Fox News is keeping quiet about the latest Sean Hannity scandal, in which the longtime host sent text messages to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and others providing political advice regarding President Donald Trump in the days surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Instead of denouncing Hannity’s activism, a Fox News spokeswoman pointed to a tepid statement from Hannity’s lawyer.

It’s an odd reaction from a network that is apparently paying Hannity millions of dollars to work for someone else.

“We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office,” Hannity wrote to Meadows on Dec. 31, 2020, according to a letter to Hannity from the House’s Jan. 6 select committee. “I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6th. He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity. Go to [Florida] and watch Joe [Biden] mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen.”

In another text to Meadows on Jan. 5, Hannity said he was "very worried about the next 48 hours.” In its letter to Hannity, the committee asked, “With the counting of electoral votes scheduled for January 6th at 1 p.m., why were you concerned about the next 48 hours?”

On Dec. 13, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) detailed a series of text messages Mark Meadows received on Jan. 6 from Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News host Laura Ingraham. (AP)

The committee’s letter, signed by Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), cites several other communications from Hannity to Trump insiders. For example, there’s a message from Hannity to Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) that references an apparent Hannity conversation with Trump on Jan. 10: “Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days. He can’t mention the election again. Ever,” wrote Hannity. (Trump issued a statement on Monday evening saying he disagreed with the host on this point.) “I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I’m not sure what is left to do or say, and I don’t like not knowing if it’s truly understood. Ideas?”

But rather than open his show the next day with a searing expression of despair stemming from that call, Hannity chose the opposite of transparency. “I’m glad that [Vice President Mike Pence] and the president are working together. They’ve had four amazing years serving this country,” said Hannity. “And today, they had this productive meeting at the White House, reflected on their historical record achievements, vowed to hold last week’s violent rioters accountable. They agreed on all of it.”

And as Hannity covered up what he knew was happening at the White House, he pointed the finger at others for similar infractions: “We are not changing. We are conservative. We are independent. We will follow all of this and point out that which the media mob refuses to ever report,” said the host that night.

As for that Jan. 10 text, why would Hannity advise that the president “can’t mention the election again”? Didn’t Hannity himself, after all, believe that the election was stolen? Said Hannity last November: “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 Hannity didn’t believe his own “big lie” programming?

The Jan. 6 committee is seeking an interview with Hannity because he appears to “have factual information directly relevant to the events of January 6th and the attack on the institutions of our democracy.” Toward that end, the committee letter played on Hannity’s patriotism: “We have no doubt that you love our country and respect our Constitution,” reads the letter.

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Hannity, released a statement saying that the request “would raise serious constitutional issues including First Amendment concerns regarding freedom of the press.” (Sekulow, who also represented Trump in various legal entanglements, later released another statement: “We are evaluating the letter from the committee. We remain very concerned about the constitutional implications especially as it relates to the First Amendment. We will respond as appropriate.”)

It’s true that news organizations typically fight efforts by the government to extract testimony from their employees. The Jan. 6 committee appears mindful that it is treading on sensitive terrain, citing its respect for the First Amendment and declaring off-limits any questions about Hannity’s broadcasts, his “public reporting” and the like.

But Hannity is not doing the work of a journalist, as his text messages make clear. His work over the course of the Trump presidency, though dressed in the trappings of cable news, was indistinguishable from that of a White House consigliere or propagandist. In an MSNBC appearance on Wednesday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said of the committee’s request:

The committee’s approach finds a regulatory echo at the Justice Department, which in July issued fresh protections for journalists from intrusive federal investigative methods, and stipulated that the safeguards are limited to “members of the news media acting within the scope of newsgathering activities.” That’s a scope within which Hannity rarely acts.

The First Amendment has been the MVP at Fox News over the network’s 25 years of poisoning American life. It has coddled network hosts as they’ve said false and damaging things about Fox News’s enemies and served as inspiration for countless segments bashing Big Tech and others for allegedly silencing conservatives. Yet Hannity and other Fox News promoters of the “big lie” are providing an on-the-fly legal seminar on the limits of its generosity. Even this glorious doctrine can stretch only so far.