How Far Will Sean Hannity Go?

How Far Will Sean Hannity Go? By Matthew Shaer from the NYT.

The Fox News host is willing to defend Trump at all costs — and is reaching more than 13 million people a day. …

Hannity rarely sleeps more than four hours a night, a trait he shares with his friend President Trump …

The opening monologue [is] a six-to-seven-minute riff that he sees as the most important part of the show. …

Hannity has been a talk-radio host for three decades — he has been on television a comparatively meager 23 years — and his posture was relaxed, his normally helmeted-for-TV hair swept into a hand-combed side part. He bickered amiably with his longtime executive producer …  and when I took a seat behind McLaughlin, Hannity hissed into the talk-back channel, placing a finger over his lips: “Shhh, guys. That’s a New York Times writer. Nobody be themselves.”

A recent show:

On the other side of the glass of the studio booth, her legs hidden beneath an American-flag blanket, Lauren Scirocco, the associate producer, was screening potential callers. “The Sean Hannity Show” receives more than 1,000 calls per line per minute, and Scirocco told me she has learned, with practice, to swiftly differentiate the cranks from the callers who might be able to engage with the host. …

A few hours later, I found Hannity in his greenroom at Fox News headquarters, dressed like a mismatched Ken doll: Up top, a suit jacket and shirt and tie, and down below, where the camera lens wouldn’t find them, jeans and loafers. In the dim light, a heavy coating of foundation and blush gave his face a garish glow. “I know, I know,” he laughed, catching me staring. “I don’t like it either.” …

“I’m an advocacy journalist, or an opinion journalist.” … The quintessential Hannity program, whether on radio or television, tends to hinge on one or more of the host’s abiding preoccupations: reverence for the military and law enforcement; nostalgia for an America that Hannity feels is slipping away; disdain for the mainstream media; and since the last presidential election, unyielding support for the agenda of Donald Trump. Berry, the senior executive producer of “Hannity,” told me that in shaping the TV show, he and Hannity try to imagine the kind of thing that would appeal to Berry’s family in Oklahoma. “I’m not thinking, Hey, will this make me popular in New York City or in the Hamptons,” Berry says. “Our audience is regular people.”

Hannity rarely grants interviews to mainstream reporters, whom he calls “disgustingly biased, ideological and corrupt.” But he also suffers from a suspicion that his critics willfully misunderstand his motivations. …

The “Access Hollywood” tapes in 2016, in which Trump bragged that women so deferred to rich men that he could grab them by their genitals:

the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape last year, in which Trump bragged of grabbing women by their genitals. At the time, many political commentators on the right were treating the video as fatal to Trump’s presidential bid; a handful of party figures called on Trump to step aside and put his running mate, Mike Pence, on the top of the ticket. Hannity went in the opposite direction, allowing that what he called the “locker room” comments were wrong, but framing the tape as a politically motivated distraction. “King David had 500 concubines, for crying out loud!” he joked to one panelist. Later, he suggested on Twitter that it was Bill Clinton who should be investigated for sexual misconduct.

It was a pivotal moment for Hannity and for Trump, and it sealed the bond between the two men. “If you look back at those traumas,” Rivera told me, “you’ll see that Hannity steadied the whole of conservative politics during those crucial times. And I think he plays much the same role now. He’s firm in his support of the president, and woe unto you if you don’t see things the same way. He’s a shield.”

Hannity is important to the Republicans:

Hannity and Trump remain extraordinarily close and speak to each other regularly. President George W. Bush once called Hannity, too, “but Hannity’s and Trump’s personalities are much more in line,” a friend of Hannity’s told me, “and they’ve both come from the media world.” In their conversations, the friend continued, Hannity served as sounding board: “Hannity’s a numbers guy, Trump’s a numbers guy. He thinks there’s nothing worse than bad numbers, and he knows Hannity’s got his finger on the pulse.” …

“If I’m trying to figure out how to communicate to the American people,” Hannity’s longtime confidant Newt Gingrich told me, “there are very few people who have a better understanding of the broad base, a better intuitive understanding of the kind of folks who elected Trump. He at least matches or surpasses Rush [Limbaugh] in that understanding.” …

In recent weeks, Hannity has launched ferocious assaults on Republicans he sees as insufficiently supportive of the president’s agenda, from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, whom Hannity, echoing Trump, has called “weak.” …

In our conversations, Hannity insisted that he hadn’t changed at all; it was the Republicans who had left him. “Reagan talked about bold color differences, no pale pastels,” he said, “and I can’t distinguish between the Republicans and the Democrats right now.” Some Republicans, he argued, “deserve to lose.”

Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief strategist for Trump, told me Hannity is “the single most important voice for the ‘deplorables,’ ” as Trump backers often style themselves. But to his critics, Hannity’s approach is at best dismaying and at worst emblematic of the corrosive, fact-free, “at-any-costs” partisanship that helped propel Donald Trump to power. …

As the primaries gave way to the general election, Hannity and Trump’s campaign staff were in touch on an almost-daily basis. “Occasionally, we’d talk on Sean’s show knowing Trump was watching,” Gingrich told me. “The two most effective ways of communicating with Trump are ‘Fox & Friends’ and ‘Hannity.’ ” …

In November, Alvin Chang, a writer for Vox, crunched data from two years of Hannity TV transcripts and concluded that Hannity was, in his mentions of topics like “the deep state” and the uranium deal, the media’s “top conspiracy theorist.” In our conversations, Hannity rejected the label, calling it a “typical left-wing attack. My whole career I’ve pursued the truth and have been proven right time after time while my colleagues are often dead wrong.” And to watch Hannity regularly is to observe how distant the host is from a figure like the Infowars proprietor Alex Jones. Jones endorses theories; Hannity almost never does, leaving that job to his guests. It is a dance that has the effect of nourishing the more wild-eyed beliefs of his fans while providing Hannity a degree of plausible deniability.

hat-tip Scott of the Pacific