature.” Boldface added to contextualize a Nov. 13 Hannity comment: “Let’s be clear: This new, extreme, radical Democratic socialist and even lawless party, they are on a quest for power, at all costs.” Boldface inserted to highlight selective support for bare-knuckled politics.


Juris doctor: No multiweek disinformation campaign on “Hannity” is complete without the mirage of propagandistic autodidacticism. “The law — and I have a copy of the law in every state in front of me; I got Pennsylvania. I got Michigan. I got Wisconsin — almost all of them have virtually the same language about partisan observers allowed to watch the counting of the votes, and yet, it’s not happening in many places. That would be a violation of law,” Hannity said Nov. 6.

Kayleigh McEnany: On Nov. 13, the White House press secretary told Hannity, “I do have some other information for you on Pennsylvania, Sean, that I passed along to your producers.”

Hannity likes to boast that his program is independent, doing work that the mainstream media declines to do. McEnany’s comment suggests, however, that “Hannity” has become a captive enterprise of the Trump election challenges — which is why it relies on nightly appearances (“updates,” in Hannity’s phrasing) by McEnany herself. (For more on McEnany, see “Q.”)

Luggage: Poll workers at State Farm Arena in Atlanta used ho-hum bins to shuttle ballots around the counting area on election night. But since Hannity’s cohort sought to cast these activities as conspiracies, the bins became “suitcases.” Or, in Hannity’s terminology, “mysterious suitcases.” Because if Democrats were going to steal an election, they would jam the contraband into Samsonites.

Make-believe: Sometimes Hannity and his crew can’t find even half-baked evidence for the latest conspiracy theory. In such cases, they don’t cite evidence — just suggest it: “Biden underperformed with African American voters nationwide,” Hannity said Nov. 30. “Several critical swing states, he somehow managed to capture higher percentage of their vote. Again, how convenient — the right states.”

No comment: Fox News called the race for Biden the morning of Nov. 7. Thirty-eight days later, one of the network’s top personalities continues defying it. Why do network bosses allow this guy to trample the organization in this way? Still awaiting an on-the-record response.

Oops: “I don’t vet the information on this program that I give out,” Hannity said Nov. 30. He later retracted the claim. Apparently, truth emerges on “Hannity” only by accident.

Pennsylvania! Frequent “Hannity” guest Ted Cruz volunteered to argue the merits of a Republican challenge to Pennsylvania’s handling of the presidential election. The lawsuit hinged on the legality of mail-in ballots under the state’s constitution. Cruz “laid out the constitutional issue in Pennsylvania,” said Hannity on Dec. 2. “That I find extraordinarily compelling, how they violated their own constitution with a late change in the law. If the Supreme Court takes that, that could change things. In my view, that is a real case.” McEnany concurred, saying it was a “big deal.”

“This is a big case — this has to be considered, right?” Hannity asked Cruz last Monday.

The next day, the Supreme Court rejected the case. Given all the attention that Hannity had showered on the issue, that’s big news, right? Wrong: Hannity opened his show Tuesday night by ignoring the ruling. Instead, he hopscotched to the next big thing — a suit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to stop Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin from committing their electors to Biden. “Make no mistake, this case deserves to be heard. It has merit. It has precedent and the American people deserve their day in court,” said Hannity. On Friday, the Supreme Court rejected Texas’s bid to invalidate election results in the four states.

Quasi-contributor: Since Biden defeated Trump, McEnany has held two press briefings for reporters at the White House. Meanwhile, she has appeared on Hannity’s show at least 19 times — just one of the synergies from the Fox News-White House merger dating to Jan. 20, 2017. When the Erik Wemple Blog asked McEnany about this imbalance, she replied via email, “As White House Press Secretary, there are a variety of ways to communicate with the American People that don’t involve being shouted at by activists, including the manner in which I’m communicating with you right now.”

Rudy Giuliani: On his Nov. 17 show, Hannity praised an appearance in a federal court by the former New York mayor, who is representing Trump. “All right. In Pennsylvania, Rudy Giuliani argued the case today. I’ve heard from more than a few people that he was absolutely brilliant in his arguments today,” said Hannity. Perhaps Hannity should seek out new sources: Giuliani was absolutely awful; the case collapsed.

Settlement: Fox News announced a settlement last month in the emotional-distress lawsuit filed by the parents of Seth Rich, a 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer who became the focus of a conspiracy theory about the leak of Democratic emails to WikiLeaks. had published a piece — that it later retracted — breathing life into the story, and Hannity bit hard, much as he does with the election-fraud story. Both story lines underscore that no allegation is too out there for Hannity to embrace in service of Trump. Fox’s settlement with the Riches was announced two days before Thanksgiving, when Hannity was on break.

