Some Ethics Observations On A Ridiculous Sean Hannity Segment

Last night, Fox New host and conservative radio talk show star Sean Hannity moderated what purported to be a debate on the topic of —guess what?— gun control on his cable TV show. The  guests were “civil rights attorney” Leo Terrell (I’ll explain the scare quotes in a second) and conservative lawyer Jay Sekulow. The two adversaries—and Hannity, who was hardly neutral—discussed The Journal News’ recent decision (Covered and criticized on Ethics Alarms) to publish the names and addresses of pistol permit holders in two New York Counties. The ensuing dialogue, if you can call it that, was painful to watch (but you’ll have to watch it to know what I’m referring to.)

Some observations on the miserable ethics of a nauseating episode:

  • A format in which an opinionated, ideological and unobjective host pretends to have a “balanced debate” between two adversaries on an issue, where the host is unequivocally in agreement with one of the adversaries, is not a balanced debate. Two against one isn’t fair. It is a rigged contest, unless the moderator has the skill, professionalism and self-restraint to really moderate—and Sean Hannity does not. Neither does Soledad O’Brien, David Gregory, George Stephanopoulos, or most of the other biased news and public policy show hosts who play this game. As a fair debate format, this is a fraud. It’s a recipe for a mugging.
  • Hannity loves this trick: he finds a loud, illogical, obnoxious and hysterical advocate for a position he disagrees with,  and puts him or her on TV to make that position look as foolish as possible.   This was a classic: Terrell is an embarrassment to the gun control position, law, civil rights, pundits, bald people, men named “Leo,” you name it.  It is an insult and a slur to all of them for Hannity to put this guy in front of a camera. Every time he opened his mouth, he made the position of gun advocates stronger.
  • Terrell’s argument in favor of publishing a map showing where every holder of a legal gun permit lived—which is what the  The Journal News’ did—was incoherent and unhinged. He is irresponsible to go on notational television to represent something as serious and important as gun regulation policy and to do such pathetic, embarrassing job of it.  “This information will alert the neighborhood of people who are mentally ill,” he explained. What? Publishing the addresses of every person with a legal gun permit will alert the neighborhood to people who are mentally ill? How? Is Terrell asserting that anyone who owns a gun legally is mentally ill? How is mental health information conveyed by gun ownership? What a peculiar defense of outrageously unethical conduct by a newspaper!
  • Meanwhile, is this “civil rights lawyer” so clueless about civil rights that he thinks the public has a right to know every citizen’s emotional and mental health status? Usually the term “civil rights lawyer” suggests some actual knowledge of the Constitution. Based on his comment on “Hannity,” Terrell’s claim of being a civil rights lawyer  has to be judged as misleading at best. “Incompetent civil right lawyer,” perhaps.Terrell became to frustrated by Hannity’s questioning that he literally covered his ears and refused to respond. But before this odd behavior took form, the host asked Terrell, who agreed with the newspaper’s actions, if he believes in privacy rights.
  • Last but not least, we saw a double ethics breach. Terrell is known as an associate of O. J. Simpson, and I agree that if guilt by association alone could ever be fair, it would be with pals of O.J. Still, it is not fair, and Terrell has twice before reacted in extreme fashion when Hannity has raised the Juice while debating with him. Terrell may be an idiot, but Hannity repeatedly smacking him with O.J. is a cheap and unfair tactic, especially when Terrell has already demonstrated that he won’t tolerate it. So, naturally, when things got heated during last night’s session, Hannity threw out O.J. again. Terrell’s response? He put his hands over his ears, like a five-year-old. Now there’s a dedicated and principled civil rights lawyer: his response to words he doesn’t like is to make sure the audience—him–can’t hear them!


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

10 responses to “Some Ethics Observations On A Ridiculous Sean Hannity Segment

  1. I quit on Hannity years ago because he is a loudmouth jackass who has no idea how to moderate a debate properly.He interrupts frequently when I watched him a very little bit in the 1990’s and apparently he has not improved since then.

    Gosh I would have done a much better job despite that I think gun control idea are misplaced and capricious as it does not address the underlying problem at all.Better to allow the presenting parties a clear unobstructed opportunity to make their case and go on from there.

    It would help if these journalist pretenders did some real eduction on how to communicate with people and in a fair way too.

  2. ByTheFarmstead

    There’s informing and educating, and then there’s people like that who will do anything for a fight, instead of trying to find some useful compromise. A bit of manners would be nice too. The only way these guys will go away is if people stop watching them and make it clear why: we keep throwing oil on the fires of their invective by being in their audience.

