Sean Hannity: Schrodinger’s Journalist

Sean Hannity: Schrodinger’s Journalist April 20, 2018

Not only is Sean Hannity Schrodinger’s client — a client of Michael Cohen’s when it’s convenient to be one and simultaneously not a client when he needs not to be — he’s also Schrodinger’s journalist, claiming to be one at one time and denying it at another. In light of his flagrant violation of journalistic ethics in not disclosing his relationship with Cohen while defending him on the air, this is a rather important question.

The friction spilled into public view last month when Smith told Time magazine that “some of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertaining.” Hannity took exception, tweeting in response that Smith “is clueless about what we do every day” and that his show “breaks news daily.” (Ingraham similarly objected, saying her team “does real reporting.”)

But Hannity has played both sides of this game, as the occasion suits.

“I never claimed to be a journalist,” he told the New York Times in 2016 when asked about his close association and friendship with Trump. But in another interview with the Times last year, he said, “I’m a journalist. But I’m an advocacy journalist, or an opinion journalist.”

When a Boston Globe columnist named Michael Cohen (a different Michael Cohen) criticized him in 2016, he was back on the other side. “I’m not a journalist,” he tweeted. “I’m a talk host.”

In his shot at Smith last month, Hannity flipped again. “Hannity breaks news daily,” he tweeted. “Warrant on a Trump assoc, the unmasking scandal, leaking intel, Fisa abuse, HRC lawbreaking, dossier and more REAL NEWS!”

Now. advocacy journalism is something I’m quite familiar with. As editor of the Michigan Messenger and development director for the American Independent News Network, advocacy journalism is what we did. We did not pretend otherwise. We had an agenda and we measured our success by the impact of our work, always seeking to change policies that hurt people and society. But being an advocacy journalist makes sticking to the SPJ code of ethics more important, not less, because people are going to want to find any way they can to undermine the work you do. The standard must be even higher for an advocacy journalist, not less.

But I’ll go further than that. Even if he were to consistently maintain 100% that he is not a journalist and has never been one, that he’s just a commentator offering his opinion, he still has exactly the same ethical obligations he would have if he was a journalist. That’s because he is in a position to influence millions and millions of people and the basic ethics of intellectual integrity don’t change. Misleading people is wrong. Not giving them the information they need to evaluate the accuracy of a claim or the credibility of the person making it is wrong. We all know that Hannity has no intellectual integrity; he’s made that clear throughout his career. He’s a partisan hack, and that is all he will ever be.

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