Fox News star Sean Hannity seemed very, very upset Wednesday—also wounded, distraught and mad as a wet hen—over something he apparently read in The New York Times.
Not content simply to unleash nine rabid early morning tweets lashing out at Times op-ed columnist Kara Swisher for noting his record of minimizing and belittling the coronavirus pandemic and dispensing dangerous disinformation to her eighty-something, Fox News-loving mother, Hannity continued to vent about Swisher, and even rant against her mom, on his syndicated afternoon radio show.
“It’s a despicable newspaper,” President Donald Trump’s influential adviser told his millions of listeners Wednesday. “I decided this morning to tweet out at some idiot that works for this paper,” Hannity added, unwilling at first to say Swisher’s name, “and I’m like, are you really proud of the newspaper that you work for? Are you proud of this? Because it is never-ending, non-stop, continuous lying.”
After several more minutes of seething, Hannity finally acknowledged: “The woman’s name is Kara”—and he then affected to have trouble pronouncing her surname—“Sh-sh-swisher. I don’t even know who she is.”
Actually, Swisher is a celebrated and supremely well-connected tech and media journalist, a formidable figure in Silicon Valley who is well-known to Hannity’s bosses, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, as well as to Lachlan’s younger brother James.
Hannity, on the other hand, “is a windbag of rage,” Swisher told The Daily Beast, responding to his attacks.
Describing his reaction to Swisher’s column, Hannity went on: “Somebody sends it to me and I read it and I’m like ‘Ugh.’ She writes about her poor mother. And by the way, I wish her mother well. Apparently at one point [she] was a friend of mine. I guess not anymore… Her daughter maybe talked her out of it. I just said, ‘You are ignorant, and you are lazy and you are a total hypocrite.’ Because she is.”
Hannity continued: “So, anyway, this Kara? Kara? Kara Swisher person is writing that ‘finally, I talked my mom into not listening to Sean Hannity,’ and I said, ‘I’ll put my timeline up against yours.’”—a reference to a couple of early-February opinion pieces in the Times and The Washington Post that questioned the ban of commercial flights from China and compared COVID-19 to flu.
“I wonder if her mom perhaps was going to China?” Hannity went on. “Maybe she had a planned trip! If she was listening to her daughter’s newspaper at the time, that would have been a really, really, really dumb idea.”
Swisher began her column, titled “Fox’s Fake News Contagion”: “You can relax, Sean Hannity, I’m not going to sue you”—a reference to the idea, gaining traction among some Fox News critics, that the Trump-friendly cable channel should be held accountable in a court of law for broadcasting hours and hours of coronavirus misinformation that allegedly has resulted in sickness and deaths.
“But lawsuits are a bad idea,” Swisher continued. “Here’s why: I believe in Fox News’s First Amendment right as a press organization, even if some of its on-air talent did not mind being egregiously bad at their jobs when it came to giving out accurate health data.
“And, more to the point, when all is said and done, my Mom will listen to her children over Fox News. One of us—my brother—is an actual doctor and knows what he is talking about. And the other is a persistent annoyance—that would be me.”
Swisher recounted her attempts to counter her mom’s faith in Hannity and other Fox personalities with graphs and charts illustrating the terrifying spread of the disease, especially to people in her vulnerable age group. Her mom dismissed the information, Swisher wrote, believing it to be a Democratic plot to politicize bad news against Trump, and she continued to socialize with friends.
“I worry a lot,” Swisher wrote. “But she was not concerned—and it was clear why. Her primary source of news is Fox.”
Hannity didn’t respond to a request for comment. Swisher, however, told The Daily Beast: “Among the different personalities at Fox, he’s the most importantly egregious. And my mom watches it, and I heard from her what he was saying hours later or soon after. So I was using him [in the column] as an entry point and saying, ‘Look, Sean, I’m not gonna sue you, but Jesus Christ, what the fuck are you doing?’…
“He’s a super-spreader of bad information, and he’s now trying to abrogate that responsibility by pointing to The New York Times or one errant article in The Washington Post, whatever he’s pointing to. It’s the whataboutism that they love to do at Fox…They make a mistake and they tend to point the finger elsewhere.”
Swisher said she doubts that her column actually provoked a full-on Hannity meltdown. “I guess,” she said. “I think everything he does is calculated. He’s getting a lot of pressure, I’m assuming. This is the guy who did all that Seth Rich stuff, and doesn’t skip a beat”—a reference to Hannity’s shameless on-air promotion of the bogus conspiracy theory that a young Democratic National Committee staffer, shot during a July 2016 robbery attempt, was actually murdered in retaliation for leaking damaging emails to WikiLeaks.
“He never apologized. He has to live with himself,” Swisher added. “He’s a super-spreader and if he thinks it’s not a problem, I don’t know what to tell you. You should talk to his mama. If I was his mom I’d be pretty pissed he was doing that.” (Hannity’s mother Lillian passed away in 2001.)
“This is really dangerous,” Swisher continued. “Whether you’re doing it purposely or to support the president, I have no idea, but the fact of the matter is: Cut it out and admit what you did.”
During his radio rant—in which he repeatedly invited Swisher to sue him and threatened to hire Trump family libel lawyer Charles Harder—Hannity also trashed Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple, calling him “Erik Pop a Pimple.”
“My official response to that is that I first heard it in the first grade,” Wemple told The Daily Beast, citing his boyhood in Schenectady, New York. “It was either that or ‘Mr. Whipple’—the guy who squeezed the Charmin” in a popular television commercial for toilet paper.