  3. I cannot stomach Fox News. I will admit that I watched it some during the Iraq war (initial invasion into Baghdad) while my kids were at school or after they went to bed. My husband was at war, and the embedded reporters gave me an insight into what he was dealing with. At that particular time I could not handle anything but praise for the troops sacrificing so much – and of course, FOX came through for me. I couldn’t stand to hear commentary against the war (I can now) so I chose my channel wisely to get my needs met. Since 2003, though, I just could never find anything redeeming on their news and clear away. Too biased. Bad journalism. Angry name calling people. Unfortunately, they will always have an audience.

    • But this phenomenon is not a Fox News phenomenon. MSNBC avoids the problem by virtually never having dissenting voice in its discussions at all. The CNN anchors double team conservative guests routinely. None of the shows, with the exception of Bill O’Reilly who is inexplicably fearless, will put on the most articulate, most intelligent advocate for a position, only the most grotesque, dumb or inarticulate that they can find. Did Piers Morgan ask Eugene Volokh to talk about gun regulation? No, of course not, because he wouldn’t dare the professor and Constitutional scholar a “stupid, stupid man” when he couldn’t out-debate him. The news anchors are undereducated and under-IQ’ed across the board—Hannity is one of the worst, but he’s not alone—so they look for even dumber people to argue with, or smarter people to support them. Rachel Maddow, Greta, Chris Wallace, Anderson Cooper and a few others are the exceptions.

      Fox wouldn’t exist if the major networks hadn’t been unethically slanting their coverage and representing themselves as objective. I respect Fox for stating its biases, and its straight news anchors are as good as anyone’s—its the shows like Hannity’s that are brain-killing. But there have been too many stories—Fast and Furious and Benghazi are good examples—that the other networks tried to bury (out of negligence, bias, or a genuine effort to protect the Democrats) and Fox alone kept on the front burner for you not to recognize its value, regardless of its flaws and excesses.

      • tbird9e

        Thanks for the rundown. I agree it is not only a Fox phenomenon. I don’t watch any of the TV news stations anymore. I prefer npr (I read their website when I’m not in the car listening) and I read a lot (The Atlantic, The Economist and the NY Times usually satisfy my journalistic needs). But even then I’m careful to look for facts to back up what I hear/read (I like the Annenburg Public Policy Center for that – but even they can be left leaning). I don’t want partisan spoon feeding from either side. I want to thoroughly exploere issues. When there is breaking news I might switch on CNN or if a local issue, a local channel but I realize that information may not be correct while news stations are breaking their backs to be the first to report something. What a mess in Newtown – getting the shooter wrong, saying the mother was a teacher (killed at the school, even). I wonder where journalistic standards are. It was disgraceful – even npr got it wrong. MSNBC ticks me off as well – total waste of time. I do like Anderson Cooper on CNN – but can tolerate very few others. I like npr because just as I’m questioning what the opposition thinks, they interview someone (a worthy someone) from the other side – and they do it with respect. Once recently I was getting upset at the bias on a program (about gun policy) and someone phoned in with the same concern. Diane Rehm stated that they had invited the NRA and every Republican Congressmen who had top ratings from the NRA to the show but no one responded. Only recently have I realized it is better sometimes to steer clear of breaking news (unless local and I’m in danger) until the dust settles. I really respect your opinion on these matters and I use your information to guide my information sources. My poor suffering 20 year old son gets links to your site regularly, especially when you talk about the ethics of professional athletes. Just today I sent him (and my 17byear old daughter) the Hypocritical Hollywood YouTube link. You are regularly showing me things I don’t see or come across and I truly appreciate your body of work here.

      • I don’t think the other networks tried to bury Fast & Furious and Benghazi. They outright did bury them, never to be heard from again.. And I can’t understand the fascination with Rachel Maddow. I’ve honestly tried a few times to listen to her but the negativity and sarcasm that drips with her every word is more than I can bear. I assume she has some sort of intelligence but I can never last long enough to find out.

        • I’m with you on that—her perpetual smirk is too much for me, but she’s no dummy, which automatically puts her in the top 5%. And she’s a fair and professional interviewer. A Scrabble game between her and Sean would be maybe 440-245 in Maddow’s favor.

  4. Jeff

    Do you remember the very first episode of Even Stephens on the Daily Show? At the end, one of them (I forget which) put their fingers in their ears.

    How many times have I said it? There is no room for irony anymore. Certainly not in a world where Taylor Swift actually writes a song titled, “We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together.”

    Actually, that song’s not bad.

  5. I’m tbird9e. I can’t figure out this WordPress account – tried to change my name on it several times and it keeps defaulting to tbird9e. This will teach me to double check before I hit “post comment” I thought the end of year rundown they did for you was excellent. And I agree with you – wish they had a spell checker, or perhaps a limited ability to edit old posts. The one above has typos I missed before I hit enter. It bothers the natural editor in me. Ugh.

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