Media Matters for America is one of the right’s favorite bogeymen, and for good reason. The progressive group has long pushed for advertiser boycotts of top conservative commentators, striking at the heart of Fox News and other outlets’ businesses. More broadly, it obsessively catalogues right wing media’s every move.
Even media reporters fixated on Fox News lack the mental fortitude to methodically analyze an entire year’s worth of Sean Hannity clips. Yet that’s what Media Matters’ Matt Gertz and Shelby Jamerson did in recent weeks, poring over transcripts from 254 Hannity episodes between the May 17, 2017, appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and last Wednesday. Their findings—published in a post by Gertz today—illustrate the extent to which the country’s most popular conservative pundit functions as a media organ of the White House.
Of those 254 episodes, Gertz writes, an incredible 152 opened with segments about Mueller’s investigation. Hannity averaged nearly two segments on the topic for the whole year. Some other topline observations, per Gertz:
256 segments — a whopping 53 percent — included criticism of the media’s coverage of the Mueller investigation, which Hannity and his guests consider excessively anti-Trump.
191 segments included commentators suggesting that there had been no collusion between Trump or his associates and Russia.
82 segments feature attempts to construct a counternarrative by claiming that the real collusion had been between Russia and Democrats. This is often a reference to the Uranium One pseudoscandal, which was referenced in 38 percent of all segments about the Mueller investigation.
67 segments included suggestions that Mueller should resign, recuse himself, be fired, or otherwise end the investigation. 41 suggested that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the probe, should do so.
186 segments — nearly 38 percent of the total — claimed top federal law enforcement officials involved in the creation of the probe had broken the law.
218 segments — 45 percent of the total — featured Hannity or his guests saying Hillary Clinton had committed crimes.
Hannity is—as many people will claim in Fox News’ defense—an opinion host. These opinions also comprise the most popular program on cable news. Hannity himself, meanwhile, reportedly talks to Trump by phone most weeknights around 10 p.m., just after his show airs.
The findings speak to the GOP’s PR strategy to discredit the notoriously quiet Mueller. Trump does his thing on Twitter; the national media reacts. Rudy Giuliani and other aides shower the mainstream press with access and maybe-true, maybe-false information that journalists cannot resist. And Hannity and his brethren across the rightwing mediasphere hammer the point home. Small wonder that polling on Republicans’ attitudes toward Mueller increasingly finds their opinion of him waning and patience for his work thinning.
The usual counterpoint to this is that MSNBC, CNN, and others also hone in on the Mueller probe, but from a different angle. And it’s true that viewers have choices in where to turn for maniacal coverage of Trump’s every squeak.
The rub is that the party with a virtual monopoly on political power shares word-for-word messaging with the right’s major press organs. To wit: Media Matters’ finding that Mueller’s inquiry was described as a “witch hunt” at least 81 times on Hannity over the past year was echoed on a certain Twitter feed just this morning.