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The Briefing: Inanity, thy name is Hannity

WASHINGTON – Please don't take Sean Hannity seriously.

He's a faux journalist. He is biased. He's a conspiracy-monger. Plus he's a shill for Donald Trump.

And he was all those things before we found out this week that he shared a lawyer with the president, a lawyer Hannity defended before a nightly audience of more than 3 million people without mentioning the significant fact that he was that very same lawyer's client.

Let's let that fact sink in before we take a deep dive into who Hannity really is.

Hannity railed against the FBI raid on the offices and homes of Michael Cohen, the New York attorney he shares with the president.

“Mueller’s witch-hunt investigation is now a runaway train that is clearly careening off the tracks,” Hannity said, ignoring the fact that the train called justice might run over his own lawyer.

Fox News – well, the official part of Fox News – is standing by its most popular talk host. But even some of his on-the-air Fox News colleagues and Trump supporters had some tough words for Hannity's decision to hide a very important conflict of interest.

Anchor Shepard Smith called Hannity's conflict "the elephant in the room" in the Cohen story. And Alan Dershowitz, an informal legal adviser to the president, said it would have been "much, much better" if Hannity had disclosed his relationship with Cohen.

Objective journalists would pay a price for not disclosing the kind of conflict Hannity had here. In fact, Margaret Sullivan, the former editor of this newspaper, said it would be a fireable offense.

But Hannity doesn't play by the same rules that objective journalists do, and he never has. Instead, to repeat:

He's a faux journalist. Most journalists of national reputation earn their way upward, doing so by doing well in covering small stories at small newspapers or broadcast outlets. But Hannity didn't do that. He's just a guy with a talent for broadcasting who got lucky.

This New York Times profile spells out how Hannity left college early, dabbled in radio and built an audience just in time for Rupert Murdoch to start Fox News in 1996. But dabbling in radio as a talk show host is very different from learning the journalistic craft by hanging around police stations and covering school board meetings and being berated by editors for misspelling a name and the like. Talkers learn a different, narrower set of skills, and even Hannity seems to admit that from time to time.

Cover your children's eyes and then witness this tweet:

Hannity later changed his mind, sort of, telling the Times last year: “I'm a journalist. But I'm an advocacy journalist or an opinion journalist.” In other words:

He is biased. Let's just take Hannity at his word here. He's an advocacy journalist, or, more specifically, a Republican opinionater. Don't trust him to give you both sides of the story with equal weight.

He never has. In 2015, for example, he called people who believe in climate change "idiots." In 2016, he said that the Black Lives Matter agenda includes "killing cops."

And that same year, he invited Jeff Rovin, a former writer for the now-defunct Weekly World News, on his show to claim that he once worked as a fixer for the Clintons. The Weekly World News' Clinton coverage, you may recall, included non-Pulitzer winners such as "Hillary Names Bigfoot as Her Running Mate" and "Clinton Hires Three-Breasted Intern."

But that Hannity segment should come as no surprise because ...

He is a conspiracy theorist. Proof of that fact came last year when Alan Chang of Vox compared transcripts from the nation's top talk shows to Reddit's /r/conspiracy forum. He found that Hannity mentioned conspiracy theories 2,634 times over two years – 27 percent more than MSNBC Live, which finished second in Chang's conspiracy-monger rankings – perhaps in part because MSNBC Live airs for two hours a day and not just one, like Hannity.

Hannity's  favorite conspiracy theory between November 2015 and October 2017 was the dubious theory that Hillary Clinton approved uranium sales to Russia as payback for donations to the Clinton Foundation. But Hannity's history as a conspiracy theorist actually goes back years: In 2011, for example, he gave Donald Trump time on the Hannity show to promote his discredited theory that then-president Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

But that's no surprise, because:

He's a shill for Donald Trump. You can tell that just by listening to Hannity, but there's further proof if you need it.

In 2016, he actually appeared in a Trump campaign campaign video. And just this week, the Washington Post published a story saying that Trump talks to Hannity all the time and that some Trump aides call Hannity the unofficial White House chief of staff.

Say what you will about this, but one thing is certain: This sort of advocacy goes way beyond advocacy journalism, way beyond journalism of any kind.

Of course, it's a free country, and if you enjoy spending the 9 to 10 p.m. hour every weeknight watching a shill for Donald Trump, go ahead.

But if you're tired of politics and tired of the great divide in the middle of America torn deeper and deeper by the likes of Hannity, perhaps there are viewing options that are better for the soul and better for the country.

May I suggest TVLand's reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond"?

Happening today

President Trump travels to Key West, Fla., to inspect federal anti-drug efforts...U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson presides at a motions hearing in the federal case against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort...The U.S., Canadian and Mexican ministers involved in talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement will meet...Former UN Ambassador and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- one of the few American politicians who has been to North Korea -- speaks on the subject at an event sponsored by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Good reads

The National Review argues that it was outrageous for a federal judge to out Sean Hannity as one of Michael Cohen's clients...The National Interest explores the most ignored, most important question of our time: Will a robot take your job?...The New York Times tells us that President Trump's trade policies could cause him trouble in farm country...The Washington Post profiles the hero pilot who safely landed a crippled Southwest Airlines jet in Philadelphia...And the Wall Street Journal reveals the hidden problem behind the Southwest mishap.


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