There are few pundits I loathe more than Sean Hannity. I was first exposed to him at an early age since he hosts a talk radio show in the mid-afternoons on Atlanta’s WSBB-FM 95.5 (for those of you that don’t know, WSBB-FM, formerly known as News Talk 750 WSB, is a popular news/talk station in Georgia that airs very conservative talk radio shows hosted by the likes of Herman Cain, Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, and Erick Erickson).
My father, who’s somewhat conservative but not egregiously so, likes to listen to the station on the way to and from work, and on days he would pick me up from school, I’d get to hear Hannity on the radio ranting about something Barack Obama had done that day and why it was an abomination for our country.
Hannity loves to hear the sound of his own voice and will spin virtually anything to fit a narrative. He’s extremely arrogant, zealously partisan, and obsequious to President Trump. His Facebook page over the years has devolved into extreme conservative clickbait, sometimes at the expense of accuracy, and one recent story he posted on the Quebec mosque shooting ticked me off (for reasons explained here).
The original story purported to present information about the shooting, claiming that there were two suspects, one of Moroccan origin, and a witness report by way of Fox News that one of the shooters screamed “Allahu Akbar” during the attack. Hannity quickly speculated that the attack could have been jihadist in nature without any concrete evidence. Authorities later labeled the Moroccan suspect, Mohamed Khadir, as a witness, leaving Alexandre Bissonnette, a white Quebecois, as the sole suspect.
Bissonnette has been identified as an “Internet troll” that routinely targets refugees, immigrants, and feminists and actively supports both Trump and Marine Le Pen, yet Hannity refused to acknowledge either of those facts (he did later update his story acknowledging that Bissonnette was the sole suspect, but failed to mention his politics or remove original speculation of jihadist motive).
Media bias emanates from both sides, and both liberal and conservative pundits will play up stories that support a specific narrative and ignore stories that run counter to those narratives. CNN consistently airs pro-liberal stories and ignores pro-conservative stories, and consistently frames conservatives in a negative light. MSNBC famously had skewed coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign; only 14 percent of its stories on Obama were negative compared to 73 percent for John McCain.
But Sean Hannity’s hypocritical, opportunistic, and self-righteous style of punditry has sown such division and discord, helping to create the polarized mess that we’re in today. Jon Stewart did an excellent job back in July calling out Hannity over his complete 180’s on a number of issues, noting that many of the qualities he criticized in Obama are just as, if not more, prevalent in Trump. For Hannity, Republicans are the ingroup and Democrats and the Left are the outgroup; they’re the enemy that must be universally opposed and defeated, even if the Republican who opposes and defeats them exhibits many of their characteristics and supports many of their policies. For Hannity, principles, honesty, and journalistic integrity are irrelevant, because he’s content so long as his guy is in power.
Such punditry breeds further partisanship and limits compromise between the two parties. When Democrats are painted so consistently in a negative light and Republicans, particularly those in power, are viewed as infallible, it prevents both sides from being able to come together to work toward real solutions. That’s exactly what helped fuel the rise of the Tea Party in 2009 and exactly what helped pave the path for Trump’s presidency. Obviously, the argument can apply equally to the other side with people like Cenk Uygur, and I worry that in the wake of Trump’s presidency, a Democratic Tea Party analogue will emerge as a result of those very same forces. But pundits like Hannity played a large role in getting us into this malaise, and their continued hypocrisy will only make things worse.