Fox News host Sean Hannity’s pro bono work for the Donald Trump campaign now includes smearing a former beauty queen as a porn star, and defying Fox News’s in-house orders regarding on-air standards.
On Wednesday, Hannity took to his radio show to assail Alicia Machado (the former Miss Universe whom Trump has repeatedly attacked and whom Hillary Clinton has embraced as part of her campaign) as a pornographic film star.
“She may have starred in an adult film, and available apparently on multiple free porn websites, according to The Daily Caller,” Hannity reported, before mentioning that “she also appeared topless” in Playboy magazine. He then said during an interview with Eric Trump (while discussing how mean Clinton had been to his dad during Monday’s presidential debate) that Machado is featured “in all these porn videos.”
Claims that Machado has appeared in hardcore porn (claims that have been floated as fact by other conservative icons such as Rush Limbaugh) are demonstrably false.
(Machado did pose topless for Playboy, however, and participated in some rather risqué reality TV. But Trump, himself, has appeared on the cover of Playboy, and once talked to a woman on his own reality-TV series The Apprentice about “dropping to [her] knees” and how that “must be a pretty picture.” His wife, Melania, has also modeled nude in the past.)
During his primetime Fox News program, Hannity (of course) had more of his nightly Trump-boosting to do. But this time, it wasn’t about nonexistent porno—it was about nonexistent polling success.
Even after Fox News’s vice president of public-opinion research Dana Blanton blasted out on Tuesday a company-wide memo instructing producers and reporters to abstain from citing online polls because they “do not meet our editorial standards,” Hannity continued to cite them as a measure of Trump’s recent campaign successes.
“If you look all the online polls, The Hill, Time.com, Slate, I mean, the list is really long, Trump won the debate in these online polls,” Hannity told Trump adviser Newt Gingrich on Wednesday evening. “Everyone’s gonna say, ‘Hannity they’re not scientific,’” he added, nodding to his own company’s editorial standards, “but this is the question: the punditry class has been wrong about Trump in the previous 12 debates he had with Republicans. and I thought he did well during the debate.”
Later in the episode, Hannity again boosted the Trump-favoring online polling, despite Blanton’s warning that they do not actually represent the voting populace.
“Listen to people in the polls—I know online polls aren’t scientific—but when they are all across the board—Times magazine and Slate and local CBS and all these mainstream media outlets—people vote Trump,” he said.
Post-debate online polls are easily gamed—and Hannity’s employer knows this. But in the name of promoting Trump, the conservative star willfully disregards that reality.
The fact that Hannity would do everything he can to promote the narrative that Trump’s detractors are flawed and that the Republican presidential nominee is winning (even if it involves going against a Fox News VP’s directive) isn’t actually a surprise.
If anything, it’s a part of an ongoing pattern. Hannity has made no mystery of his mission to help Trump become the next leader of the free world.
Behind the scenes, he has advised The Donald and his campaign on messaging and strategy. Multiple sources even told The New York Times last month that they believe Hannity might be gunning for a role in a Trump’s administration. This week, the Times reported that a Trump confidant spoke of at least one instance when Hannity personally drafted an “unsolicited memo” detailing the message Trump should deliver in the wake of the Orlando Pulse gay-nightclub massacre in June.
Earlier this month, Hannity got into hot water at Fox after his superiors discovered that he had participated in an official Trump campaign ad that also starred Ted Nugent and other, minor conservative celebs.
“I’m supporting Donald Trump this year,” he said, wearing jeans and a sport shirt in the cell-phone footage that he shot for the ad. “He’s gonna put originalists on the Supreme Court who believe in fidelity to the Constitution, separation of powers, co-equal branches of government. He’s a guy who vet refugees to keep Americans safe.”
Apparently, Hannity didn’t obtain permission for appearing in the Trump video—an act that would be considered a breach of ethics at most news outlets.
“We were not aware of Sean Hannity participating in a promotional video,” a Fox News spokesperson told The Daily Beast after the ad was discovered, “and he will not be doing anything along these lines for the remainder of the election season.”
And the Machado porno claim is hardly the only false rumor or conspiracy theory Hannity has promoted in his unpaid service of Team Trump.
Last month, Hannity faced strong criticism for entertaining Trump’s assertion that the election could be “rigged” in favor of Clinton, and thus stolen from him.
In May, when Trump and Ted Cruz were still locked in a bitter primary fight, Hannity egged on, and did not push back on, Trump when the real-estate mogul repeated the (completely unsubstantiated and fringe) conspiracy theory that Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The National Enquirer—a supermarket tabloid with close ties to Trump, openly supporting his White House run—had just published a report and a photo suggesting the elder Cruz was in New Orleans passing out pro-Castro pamphlets with JFK’s assassin.
When Trump went on Hannity’s radio show, the host meekly allowed Trump to give yet more oxygen to the Enquirer’s supposed scoop.
At the time, when asked by The Daily Beast if he would comment further—and if he felt not pushing back bolstered criticism that he is too deferential to Trump—Hannity emailed back: “I was saying that photo was not verified.”
Asked if he believed the Enquirer (famous for printing unsubstantiated gossip and wild tales) is a reliable news source, the Fox host said, “If [you] want to interview me, contact Fox PR.” Hannity subsequently emailed The Daily Beast, “So is the picture authentic or not? You don’t have a clue either. Lol."
(We do have a clue: Rafael Cruz did not play a role in JFK’s death.)
Hannity’s unwavering loyalty to Trump has made him an enemy of large chunks of the Republican Party. In his support for the campaign, he has escalated his on-air assaults on Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and other GOP establishment figures who Hannity has deemed insufficiently enthusiastic for a Trump candidacy and presidency.
“Time to name names…If you call yourself a conservative and a Republican, it’s actually immoral not to vote for Donald Trump,” the host said on Fox News in August in a rant that bashed #NeverTrump conservatives as “disgusting,” and as effectively pro-Hillary “crybabies.”
Hannity, Fox News public relations, and Blanton did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
However, one thing is abundantly clear: Hannity doesn’t really answer to Fox News anymore, though he may receive annual salary from the network. He doesn’t even answer to the GOP anymore, the party to which he has for decades sworn allegiance. Sean Hannity seemingly works on behalf of Donald J. Trump—as a spokesman, as a relentless advocate, as an informal strategist, as a close and trusted “friend.”
Count on that trend to continue, in one form or another, whether or not Trump moves into the White House this coming January.