From late 2015 through inauguration day of 2017, Fox News viewers witnessed an often jaw-dropping transformation of the network’s commentary-wing from a weighted platform for conservative views and perspectives to a hybrid public-relations firm and hype team for one Donald J. Trump.
Show hosts and other commentators on the right, who’d for many years taken great pride in self-identifying as conservatives, and strongly advocating for conservative policies and sensibilities, just sort of abandoned the old rhetoric and shifted on over to Trump fandom. Some did it early in the process. Others followed suit once the new formula proved to be a winning business model, and saw it as an opportunity to advance their careers and outside ventures. A few stragglers waited until after the election, at which point they saw no other option for remaining in good standing with the network.
With very few exceptions, those who refused to play ball, and wouldn’t change their expressed beliefs to take on a new character role, found their air-time at Fox cut dramatically — in several cases permanently. And sadly, many of those individuals have been routinely trashed by their old colleagues for hanging onto their principles, remaining intellectually consistent, and serving as an irritating reminder of what personal integrity looks like.
I wrote about Fox’s exodus of conservative ideology quite a bit back then, naming names and providing examples (which weren’t hard to find) of how those individuals’ newly adopted positions, standards, and rhetoric often stood at glaring odds with what they had previously voiced.
Since then, I haven’t spent much time focusing on individual commentators at Fox News. They made their beds, they’ve been lying in them for years, and it’s all just sort of the norm over there now. I no longer watch the network’s commentary shows, and have basically written them off as having about as much to do with news as professional wrestling does with sports. Yes, there are some common attributes and overlap, but at the end of the day, the action is scripted and the performers are just playing a part — a part that’s subject to stark change based on whatever the audience is hungry for.
Millions of others, of course, don’t see it that way. They think shows in the network’s evening line-up are, for all intents and purposes, the news. The same is true of the other cable-news networks, even though most viewers on both sides, when pinned down, would acknowledge that what they’re watching is largely commentary-based. Still, nonetheless, it’s the news. And because of that, there’s a responsibility for news commentators to be fair in how they present the stories they weigh in on.
I realize that’s a laugh line in today’s political-media environment, but there really should be at least a semblance of intellectual coherence and good-faith representation from commentators — especially show hosts — who work for media organizations that still bill themselves as news networks.
Of course, I could give all kinds of examples of the abdication of that responsibility from all of the cable-news networks (and many other news outlets), but an online clip that especially stuck out for me the other day came from Sean Hannity’s show.
To be clear, I get that Hannity has neither been grounded nor remotely credible since he shared a table with the late Alan Colmes many moons ago, but the media comeback he leveraged in 2015 as an early Trump sycophant worked out well for him career-wise, and he’s back near the top of the cable-news ratings.
With a large audience comes influence, and his presentation of the Liz Cheney story earlier this week struck me as a particularly egregious example of just how unhinged, incoherent, and shamelessly dishonest the man has become.
On the topic of Cheney’s ouster from her GOP leadership position on Wednesday, and the speech she delivered on the House floor, a breathless Hannity tore into the Wyoming congresswoman.
He slammed her for “months of non-stop negative remarks about Trump and those who support him.” He decried the mainstream media for treating her as a “hero” and a “martyr,” and insisted that she was anything but. He also scolded her for doing an interview with MSNBC.
“Wow, that’s the same network,” said Hannity, “…that was referring to your dad as a war criminal.”
To “refresh” Cheney’s memory, Hannity aired a clip of Rachel Maddow using the term for her father, along with another commentator referring to him as “Darth Vader.”
“Too bad, as a Republican leader,” said Hannity, “you never showed that same passion fighting the radical socialist democrats…”
Hannity wasn’t done. He accused Cheney of displaying “psychotic rage of all things Donald Trump,” and claimed she was “loving all the attention and praise” she was receiving from media, who he again reminded her called her father a war criminal.
Next, Hannity accused her of being… a liberal. “I’m sure you’ll love Joe’s new ‘green deal’ socialism, and his weak appeasement foreign policy that will make the world and the United States less safe and less secure,” he said.
He ended his rant by declaring that Cheney was “not cancelled” by her colleagues in the House, and that she was removed for putting her “selfish” agenda ahead of the party.
It was quite a display, and there’s an extraordinary amount of stupidity to unpack from it. Normally I wouldn’t bother, but I had some extra time this afternoon, and figured I’d go ahead and give it a shot. Here we go…
Two glaring omissions from Hannity’s description of Cheney’s “months of non-stop negative remarks about Trump and those who support him” were what those “negative remarks” actually were, and where they extended to Trump supporters.
