I’ve been on Fox News more than I’ve watched it.
That might be a slight exaggeration. They did go on about a column of mine earlier in the summer. And I was a local Fox pundit for about a year, adding my little segments to the end of the 9 p.m. broadcasts. I said anything on my mind — once I compared opera and hockey (better music at operas, better looking fans at hockey games). The checks cleared, and I’d be doing it still but a new regime took the program in a different direction. Or not — as I said, I never watched the show, I was just on it.
I did tune in for Fox’s GOP debate, the one where Megyn Kelly so upset Donald Trump by asking him pointed questions as if he were running for president. I was impressed with the journalistic job Fox did.
That rigor seems to have been an exception based on the latest tempest swirling around another Fox host, Sean Hannity, who is rolling at Trump’s feet like a puppy. Having never watched Hannity, I’ll have to trust the judgment of others.
“Fox News host Sean Hannity isn’t just shilling for Donald Trump,” Erik Wemple wrote in the Washington Post. “He’s not just orchestrating applause for the candidate’s most abhorrent policy positions. He’s not just facilitating and reciting every Trump talking point in marathon interviews. . . . He’s also advising the candidate.”
Is that bad? In this business, the urge to offer unwanted advice can be overwhelming. I remember once when Cardinal Francis George visited the editorial board to talk about the latest round of church closings. I said something like: “The archdiocese always closes a church here, a church there, which upsets people. Why not share with the public the big picture, the larger real estate challenges facing the church in the face of shrinking congregations, so they can understand you’re trying to solve this big systemic problem and not just shuttering individual parishes on a whim?” He looked at me strangely. I certainly wasn’t acting out of friendship to Cardinal George, a world-class sourpuss. It just seemed a good idea.
Yes, there is supposed to be a wall between journalism and politics. But we’re human beings, and there are holes in the wall. Sometimes you get a story that way. I’ve gotten scoops because the person making the news is an acquaintance who told me the news directly. But that’s a rarity. Usually being friends with a pol means they slip you self-serving creampuffs that you’re supposed to credulously inflict on your readers. Some folks do that.
What does it really matter if Hannity is talking to Trump in a room or over the airwaves? Fox is so corrupted by bias, singling out one guy for his moral lapses seems unfair. Nor is Fox alone in betraying whatever journalistic standards still exist. CNN left journalism after the Malaysian jetliner disappeared and they veered into performance art, trading integrity for ratings, a common deal.
Hannity’s departure from journalism is plain, since a journalist reports the truth and the truth about Trump is clear: he is a demagogue, a bigot, and a fraud. Those aren’t mere insults, but dry journalistic descriptions. He’s a demagogue because he bases his appeal on his personality. “Trust me and I’ll take care of everything,” Trump says, again and again. It’s a cult of personality.
He’s a bigot, obviously, because he condemns people based on race and ethnicity.
He’s a fraud because he represents himself as something he’s not: a hugely successful businessman. Don’t confuse living a rich lifestyle and being a skilled businessman. Bernie Madoff lived a rich lifestyle, with stolen money, a sign of his being a skilled crook.
I believe the business success that Trump claims qualifies him for the presidency is an illusion. If he is what he claims, let’s see the tax returns. Every presidential candidate for 40 years has released his — now her — returns. Where are Trump’s? What is he hiding? If Hannity were a journalist, he would ask Trump that every time he saw him.Tweets by @neilsteinberg