Sean Hannity didnâ€™t appreciate what Fox News colleague Shepard Smith said in a Time magazine interview published Thursday, the day the network announced a contract extension for Smith.
Thatâ€™s understandable. Though Smith did not call out Hannity by name, he did say â€śsome of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertainingâ€ť and that â€śthey donâ€™t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want.â€ť
In firing back, however, Hannity attacked not only Smith and his comments but also the very nature of news.
â€śWhile Shep is a friend with political views I do not share, and great at breaking news, he is clueless about what we do every day,â€ť Hannity tweeted Friday. â€śHannity breaks news daily-Warrant on a Trump assoc, the unmasking scandal, leaking intel, Fisa abuse, HRC lawbreaking, dossier and more REAL NEWS!â€ť
Hannity, in this tweet, attempts a breathtaking role reversal: He is the one delivering â€śREAL NEWS.â€ť
As I noted last month, Hannity has begun to consistently push the idea that his brand of pro-Trump commentary is not merely a take on the news but, rather, a model of what the news should look like. At the same time, he has sought to convince viewers that fact-based reporting is actually just another perspective, no more impartial or authoritative than his own - and probably less so.
A prime example of Hannityâ€™s reality-erosion campaign involved Smith, who on one of his afternoon newscasts in the fall thoroughly debunked the theory that Russia won U.S. government approval to purchase a uranium-mining company in 2010 by bribing Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state at the time, with donations to her family foundation.
â€śThe Clinton State Department had no power to veto or approve that transaction,â€ť Smith said, presenting a basic fact that exposed the theoryâ€™s flawed logic.
Unmoved, Hannity came on the air roughly six hours later, recited his own conspiratorial version of the uranium deal and said, â€śWhere I come from, that sounds like a quid pro quo.â€ť
These are not differences of opinion. Smith is right, and Hannity is wrong. But these days Hannity is styling himself as something like the last honest person in the media - not a source of smart opinions but of important truths that others in the media are trying to cover up.
â€śThe media and the Democrats have lied to you,â€ť he told viewers on Monday. â€śThere is no Trump-Russia collusion.â€ť
Never mind that the federal law-enforcement investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded no such thing or that Donald Trump Jr. was enthusiastically willing to work with a woman he believed to be a Russian government attorney. Sean Hannity is here to tell you whatâ€™s what.
Until recently, Hannity was not so presumptuous. Even duringthe 2016 presidential campaign, he called himself a â€śtalk-show hostâ€ť to differentiate between what he does and what journalists do.
But in an interview with The New York Times Magazine late last year, he said, â€śIâ€™m a journalist. But Iâ€™m an advocacy journalist or an opinion journalist.â€ť
Shortly after, a Fox News spokeswoman told me that â€śSean is keenly aware of his role as a talk-show host.â€ť
His awareness seems less than keen. Hannity now claims to be a purveyor of â€śREAL NEWS,â€ť as he attempts to alter perceptions of what news is. And he will smear as â€ścluelessâ€ť anyone who challenges him, even his â€śfriendâ€ť Shepard Smith.
Callum Borchers covers the intersection of politics and media.