Time’s up: On Nov. 9, Hannity appealed to viewers with this reasonable-sounding proposition: “Let’s let the people tell their stories. Let’s let the American people decide if we believe them or not. Let’s look at, for example, what the law says and let the courts do their constitutional job to adjudicate.” One month later, Trump and his fellow Republicans have lost more than 50 election challenges.

Constitutional job completed.

Unprecedented: People frequently mangle the plural of attorney general, which is properly stated as “attorneys general.” On Thursday, Hannity referred to “attorneys generals” as he brought up the Texas lawsuit. Referencing support for the suit, Hannity explained, “Now that you’ve got 106 congressmen signing on, now you’ve got the 17 states, now you got the six or seven that want to join in this suit which is pretty unprecedented.”

Yes, it certainly was.

Venom: As if his rhetoric about fraudulent elections isn’t enough to rend the country, Hannity likes to say, as he did Nov. 26, that people on the left “hate us” and “I’m not exactly fond of them either.”

If those haters get their way, Hannity says, dark days are coming. “I’ll say this — good luck if your dreams come true and your friend Joe is going to be hidin’ Biden in the White House. Here’s a ‘Hannity’ prediction: If your dreams come true, you better buckle up, because I predict — I’ll use the term 'greatest political Schiff Show’ on earth will unfold before your eyes,” he said on Nov. 12, referring to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). He did qualify that prediction by adding, “I honestly hope I’m wrong.”

Be wary whenever Hannity uses the word “honestly.”

Way, by the: Not only does Hannity repeat himself, he interrupts himself — commonly with a three-word construction. “Here with more, Fox News correspondent-at-large, Geraldo Rivera, and the author, by the way, of an upcoming book, ‘Modern Warriors: Real Stories From Real Heroes,’ which is, by the way, the first book published by Fox News books, a brand-new imprint,” said Hannity on Nov. 13.

Or this, from the same show:

And in this election, by the way, some voters were in states casting ballots before the final debate. This has got to stop. All — you know, the game is not fully played yet. There needs to be an Election Day, not an election month, election two months, and then, you know, two weeks of counting.
And mail-in voting, by the way, number two, that is fraught with problems. And by the way, must only be used in extreme circumstances, when a voter is unable to vote in person.
Any mail-in votes have got to be verified with a matching signature. Common sense. There’s got to be one standard for signature across all mail-in ballots. And then third, voters should absolutely be required to use a photo ID in order to vote.
By the way, I go to the DNC convention every four years, every time I go -- guess what? I need a photo ID. I’m not sure why Democrats think it is unfair to require that same standard at a polling location.

Hannity’s by-the-way reliance is more than a verbal tic. It’s also an expression of his talking-point-packed head. As the host plows through his explanations, he can’t resist throwing in some topically adjacent scandal or consideration. On Nov. 18, for instance, he criticized Democrats for their conduct throughout the Trump presidency. “And let me add, by the way, Stacey Abrams in Georgia still has not conceded her gubernatorial race in Georgia from 2018. Loved by the Democrats and the media,” said Hannity.

X factors: Suzanne Scott is CEO of Fox News; Jay Wallace is president and executive editor; Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch run the whole shebang as chairman and executive chairman/CEO, respectively, of Fox Corp. They’re the folks who sat back while Hannity inflicted grief on the Rich family and who stay silent as Hannity takes a torch to the country he professes to love. They’re also the folks who could halt the craziness.

Yikes! Newsmax has made some headway in cable-news ratings by out-Hannitying the Hannity Channel. Time for some Jeanine Pirro, host of a rabidly pro-Trump weekend show and a Fox News personality who’ll never be out-extremed. “Stop letting people tell you that we don’t have the evidence, because we do. And this is only going to continue. This fraud will continue and America will be doomed for the next 20 years,” Pirro said on the Dec. 1 edition of “Hannity.”

Zeptosecond: That’s how much time “Hannity” has spent preparing his viewers for reality. For example: On Nov. 13, he said, almost in a moment of weakness: “Now, tonight, according to reports, if the election was ever certified in Joe Biden’s favor, the president might announce a 2024 bid soon thereafter.”

Read more from Erik Wemple:

Jorge Ramos suggests that the media could have stopped Trump. Really?

Bogus ‘suitcase’ story rolls away from Fox News

Kayleigh McEnany isn’t aware of anything

RNC blasts Politico over Michigan election story

Maria Bartiromo’s phenomenal flop