Hannity and Fox face ethical issues related to Trump’s text revelations

NEW YORK (AP) – For years, Sean Hannity has transcended ethical boundaries with his role on a television network with “news” in the name. Yet it has never been as sharp as now, with the committee investigating last year’s Capitol uprising seeking his testimony..

The select committee on January 6 has unveiled a series of texts in which Hannity privately advised former President Donald Trump before, during and after the attack, seeking his insight into what was happening these days.

The popular Fox News Channel host in prime time has not said what he will do, but he has criticized the congressional inquiry as a biased witch hunt. His lawyer has raised concerns about the first amendment to the request.

It is not unheard of for journalists to advise politicians – history shows Ben Bradlee’s friendship with former President John F. Kennedy – but such actions raise questions about their independence and loyalty to the public interest, said Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study. of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota.

Last month, CNN fired host Chris Cuomo in prime time as it became clear, his efforts to advise his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, were more extensive than previously acknowledged.

In a text revealed by the committee on Tuesday, Hannity wrote to Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on December 31, 2020, that “we can not lose the entire WH lawyer’s office” and said that Trump should announce that he is leading a nationwide effort to reform voting integrity.

In a previously revealed text, on January 6, called on Hannity Trump to ask people to leave the Capitol peacefully. On January 10, Hannity texted Meadows that Trump should never mention the election again – advice Trump clearly did not accept.

He noted that on January 5, Hannity had sent a text message saying he was “very worried about the next 48 hours,” the rep said. Bennie Thompson, the committee chairman, that he wanted to know what concerned the host.

It was widely reported during the Trump administration that Hannity often spoke to the president. The lyrics to Meadows add specificity to some of the communications.

Hannity’s identity as a conservative talk show host has been locked in for two decades, both as a prime-time host on Fox News Channel and on talk radio. His identity as a journalist has been more bleak.

Fox refers to him as a host. In 2016, Hannity told The New York Times that “I have never claimed to be a journalist.” A year later, he told the same newspaper that “I am a journalist. But I’m an advocacy journalist or an opinion journalist. ”

He conducts interviews in his program, sometimes with people he has advised privately.

“He seems to consider himself a journalist when it suits his purpose and an entertainer when it does not,” Kirtley said. “And he can not have it both ways.”

Fox News executives have not immediately commented on the revelations of what Hannity has texted Meadows or criticism of his or the network’s ethics.

There have been times when Fox News has recognized journalistic norms regarding Hannity. He was forced to cancel a performance in Cincinnati in 2010 when it was revealed that he was attending a fundraiser for the Tea Party. When Hannity was featured in a 2016 Trump campaign video, he was told not to do it again.

In 2018, Fox called it an “unfortunate distraction” when Hannity was invited to speak at a Trump campaign rally.

“It obviously raises ethical issues for Hannity,” Kirtley said. “But it also raises ethical questions for Fox. What do you pretend to be? What do you want to be? You have to decide where your loyalty lies, whether your goal is to be a microphone for a particular political agenda or to serve the interests of the public. “

Fox has long tried to distinguish between news and opinion programming. Especially in the last few years, these lines have become less clear as they have become in a number of news organizations. Some of Fox’s prominent journalists, like Chris Wallace last month, is gone.

“I do not consider Fox to be a news organization,” said June Cross, a documentary filmmaker and journalist at Columbia University. “They’re dealing with what I call ‘news entertainment,’ which may or may not have anything to do with news.”

For a traditional news organization, implicit in the text messages is another form of embarrassment: that someone on its payroll was aware of some important, newsworthy information – about what was discussed in the White House before and after the Capitol riot – it was apparently kept private.

If opinion journalists elsewhere were in a similar position, such as Maureen Dowd of The New York Times or Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, “I would argue that they had an obligation to tell their news organizations,” Cross said.

“If your loyalty is to the public,” Kirtley said, “you should have revealed this.”

In his letter to Hannity, Thompson said the committee has “enormous respect for the first amendment.” He said members wanted to question Hannity about a specific and narrow range of factual issues, and not about his broadcasts, reporting or opinions.

“We have no doubt that you love our country and respect our Constitution,” he wrote. “Now is the time to step forward and serve the interests of your country.”

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