It’s old by now to point out that we’re living through a Fox News presidency. The network spent much of the Obama administration breathing life into the racial animus that would propel Donald Trump’s political rise, and in the years before announcing his candidacy, Trump himself had a weekly call-in segment on Fox & Friends. More recently, the channel’s flashy chyrons and gaggle of talking heads may as well have become an instant preview of whatever’s going to bubble to the top of Trump’s noggin, slide down into his fingertips, and wind up on his Twitter feed.
But the link between Trump and Fox may be even more clear-cut than Trump’s body of 140-character work and his gang of Fox pundits-turned-administration officials would have us believe. In the wake of revelations this week that Trump and Sean Hannity both turned to lawyer Michael Cohen for counsel, the Washington Post peered inside the West Wing and dredged up even tighter connections (emphasis mine):
Trump and Hannity usually speak several times a week, according to people familiar with their relationship. The Fox News host, whose show averages more than 3 million viewers daily, is one of the few people who gets patched immediately to Trump. The two men review news stories and aspects of Hannity’s show, and occasionally debate specifics about whatever the president is considering typing out on Twitter. There have also been times when Trump has assessed the merits of various White House aides with Hannity.
The frequency of Hannity’s contact with Trump means that “he basically has a desk in the place,” one presidential adviser said.
Hannity is one of few people who can talk to Trump without being “obsequious,” a Trump ally told the Post. (His constant advice: own the libs on immigration and healthcare.) He has close personal relationships with both of the president’s large adult sons. “Advisers, at times, refer to Hannity as the ‘shadow’ chief of staff, rivaling White House chief of staff John F. Kelly in terms of influence,” the Post reports.
Kelly’s actual influence over a president with such a short attention span has been debated ad nauseam. But the idea that Hannity is even mentioned in the same breath by anonymous White House officials is wild. To listen to his hugely popular radio show or watch his TV program—about three million people a night do so—is to subject yourself to a mind-numbingly repetitive charade of outrage toward the grand liberal conspiracy.
Take Tuesday night, when Hannity spent 13 angry minutes in his opening monologue addressing recent reporting on his ties to Cohen. He framed the controversy as yet another attempt to cover up “the biggest abuse of power scandal in American history”—the Deep State’s plot against Trump—which, he said, the media is pushing with “unproven conspiracy theories” about the president’s potential ties with Russia. Hannity’s bald-faced projection may remind you 0f someone in a powerful elected office:
The media in this country has zero credibility. We have known this for over a decade. We’ve been exposing the media for what they really are. They are frauds. They are partisan hacks, and frankly nothing more than an extension of the Democratic Party—all things liberal. And pretty much all they do is parrot liberal political talking points and, of course, attack President Trump 24/7, all in an attempt to damage, delegitimize his presidency.
Like Trump, Hannity seems almost clinically unable to criticize others without also telling on himself. And if the Post’s reporting on Hannity-as-presidential-adviser is to be believed, it’s all part of the same long game to deflect and discredit shared enemies.
Fox, for its part, said in a statement on Tuesday that Hannity continues to have its “full support” despite news of his “informal relationship” with Trump’s lawyer. This nonchalance toward a clear conflict of interest led to much chatter among media types of how a real or serious news organization would respond such a situation. The obvious answer is that a real or serious news organization wouldn’t hire Hannity in the first place.
Will reports of Hannity actually advising the president—his main topic of coverage—force Fox’s hand? On the contrary, it would seem to give the host more power both inside and outside the cable channel’s confines. Rather than a Fox News presidency, it increasingly appears that the White House is a Hannity show.