Conservatives, including myself, have endlessly complained that the mainstream media has long been too cozy with Democrats in power. Now it's time for conservatives to talk about Sean Hannity.
Reports that Fox News host Sean Hannity is so close to Trump “that some White House aides have dubbed him the unofficial chief of staff” probably deserve more attention—and (for those of us who want to be consistent) condemnation.
Now, I’m aware that Hannity wavers on whether the title “journalist” accurately describes his role. “Entertainer” is probably more accurate, but when you anchor of an hour-long primetime TV show on what is ostensibly a cable “news” network, you have a responsibility to to disclose potential conflicts of interest to your audience. It matters not that Hannity is a “pundit” and not a straight reporter. As Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, being an opinion journalist does not absolve one of this responsibility. People need to trust that our opinions are really our opinions.
Whether one cares about upholding ethical standards, this makes it impossible for conservatives to complain the next time a Democrat cozies up to a member of the press. Back in March, conservative John Ziegler authored a column titled, “A Comprehensive List of Things Republicans Can No Longer Legitimately Criticize Thanks to Trump.” It’s time to add one more to the list.
The truth is that for years, conservatives had every right to complain about Democrats and the media. Examples are rife.
At least one of FDR’s speeches was actually written by a reporter covering him. As Jonathan Alter recounts in his book, The Defining Moment, after one of Roosevelt’s speeches was panned by the press, the president challenged New York Herald Tribune’s Ernest K. Lindley to write a better speech for him—and he did! Alter goes on to suggest that this would “get him fired for unethical behavior,” but I’m not so sure.
According to his Washington Post obituary, “Mr. Lindley’s prolific literary production included the first book about Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt—A Career in Progressive Democracy. He also wrote The Roosevelt Revolution—First Phase, Half Way with Roosevelt and How War Came—U.S. Foreign Policy from the Fall of France to Pearl Harbor.”
The torch then passed to a new generation of cronies. According to The New York Times, Arthur Krock, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, “rewrote, without credit, Why England Slept, thereby rendering it publishable, awarded his personal valet to the young Congressman John Kennedy upon his arrival in Washington and, later, ‘worked like hell,’ in his own words, in a successful lobbying effort to obtain the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage.”
But Krock wasn’t JFK’s only powerful journalistic buddy. While covering JFK as Washington Bureau Chief of for Newsweek, Ben Bradlee was, as John Dickerson writes, “straddling two worlds, playing the role of both reporter and friend” with Kennedy.
In a 2014 column for Newsbusters, conservative Jeffrey Lord alleged that Bradlee suppressed negative information about the Kennedys. “Once upon a time Walter Cronkite really was ‘the most trusted man in America,’ Lord lamented. “But those days are long gone. And the blame for this total lack of trust lies with the American media itself.”
Indeed, as Cronkite, himself, confessed: “I don’t know why to this day I got away with it” (regarding hiding his liberal leanings).
But get away with it, they did. And for decades. As recently as 2009, Politico reported that ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos participated in daily conference calls with then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as well as Democratic strategists James Carville and Paul Begala. This was the kind of thing that used to make conservative heads explode. But at least Stephanopoulos was going through President Obama’s chief of staff.
In the case of Hannity, they have eliminated the middle man. “The phone calls between President Trump and Sean Hannity come early in the morning or late at night, after the Fox News host goes off the air,” writes The Washington Post.
Chalk this up as just the latest example of conservatives wanting to “fight fire with fire” and ape the other side. But it also means surrendering the moral high ground and becoming no better than your adversaries.
As John Ziegler explains, “Once you have defended and accepted certain behavior from a president, it is awfully difficult, even in a world where hypocrisy is now longer seen as politically lethal, to claim that similar acts are unacceptable for any other elected office.”
Donald Trump and Sean Hannity are doing the kind of things that conservative Republicans used to rightly abhor. We’re all hypocrites, now.