Earlier this week, all hell broke loose when it was revealed that Sean Hannity was a secret client of Trump lawyer, and so-called “fixer,” Michael Cohen. Everyone outside of Fox News went nuts over the news, hounding Hannity over what he could have possibly hired Cohen for, leading Hannity to release a statement defending the accusations. Why does it matter? Because Hannity didn’t disclose last week (as he hammered the FBI for the Cohen raid) that he had dealings with Cohen, leading to questions of journalistic ethical breeches by Hannity, and in turn, Fox News (who has stated that it will stand by it’s largest ratings provider regardless of his integrity).
Which leads to this recurring question: what exactly is Fox News? Is it a news organization, a right wing opinion haven, the vocal arm of the Republican party, or a conservative version of TMZ? There are tons of satirical articles across the web that claim Fox News is registered as an entertainment channel. In reality, Fox News is listed under the larger moniker of Fox Television, which will soon be broken up and re-classified once the Disney deal comes to fruition.
What is very clear, and has been so since the early 2000s, is that Fox News has never tried to hide the fact that it presents itself as news, but also distances itself once the question of what news it actually produces, dropping back to punt with the “we are opinion based journalism” – the same thing Hannity has tried to hide behind. It uses commentary to control how headlines are interpreted, and conveniently leaves out huge chunks of evidence, facts, and real journalism to further shape and promote messages handed down from the head of the G.O.P. and other larger conservative movers and shakers.
This is nothing we didn’t already know.
Fox News is also the very reason we as a culture have grown skeptical of journalism as an industry. Because of Fox News and its unorthodox style in the late 1990s, it became a massive juggernaut that devoured Cable News ratings, and left CNN and MSNBC behind trying to figure out how to compete with a new, obnoxiously in your face conservative slant on the news.
Fox news perfected the “Breaking News” shock cut, the logo heavy screen that framed the talking head, and the multi-paneled remote expert panel who rolled eyes at each other from 200 miles away. It challenged the very term “news.” It challenged truth as well with its first motto, “Fair and Balanced,” only to be replaced with “We report, You Decide” after it was hammered over the fact that fair and balanced in Fox speak was only balanced by a right-wing view point only.
Hannity himself was part of this rouse in the early days of Fox News as he joined Alan Colmes for a “debate” style show which would presumably pit (equally) both liberal and conservative viewpoints in a head to head “friendly” manner. However, it was obvious through the visual rhetorical signs that the entire thing was tilted towards Hannity’s right leaning positions as Hannity was a larger, strong jawed, handsome, clean cut man sparing with a thinner, smaller, thinning hair, glasses wearing Colmes who struggled to defend his stances from the pit of a conservative valley filled with neo-con soldiers guarding every avenue out.
MSNBC and CNN followed FNC down the rabbit hole of ratings, and tossed journalistic integrity out the door. “Cross Fire” and “Olbermman” were two attempts to recover what had been lost, but were left even farther behind once O’Rielly took off.
I blame the current state of all the cable news channels on Fox News, and the so-called “Fox Effect” that has taken true reporting of news, what CNN pioneered in the early 80s, and turned everything into a partisan talking point where networks have become defined by which way they lean, and not by their journalism. Which brings me back to Hannity and this question of whether or not he is a journalist. The reality is that he is not in the sense that none of the talking heads on any of the cable news channels can be considered journalists. All three of the major networks have become nothing more than real time op-ed networks that twist the headlines for ratings, and leave journalism behind. And while the Times and the Post are battered every day for “liberal” bias, in this day and time, they (along with a small handful of other print style news organizations) are the only ones left producing true journalism.
Fox News is not news. Hannity is not a journalist. Cable News is not balanced.
It is just that simple.