Those remarks, of course, were true (but politically inconvenient) statements about the 2020 election: that it wasn’t rigged, that Joe Biden won it, that Donald Trump lost it, that Trump lied (and continues to lie) about it being stolen, and that his lies provoked the deadly January 6th attack at the U.S. Capitol.
As for Trump supporters, I’m not sure which ones Cheney is supposed to have insulted with “negative remarks,” other than those who stormed the Capitol, and those in Congress and the right-wing media who helped Trump perpetuate the big lie. In other words, there’s a reason Hannity didn’t qualify his statement.
Dick Cheney, war criminal
Hannity’s absolutely right in that some people on MSNBC (and plenty others in the liberal media) indeed called Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney’s father, a war criminal. Hannity’s argument is that because of that unfair and defamatory label, Liz shouldn’t have had anything to do with the network.
What Hannity failed to mention, however, is that someone else — a rather famous and important fellow — also accused Dick Cheney of being a war criminal, along with the rest of the Bush administration.
His name was Donald Trump.
I guess Sean needs his memory refreshed.
During that 2016 election, Trump repeatedly channeled the anti-war rhetoric of Code Pink and Michael Moore in accusing the Bush administration of “lying” to the country about WMDs to take us to war with Iraq. He went even further, claiming that Bush, Cheney, and company knew about the 9/11 plot ahead of time, and consciously chose to do nothing to stop it.
So, using Hannity’s logic, Liz Cheney shouldn’t have given Trump the time of day either. But she did, and she gave him a lot more than that. In fact, she was a Trump ally for almost the entire four years of his presidency… which brings us to the next point:
“Psychotic rage of all things Donald Trump”
This statement from Hannity is probably the most perverse of the bunch, though it has some close competition.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: at no time since the election, since January 6th, or at any point in her political career, has Liz Cheney exhibited anything even remotely resembling “psychotic rage.” Any intellectually honest person knows this, and the criticism is especially absurd coming from a Trump toady.
As far as “all things Donald Trump,” that’s demonstrably ridiculous too. Cheney voted for Donald Trump for president in both 2016 and 2020. She stood up for him against critics, and in Congress, she voted for his positions 93% of the time. She rarely criticized him until after his post-election conduct last year, and her measured criticisms before then were entirely centered around policy.
In other words, she conducted herself exactly how pro-Trumpers in the media said they wanted traditional Republicans to conduct themselves in the era of Trump. She put her head down, kept her mouth shut about the Trump circus, and did the work. And I’m willing to bet, without reviewing years of agonizing footage from his show, that Hannity didn’t have any choice words for Cheney prior to Trump losing the election.
But everyone has a line that can’t be crossed. For Cheney, that line was Donald Trump’s efforts to steal an election, and the violence those efforts provoked at the U.S. Capitol.
Liz Cheney, liberal
Sean Hannity knows that Cheney is no liberal, and that she, in reality, is a reliably conservative member of Congress. Her voting record proves it. Her rankings by conservative groups prove it. He policy initiatives and consistent rhetoric prove it.
What Hannity also knows is that binary politics have made his audience and lots of other partisan Americans chronically dense. The notion that criticizing a Republican leader for trying to overturn an election magically turns one into a liberal Democrat is beyond pathetic.
Anyone who’s followed Cheney’s record and career also knows that she’s more outspokenly hawkish on foreign policy than Donald Trump and just about every other elected leader in Washington. It’s a big part of who she is as a congresswoman. Yet, Hannity, in defense of Trump (who publicly accepted the propagandist narratives of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un over the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies), says Cheney’s criticisms of Trump put her in line with “appeasement foreign policy.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Actually, you can… as Hannity has demonstrated.
The good news is that since Hannity’s back to pretending to care about conservatism, that means that he himself has accepted that Trump is no longer our president.
Liz Cheney was not cancelled
Of course she was, and she was cancelled for putting the truth and her country above partisan politics.
Liz Cheney’s selfishness
Cheney’s “agenda” of preserving the U.S. Constitution, standing up for democratic integrity, and seeking accountability for refusing the peaceful transfer of power, is precisely the opposite of selfishness. It’s downright political suicide in today’s Republican party, and she has known that from the beginning.
Doing what she’s done has left her in bad standing with her party, and with less power in Washington. Next year, she’ll assuredly be primaried out of office, and her tenure in the U.S. Congress will be over… probably along with her political career. She has gained absolutely nothing politically or professionally from doing what she’s done. The same, however, cannot be said of most of her Republican colleagues, as well as most media-conservatives, like Sean Hannity, who’ve attacked her for her stance.
So, what on earth was Hannity talking about when he called her selfish? Hell if I know, and hell if he knows. As was the case with most of his rant, it was incoherent.
But it was very much on-script and very much in character… and I’m sure his audience dug it. And in his particular profession these days… that’s all that really matters.