There’s a definitive, must-read study on Sean Hannity’s dangerous mission to destroy our democracy by bolstering, goosing and emboldening Donald Trump’s authoritarianism.
May 24, 2018

There’s a definitive, must-read study on Sean Hannity’s dangerous mission to destroy our democracy by bolstering, goosing and emboldening Donald Trump’s authoritarianism. That is not an exaggeration.

Today, Media Matters' Matt Gertz published the study I've been waiting for. Gertz reviewed "all 487 of Sean Hannity’s segments about the first year of Robert Mueller's investigation" and explained, with great specificity, just how Hannity spins a web of deceit designed to sabotage the investigation, any findings of Trump wrongdoing and our independent system of justice.

Hannity’s perniciousness is complicated and extensive. But his tactics are not. Hannity's basic conspiracy-theory attack claims that Trump is the victim of a “soft coup” carried out by a hostile “deep state” out to get him via the Russia investigation, with the cooperation of the media. Meanwhile the real criminal according to Hannity’s propaganda, Hillary Clinton, goes free. Media Matters broke the strategy down into four components:

  1. Delegitimizing the press: “The media has been corrupt and lying to you, the America people.”
  2. The defense: “Tinfoil hat conspiracy theories about so-called Trump Russia collusion” (which isn’t a crime)
  3. The counter-attack: Trump as victim of “the biggest abuse of power corruption case in American history."
  4. The authoritarian endgame: “Mueller’s probe is tainted. Hillary is a criminal.”

As Media Matters notes, Hannity’s theory has no legitimacy and doesn’t even make sense:

“This narrative bears little relationship to reality: In the months leading up to the election, the FBI kept its investigation into whether the Trump campaign collaborated with the Kremlin’s effort to support his candidacy a secret while repeatedly calling attention to the Clinton probe, likely costing the Democrat the presidency.”

But while Hannity’s claims should have been laughed right off the air, they have gained traction and mushroomed:

“Hannity’s success has spawned a legion of right-wing imitators who use similarly dire language to hype the menace they say Mueller poses and to prime their audience to support the frightening actions they are encouraging Trump to take in response. Some, like Fox hosts Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro, have also developed personal relationships with the president, advising him both privately and through their programs.”

Media Matters provides numerous examples of the distortions, deceptions and misinformation that Hannity has spent the past year promoting in service of his destructive mission. And while some of Fox’s most respected talent cringes, Fox management either looks the other way or, perhaps, overtly encourages him.

Promoting a false narrative in service to politics is bad enough, though we have become used to it with Hannity. With similar enthusiasm, Hannity promoted Trump’s bogus birtherism in 2011. His encouragement of Cliven Bundy’s armed insurrection against the federal government was a precursor to Hannity’s latest effort to undermine the rule of law.

But Hannity’s current campaign is his most dangerous given his special relationship with Donald Trump and Trump’s reliance on television over professional expertise in governance:

Hannity’s story is in step with the president’s own crude preferences and biases. Trump prefers an authoritarian model for law enforcement, in which the job of the Justice Department is to protect him and punish his enemies. Hannity’s show is providing Trump with both constant encouragement to act on those impulses, and is a powerful propaganda tool urging his base to support him if he does. Hannity benefits in turn from his private access to the president and Trump’s public displays of support for his program.

This joint strategy is working. Hannity’s ratings have never been higher. And while polls show broad support for Mueller’s probe, among Fox viewers and Republican voters, the Fox host and his colleagues, in collaboration with the president, have successfully poisoned the well.

The result is a very dangerous moment, in which the president could act on Hannity’s entreaties for authoritarian action—and escape unscathed thanks to the supine congressional Republicans and the unyielding support the host and his allies have inculcated for the last year in Fox’s legions of viewers.


Because the president has been the target of crimes that were “worse than Watergate, on a million levels here,” Hannity argues, many of the people involved in the Russia investigation will need to go to jail. Hannity and his guests have accused senior Justice Department or FBI officials involved with the investigation of crimes in 186 segments, 38 percent of the total. In 28 segments, they accuse Mueller himself.


If Trump ever takes such dire steps as firing Mueller and Rosenstein—or forcing investigations of his enemies—he has every reason to believe that Hannity’s propaganda effort will keep the Republican base on his side, forestalling any real accountability.

Watch Media Matters' mashup video distilling Hannity's year of dangerous propaganda above.


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