The Hannity-Fox-Tea Party Connection

When you don’t stop something that is obviously unethical until people start screaming and pointing fingers, the reasonable presumption is that it wasn’t the fact that it was unethical that made you take action, but that you were going to be criticized for it. Thus Fox honcho Rupert Murdoch’s last-second cancellation of Sean Hannity’s appearance at a Tea Party event get no ethics brownie points—in fact, quite the contrary.

Fox News star Sean Hannity was prepared to tape his show at the Cincinnati Tea Party’s 2010 Tax Day Tea Party, an event requiring paid admission. Held at the University of Cincinnati, it was advertised as featuring  a “Taping of Sean Hannity’s Fox News Show,” a “Hannity Book Signing,” and speeches from local Ohio figures, with all proceeds going to benefit the Cincinnati Tea Party. Now, one doesn’t have to be an ethics whiz to sense that a news channel using its name and talent to raise money for a political movement rather seriously damages that channel’s claim to being unbiased. Not that the ethics whizzes didn’t notice: Frank Sesno, for example,who spent 21 years at CNN in Washington and is now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, was stunned. “It violates virtually every rule of every ethical guideline that journalism covers,” he said. “The idea that you would support a  movement and ask your audience to pay for it.”

Hannity’s defense would be that he isn’t a reporter or a journalist, but a pundit and a commentator. He doesn’t have to be balanced, because he’s not pretending to be otherwise. Still, this is far too close for ethical comfort. Fox News, tongue-in-cheek though its motto may be, can hardly assent to large chunks of its broadcasting time serving as a virtual infomercial for the Tea Partiers. Fox protested loudly when CNN reporters dismissed the whole movement as a Fox initiative. Fox also has criticized ABC, CBS and NBC for seeming to promote President Obama’s policies, calling it biased and irresponsible journalism.  The criticism applies to Fox: how can viewers expect to get “the facts” about the increasingly significant Tea Party movement when one of its biggest personalities is raising money for it using Fox air time?

And yet, until the drum beats of criticism got deafeningly loud, Fox was apparently going to let Hannity do just that. Surely Fox executives knew his plan: he spoke about it for weeks on his Fox show and on his syndicated radio show, and you could purchase tickets on his website.  Hannity was summoned back to New York so abruptly that the event organizers were taken by surprise. Spokespeople for the network said that Fox didn’t know the extent to which Hannity’s show was serving as a fundraiser.

I don’t believe it. It has been reported that Fox spent over 100 grand on the event.

Meanwhile, the effect of Murdoch’s late call was to pull the rug out from under the event organizers, who were relying on Hannity’s commitment. Is it possible that Hannity undertook this effort without clearing it with the brass? Very unlikely.

Fox had gone too far over the line of journalistic independence already where the Tea Parties were concerned, and had effectively disabled its journalistic ethics alarms, because Hannity’s plan should have started them buzzing from the beginning. Now Fox’s claim to be an independent news source is more dubious than ever, and the event Hannity was trying to assist is going to lose money, because it assumed that if a major news network was allowing an apparent conflict of interest to occur, it was because these competent broadcast news pros had determined that there was no ethical violation.

The truth was that Fox wasn’t thinking about ethics at all.

4 thoughts on “The Hannity-Fox-Tea Party Connection

  1. The simpleton Birthers along with the Tea baggers are the same whiners that were crying when the McCain/Bailin ticket lost. Now that their yelling and screaming failed to stop the health care debate and the bill from passing they are crying again. Let’s face it the Republicans had eight years to deal with health care, immigration, climate change and financial oversight and governance and they failed. The Republicans are good at starting wars (two in eight years, with fat contracts to friends of Cheney/Bush) but not at winning wars as seen by the continuing line of body bags that keep coming home. Instead of participating in the health care debate of ideas the Republicans party turned inward to their old fashion obstructionist party (and their Confederacy roots). In my opinion the Republican Waterloo loss was caused by the party allowing a small portions (but very loud) of the republican party of “birthers, baggers and blowhards” to take over their party. I will admit that this fringe is very good at playing “Follow the Leader” by listening to their dullard leaders, Beck, Hedgecock, Hannity, O’Reilly, Rush, Savage, Sarah Bailin, Orly Taitz, Victoria Jackson, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the Blowhards and acting as ill programmed robots (they have already acted against doctors that perform abortions). The Birthers and the Tea party crowd think they can scare, intimidate and force others to go along with them by comments like “This time we came unarmed”, let me tell you something not all ex-military join the fringe militia crazies who don’t pay taxes and run around with face paint in the parks playing commando, the majority are mature and understand that the world is more complicated and grey than the black and white that these simpleton make it out to be and that my friend is the point. The world is complicated and people like Hamilton, Lincoln, and Roosevelt believed that we should use government a little to increase social mobility, now it’s about dancing around the claim of government is the problem. The sainted Reagan passed the biggest tax increase in American history and as a result federal employment increased, but facts are lost when mired in mysticism and superstition. Although some Republicans are trying to distant themselves from this fringe most of them, having no game plan/ vision for our country, are just going along and fanning the flames. For a party that gave us Abraham Lincoln, it is tragic that the ranks are filled with too many empty suits. But they now claim they have changed, come on, what sucker is going to believe that? All I can say to you is remember Waterloo.

    • This isn’t ethical commentary; it’s a political rant. I give all new commenters one bite of that apple if it’s relatively civil and not too misleading (Reagan did not institute a tax increase), but the next comment here had better be on topic, or it won’t see the light of day. (Oh: the topic is ethics.)

  2. First, stop the Tea Bag banging as the Wisconsin Democrats and union thugs are far more guilty to the point of sedition and insurrection to our form of representative republic, not democratic form of government.

    And if Hannity, who I find has become self-righteous and as egotistical as Beck as become drunk with himself instead of his favorite brew, is guilty of political associations, then do we dig up Obama’s past too?

    The real problem is that we have a media that no longer goes out and digs for the story and then reports it, or editors with ethical journalism in mind, like everything else in America today it is about profit, greed and self-preservation.

    We allow both sides of the media and our political leaders to keep us divided and in that they have power…and we get more of the same.

    If Hannity and Obama are guilty of what some claim here, then I declare we have become not just self-ignorant but plainly the stupidest, most gullible and lazy people on the face of the Earth.

    We better admit to our problems and start openly discussing them with facts and numbers, and drop the passion and political rhetoric that has zero value other than propping up one’s ego….[The rest of the post was deleted for degenerating into a political rant. This site is about ethics, and is nobody’s billboard. Please read the comment guidelines, and follow them. JM]

    • Who are you writing to? There’s no “tea-bag banging,” here, and your post violates the comments rule against political rants.
      I cut it off after the first four chapters. Stick to the topic next time, please.

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