Is Sean Hannity Bad For America?

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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The Less Said About Steve King

For a brief moment, I considered writing directly about Rep. Steve King’s comments on immigration and such, but the hog wrassling factor is simply too high.  Nevertheless, some of the punditry surrounding those comments lead me to a few observations about this constellation of topics.

Nationalism vs. Patriotism: In yesterday’s Commentary magazine podcast discussing King’s comments, Abe Greenwald called nationalism “patriotism on the cheap.”  I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but it is a close companion point to my prior observation that the Left’s efforts to marginalize or purge Western Civilization at colleges and universities (and a similar effort to convert our already poor K-12 civics curriculum to left-wing activism) also made conservatism shallower.

Multiculturalism:  The rise of simple nationalism on the non-Left is thus at least partially attributable to the rise of multiculturalism on the Left, and especially with the New New Left.  Although the immigration debate is far too complex to be reduced to a single point, the axis of “assimilation vs. multiculturalism” is certainly key.

As a country, we ought to be able to reach a point between the melting pot and the salad bowl that’s a nice dish of gumbo; historically that’s where we have tended to meet.  America still tends to be pretty good at assimilation, though we still have notable issues even with the second generation of, for example, Muslim-Americans.

Unfortunately, are there things about the Left’s approach that tend to make compromise difficult, if not impossible.  Some of these are often discussed, such as the Left’s (premature at best) reliance on the Emerging Democratic Majority theory breeding the suspicion on the Right that the Left would like an amnesty for a generation or two of political benefit.  But today, let’s keep things at a higher altitude.

Multiculturalism and Transnational Progressivism:  Multiculturalism, and the New New Left’s adoption of intersectionality as a functional religion, are closely related to the Left’s overarching vision of transnational progressivism.  Although I am not a fan of comparing the Brexit vote and the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan of “Stronger Together” was an obvious lift of the Remain campaign’s “Stronger in Britain” slogan.

This school of politics is built on a contradiction.*  On one hand, it seeks to present a Utopian vision of unity that spans all demographics.  On the other hand, it is a politics built around conflicts based on the fundamental racial, sexual, religious, generational and cultural elements of people’s identities.

This contradiction is probably reconciled only through totalitarian means (thus the appeal of intersectionality), which is why many rebel against it.

Accordingly, the Utopian facade is maintained primarily by making the campaigns for this vision largely empty.  In the Brexit fight, the Remain campaign asked people to be solely focused on economic factors.  Hillary Clinton ran a largely policy-free campaign on television after going months without facing the media.

Say what you will about nationalism, it taps into powerful cultural and emotional wellsprings that are naturally intended to unify one group against all others.   In contrast, the emotions tapped by left-wing identity politics are specific to each demographic, and each demographic is atomized by intersectionality.

Thus, while transnational progressives still hold the levers of power in many places, they may have difficulty fending off the nationalist appeal over the medium term.  Indeed, as noted, transnational progressivism and multiculturalism are built on the types of conflict which invite and fuel nationalist politics.

In their post-election angst, American progressives who previously disdained concepts like the separation of powers and federalism as the old, dysfunctional ideas of dead white males seem to be giving these concepts a second look.  If they were being more than situational, they might find in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution a patriotic and universalist vision that may be more competitive with nationalism.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen, because progressivism ultimately requires unlimited government power.  And progressives are more likely to attempt to coopt the nationalists’ white identity politics than reject their own.

*[This contradiction is not the only one between progressivism and multiculturalism, but it’s the one most relevant here.]

Update: Vox’s Zack Beauchamp — who created the infamous Gaza bridge — wrote today about the ineffectiveness of economic appeals as a response to rightist nationalism.  Strange days indeed.

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Had This Been President Clinton… (Likely a Continuing Series)

The WaPo’s Josh Rogin reported that during the tumultuous rollout of Pres. Trump’s EO on immigration for the Middle East, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly planned to issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, and refused a counter-instruction from White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

Rogin, however, failed to seek comment from the White House.  According to an appended “Editor’s Note,” WH spox Sean Spicer stated that “Stephen Bannon did not travel to see Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on the evening of Jan. 28.”

Plenty of folks on the right then swarmed onto social media to claim that the story was false, just like Rogin’s earlier piece overhyping resignations at the State Dept. — a story that even Vox’s Zach Beauchamp called “very misleading.” Ouch.

However, the problem with comparing the two stories should be obvious to anyone who remembers the Clinton Administration.  Spicer’s response is precisely the sort of lawyerly quasi-denial the Clinton White House would issue whenever controversy arose.

Indeed, had a Clinton White House issued a response like Spicer’s, folks on the right would be noting that he did not deny the key facts in the story: (a) Kelly planned to issue the waiver; (b) Bannon instructed him to not issue the waiver; (c) Kelly rebuffed Bannon and issued the waiver; and (d) Bannon and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller lost the ensuing debate about excluding key Cabinet officials from the EO process.

Had this been the Clinton White House, righties would have noted that an Administration waging #WAR on the media certainly would have denied those reported facts if they thought they could get away with it.

Had this been the Clinton White House, righties also would have observed that the denial extended only to the question of whether Bannon traveled to see Kelly, as opposed to telephoning, for example.  And they would have joked — in their best voice impressions of Bubba himself — that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘evening‘ is.”

As HotAir’s Allahpundit observed: “American politics increasingly feels like a novel whose events are retold by two unreliable narrators, Trump being one and the media being the other. ”  Those who focus on the media’s manifest failures (and they are myriad) while accepting Clintonian verbiage from the Trump White House may be setting themselves up for a fall later.

Update: On Feb. 7, Politico reported that Kelly called the WaPo piece “a fantasy story”; The L.A. Times quotes him as claiming “Every paragraph, every sentence … was wrong.”  He also told Rep Kathleen Rice, “I work for one man.  His name is Donald Trump, obviously.”  A skeptic might take that as a dig at Bannon.  And in context, Kelly is clearly playing a good soldier falling on his sword.  He’s a man taking the blame for something in which he played no part.

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