Consider this a companion piece to Friday’s post about conservative news reporters.
The best part of Sean Hannity’s encounter with Ted Koppel may be that Hannity clearly did not think Koppel would actually say he was bad for America, which is why he spent days whining about it. I don’t think the assessment moves the public dialog further, especially given that Koppel misdiagnoses Hannity as someone who “attracts people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts.”
As Noah C. Rothman observed last week, ideology really cannot be considered the driving force in the age of Trump. Rothman identifies partisanship and the market pressure for news outlets to chase controversy as the culprits. This is far closer to the mark, but this could be fleshed out more.
To be sure, the ESPNization of politics and political media reinforces both partisanship and sensationalism, though this can also be seen as a negative feedback loop. Having written about that topic already, I’ll stick to the other half of Koppel’s critique.
Hannity’s defense is that people can tell the difference between a news show and an opinion show. As just mentioned, the lines between the two have increasingly blurred over the past few decades. But implicit in the defense is that an opinion show is held to a different standard than a news show, and not merely different, but a lesser standard when it comes to being based in fact.
Indeed, Hannity frequently defends himself by claiming that he is “not a journalist.” In reality, he is an opinion journalist or an advocacy journalist and one trusted with rather large media platforms.
As such (or like anyone ostensibly debating a position), credibility matters, or should matter. This can mean conceding a weak point in one’s argument, or pre-emptively addressing an opponent’s strong one.
But most of all, credibility ought to require some level of fidelity to facts. If you read a columnist and notice (s)he frequently plays fast and loose with the facts, or omits crucial ones, eventually you will conclude the person is not credible and thus not persuasive.
Thus, when someone like Hannity flip-flops on immigration reform because the RNC favored it in 2013, but Donald Trump was the hot item in 2015, it should matter. Indeed, Hannity knows it matters, which is why he squeals like a stuck pig and lashes out when people mention it.
Or when Hannity goes from fulminating that Pres. Obama should be doing more to imprison Russian stooge Julian Assange to vouching for Assange’s credibility himself, when the only thing that changed was Hannity’s perception that WikiLeaks was hurting the Democrats, it should matter.
When, in the desire to later claim that WikiLeaks did not hurt the Democrats in 2016, Hannity embraces a conspiracy theory to blame the CIA for WikiLeaks, it should matter.
Hannity’s ideology is big ratings and as such is not fueled by partisanship so much as constrained by it — though not as much as he would be constrained by political principles or a fidelity to the facts.
And I don’t begrudge the man making a fortune from it, though I suppose I am not laissez-faire enough to think there shouldn’t also be truth in advertising. So to the extent he built that fortune as a True Conservative, he wasn’t being honest with his audience. And to the extent that his partisan position is more important to him than facts or principles in the pursuit of ratings, he isn’t being honest with his audience.
Accordingly, where Koppel is probably correct is in his assertion that Hannity attracts the people who don’t care any more than he does. The people who care tune him out.
One last thing: Since I’m riding the high horse on this subject today, I note that an astute reader of Friday’s post contacted me over the weekend to remind me that the reporters who recently left the IJR aren’t conservatives. I let my desire for a quasi-happy ending cause me to make the common error of lumping those who work for a particular outlet in with the outlet’s editorial outlook, and welcome the correction.
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