Is Sean Hannity Testing Just How Crazy Fox News Will Let Him Act?
Sean Hannity is the last remaining (mouth)piece of the once-dominant Fox News prime time lineup, following the sexual-harassment-driven ouster of Bill O'Reilly and the related departure of Megyn Kelly (plus the also-related resignation of Greta Van Susteren, if you'd like to include her). But it looks like Hannity may have finally pushed the crazy throttle a bit too far—perhaps not for his viewers, but for his employers.
The conservative TV and radio host has proudly (and loudly) assumed the role of Donald Trump's number one defender on cable news, and no conspiracy theory has been too bonkers for Hannity to promote, support or investigate as long as it somehow redounds to Trump's benefit.
Take the big one circulating around right-wing fever swamps lately: the Seth Rich murder "mystery." In short, the wild story goes that former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, 27, was murdered last July because he gave internal DNC emails to WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign, which then led to the election of Donald Trump.
The story is complete BS, and Rich's parents have had to publicly request that everyone "stop politicizing our son's murder." What actually appears to have happened is that Rich was simply, albeit tragically, the victim of a failed robbery attempt near his home in Washington—not some dastardly piece of bloody vengeance perpetrated by sinister Democratic Party agents.
But you wouldn't know any of that if you watched Hannity every night. You would probably think that it's obvious Rich was killed by nefarious left-wing villains, but that the America-bashing, Hannity-hating, truth-ignoring mainstream media doesn't want to admit that all those Trump-Russia so-called "scandals" they choose to cover are just made-up bits of #fakenews to distract from an "unprecedentedly and historically successful" president.
Or something. It really is a different reality on Hannity. On the show, the "truth" about the Seth Rich murder would debunk the entire Trump-Russia issue. How? No idea. But that's not the point.
Hannity's obsession with the Rich story over the last few weeks has gotten so volatile that Fox's news division had to officially retract a story published on its website about the murder, a story which took the conspiracy angle seriously—the exact story Hannity had been covering every night.
Hannity has since decided to back off the story, citing Rich's parents' plea. “Out of respect for the family’s wishes, for now, I am not discussing the matter at this time,” he announced last week. Yet, "at this time" leaves the possibility open for a return to the topic. We'll see how long that takes.
The ongoing upheaval at Fox News, dating back to the removal of founder and CEO Roger Ailes and to the more recent ouster of company president Bill Shine, has coincided with a stunning ratings decline, with the network falling behind rivals MSNBC and CNN in the 25-54 age demographic for the first time in more than a decade.
This is arguably due in part to the loss of Fox's biggest star, O'Reilly, whose 8 p.m. show's huge viewership preceded the rest of the network's prime time programming. But judging by the large ratings upticks on MSNBC and CNN, Americans seem to want to see more about the assorted Trump administration scandals, particularly Russia-related ones. Currently, those sorts of stories are nearly absent over on Fox, unless you count features attacking the coverage of anything Trump-Russia-related. (Of those, there are plenty, especially on Hannity.)
So, will Hannity be fired? Is he trying to get fired, so he can play the victim card against what he calls "liberal fascism"?
Or will he quit before Fox higher-ups have the chance to sack him? The company recently had to issue a statement in defense of Hannity, after speculation about his impending firing swelled in response to the ever-rising level of lunacy on his show.
Odds are Hannity won't tone things down, that's not his style, so no one can be sure what the future holds for Fox's 10 p.m. stalwart. But as long as he remains on the air, he'll keep spouting the crazy at full blast... until someone decides it's just too much and he follows O'Reilly out the door.
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