In terms of levels of sheer annoyance, Fox News’s ongoing War on Spring Break may actually manage to surpass Fox News’s War on the War on Christmas.
This week, Hannity made its triumphant return to spring break—another year, another salvo of Fox News host and Knockout-Game fabulist Sean Hannity harnessing the power and popularity of his TV show to expose the debauched hellscape of lustful coeds and cheerful binge-drinking.
A “parent's worst nightmare,” he calls it.
This is the second consecutive year that Hannity has sent Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt to Panama City Beach, Florida, to interview horny, drunkard millennials. You might be tempted to view such an exercise as a blatant excuse to broadcast B-roll of sexy, bikini-clad young people, but Fox News bills this as a major exposé, a “HANNITY EXCLUSIVE,” as it is splashed on the screen.
The testimonies in the Hannity segment are just as you’d expect from spring breakers doing spring break.
“I saw a girl snort cocaine off a guy’s butt.”
“Fuck my parents!”
The phrase “turned up” is uttered multiple times. And we get to hear this exchange between Earhardt and some shirtless fool:
“I’ve seen some sexual intercourse on the beach,” the idiot claims.“On the beach?” the intrepid reporter follows-up.“On the beach.”“What, did you stop it? Did you go and help the girl??”“No, she was clearly enjoying it.”
The Fox host and his trusted beach-hedonism correspondent also bemoan how she could not set foot on the beach without detecting the smell of the youths smoking pot. (Oh, no… pot.)
The Hannity team has been hard at work breaking the news that 20-somethings often enjoy liquor, drugs, premarital sex, fun in general, and twerking. This week, the conservative commentator has already also hosted a panel on the subject (in which one guest spent his time explaining how “weak” women are). The show also aired a Panama City Beach report that includes an appalled city council member and a police ride-along that shows the "dangerous, criminal side of spring break." Hannity’s Fox colleague Todd Starnes is also catching the spring-break-hate-fest fever. And there is yet more to come in Hannity’s anti-spring-break crusade.
Even before Hannity and co. kicked things into overdrive last year, Fox News was no stranger to spring break coverage. “Dangers lurk in some spring break destinations,” warned a piece that ran in March 2011. “Online magazine ranks 2013's trashiest spring break destinations,” announced a post in the Fox News travel section. And, funny enough, there’s a slideshow hosted on Fox News from March 2012 that praises and lists “totally wild and trashy spring break spots,” including an all-inclusive resort that “is great for horny, under-21 set who are looking to get down, dirty, and drink.” (Someone should tell Sean.)
Hannity’s more recent campaign against the dark forces of springtime reveling has actually produced change, for better or for worse. Last year’s investigation into partying, half-naked college kids sparked an official review of the city’s spring break policies. Authorities subsequently changed bar closing hours (bumping it up from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m.) and started requiring ID for consuming alcohol on the beach, and made some changes to enforcement. “We were shown as being [a] lawless place that you can just come and do anything and none of us liked that,” Mayor Gayle Oberst told The Washington Post last week, when asked about Hannity.
Oberst isn’t the only local government official who thinks the city was portrayed unfairly.
“I think that there's been a lot of sensationalism that we saw...on Fox, and people with their own agendas who are local here," city council member John Reichard said. “The kids are having a party,” the mayor added. “It's spring break.”
Furthermore, local business owners were far from amused by Hannity’s work. “I call it an assault on the beach,” the aptly named Sparky Sparkman, owner of Spinnaker Beach Club, said last October, slamming Hannity. "College spring break was basically over when he did that, and he had a mission...The college spring breakers, they're not ready to lay it down at 2 a.m. You're going to put more people out in the street and that's not going to be good.”
"Fox News can be a little biased at times especially when it comes to liberal things like spring break,” Wes Burvis, kitchen manager at Sharky's Bar & Grill, told the Panama City NBC affiliate last week.
So much of Panama City Beach’s economy relies on the influx that comes with spring break, so Hannity’s reporting has some locals, particularly those who work in the service industry, worried and pretty pissed off.
“I think it did hurt our business quite a bit this year; our numbers definitely aren't matching up from last year,” Burvis said. “We're losing several thousand dollars a night.”
"If you lose tourism which is the backbone of PCB, we're cooked, that's it,” Patrick Pfeffer, owner of Club La Vela, said bluntly. He also made clear that Fox News employees are not allowed anywhere near his club. (Something of an irony, seeing as how Hannity loves to play himself up as a friend to America’s small business owners.)
We’ll have to wait until next year to find out if Hannity and Earhardt have at least one more year of spring-break-shaming in them. Until then, you can compare the quality of their outraged coverage of spring breakers to that of the outraged coverage shot by KHBX—the fictional news crew from Comedy Central's short-lived, Zach Galifianakis-starring comedy Dog Bites Man. Watching the two side-by-side provides yet another strong indicator that Fox News has long been a raging parody of itself.