We should probably begin by acknowledging the obvious: Sean Hannity, by all indications, is not very bright. If Bill O’Reilly came off like a true believer, and Rush Limbaugh like a crass opportunist, Hannity has always seemed like the big dumb oaf who didn’t know any better, and gleefully repeated for his Fox News audience whatever stupid bullshit someone had put into his eye or ear hole; on his nightly television show, he usually presents himself as the overgrown would-be jock (dig that Nerf football header image on his Twitter page) carefully reading the oral presentation he got one of the class nerds to write for him. And for most of his tenure on Fox News, that’s been just fine; coasting off the lead-ins of O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly, he’s mouthed the company line, yelling at Democrats and boosting Republicans (most recently, seeming to take up permanent residence at Donald Trump’s posterior). But now the wheels are falling off the wagon, and Sean Hannity is having a very public meltdown. And it is glorious.
There are a lot of factors at play in the host’s current bed-shitting, so in a nutshell: the voluntary departures of Megyn Kelly and Greta van Sustren, and the involuntary one of Bill O’Reilly, has left Hannity as the last man standing from FNC prime time’s Golden Age, in which hosts floated wild Obama conspiracy theories as Roger Ailes shuffled the network halls, pants around his ankles. Now, surrounded by weak second-stringers like Tucker Carlson, Greg Gutfeld, and Jesse Watters, the network’s ratings have gone into the toilet – not just due to the lack of personalities, but also because of those non-personalities’ stern refusal to cover the increasingly overwhelming scandals of the young (but Republican!) Trump administration.
In regard to Trump, Hannity (well, let’s be real here, Hannity’s people) figured the best strategy was the one that’s always worked before: deflection. So when other news networks went understandably ape-shit over Trump’s casual disclosure of classified information to visiting Russians, Hannity went with a bombshell: that the murder last year of DNC staffer Seth Rich was a nefarious act of revenge by high-powered Dems furious that he’d provided classified emails to Wikileaks. The entire story was pure fiction, of course — a totally unfounded conspiracy theory boosted by a private investigator, Fox News regular, and general nutjob named Rod Wheeler, repeated without independent verification by a D.C. Fox affiliate, on foxnews.com, and on FNC programs, particularly Hannity. Wheeler subsequently recanted his claims after Rich’s family sent him a cease and desist letter; they also asked news outlets like Fox to stop trying to “manipulate the legacy of a murder victim in order to forward their own political agenda.” And today, the family reiterated that request, this time directly to Hannity‘s executive producer, Porter Berry.
Hard to believe I know, but Fox has chosen to ignore the dead man’s family. Reliable ol’ sack of turds Newt Gingrich (whose wife, coincidentally enough, is up for a prominent ambassadorship via Mr. Trump) vomited up the Rich conspiracy talking points for the dopes on Fox & Friends Sunday; Geraldo Rivera strapped on his tinfoil hat and laid it out on Twitter:
It’s Hannity, however, who has most flagrantly ignored the family’s requests and filled his airtime with “bombshells” and “revelations” about the Rich murder (all the while slamming “the media” for refusing to leave disgraced boss Ailes’s family “alone in their time of grief”). And how has that worked out for his show? Well, funny story: last week, for the first time in nearly 17 years, FNC came in third place in the advertiser-friendly 25-54 demo. And true to that pattern, Hannity is consistently rating behind CNN’s second-place Don Lemon and MSNBC’s first-place Lawrence O’Donnell. (Good thing that network’s not thinking about letting that guy’s contract expire and moving their programming to the political center, huh? Wait, what?)
But Twitter is where the Hannity #brand has really thrived. Much like his buddy Mr. Trump, the social media platform is where, freed from the shackles of his handlers and writers, we get to see the real Hannity: barely literate, laughably thin-skinned, and full-on crazy-pants. Over the past couple of days, that nuttery has centered on former Megaupload boss Kim Dotcom, who insists he has (or, most accurately, is) “the evidence” connecting Rich to Wikileaks. Of course, he also claimed he knew how to get Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails, so, y’know, grain of salt.
At any rate, the claim that this totes reliable source can prove Lumpy Hannity’s Mind-Blowing Conspiracy Theory has turned the host into a full-on Twitter Pepefrog. A brief sampling of his recent Twitter output, most of which you would expect to see in the body of a Re: FW: FW: Re: email from your grandmother’s AOL account:
We’ve also seen a real boost in engagement with his followers and fans, which is very much best social media practices:
But he’s not just tussling with fellow journos like Ms. Knight – why, he’ll engage with anyone who calls him names on Twitter, and in doing so, end up revealing that he doesn’t understand how acronyms work:
This interaction isn’t just a hilarious snapshot of a grown man making his brain juice flow; it’s also a semi-tragic peek into the life of Mr. Hannity, who was up at 11:38 on a Monday night engaging with randos on the Twittermachine. Peek into the @-replies of any semi-provocative cable news anchor, and you’ll find scores of taunts and nonsense. But you can actually imagine Rachel Maddow, Megyn Kelly, Anderson Cooper, or even Bill O’Reilly taking the time to engage with those people? Of course not. So what kind of person does?
It’s pretty embarrassing, frankly – and that was kind of the word of the day for Mr. Hannity, who was the subject of a scathing Daily Beast piece, in which several anonymous Fox News staffers were quoted cringing that Hannity’s relentless Rich crusade is “embarrassing” the network. (And Jesus, consider what it takes to embarrass Fox News.) Hannity signed off with a link to that piece, insisting he was very Not Mad Online:
Then again, perhaps he was sincere; his heart may well be untroubled, as today is the big day when Kim Dotcom makes all Hannity’s wildest liberal-murder dreams come true. In fact, Flavorwire has attained exclusive video of Mr. Hannity’s as-yet-unaired interview with Mr. Dotcom:
Panicky, rage-tweeting sycophant – or 2017’s Woodward and Bernstein in one boxy suit? Stay tuned – though, if the pattern holds, not to Fox News.
(UPDATE 2:27 pm: Shortly after the publication of this story, Fox News issued a retraction of the Seth Rich story that ran on their website. No mention was made of Mr. Hannity’s coverage.)