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“Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” the network said in a statement Tuesday. “We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”
Tuesday afternoon, after Fox News released the statement, Hannity responded on Twitter and said his onstage appearance was incidental. “What I said in my tweet yesterday was 100% truthful,” he wrote. “When the POTUS invited me on stage to give a few remarks last night, I was surprised, yet honored by the president’s request. This was NOT planned.”
A network spokeswoman did not respond when asked Monday night about Hannity’s appearance, which came as a surprise.
The top-rated host in cable news had said on Twitter on Monday that he would not appear onstage at the rally, a day after Trump’s campaign had billed him as a “special guest” at the rally in Missouri.
“To be clear, I will not be on stage campaigning with the President,” Hannity had said. “I am covering final rally for my show. Something I have done in every election in the past.”
Hannity interviewed Trump before the rally, but then the president called him onstage and billed him as a longtime supporter of the Make America Great Again movement.
“I had no idea you were going to invite me up here,” Hannity told the president, before calling the assembled media “fake news” and rallying for the president.
On Tuesday, he clarified his attack: “To be clear, I was not referring to my journalist colleagues at Fox News in those remarks. They do amazing work day in and day out in a fair and balanced way and It is an honor to work with such great professionals.”
Hannity’s Monday night appearance seemed to cross a line for the network, which had told reporters that he would only be interviewing the president and would not be guesting at the event.
But some were skeptical Fox News would take action against Hannity, the network’s most important employee.
“It certainly seems as if he’s able to do anything he wants at that place,” said former CNN president Jon Klein. “Guys like him and Lou Dobbs like to push the envelope, test the limits and even if they get their sails trimmed as a result, their fans eat it up. Sean’s calculation must have been pretty simple: Who would I rather curry favor with, my boss or the president of the United States? He’ll make that choice every time.”
Hannity also has his defenders, who believe there’s no substantive difference between railing against President Trump on air and appearing with him at a rally.
“It’s weird, but at least Sean’s being honest, where the others are still pretending to be objective observers,” said a former Fox News executive. “They’re all partisans, except some of the dwindling number of straight reporters.”
Fox News’ primary competitors, CNN and MSNBC, do not allow employees to participate in campaign events, according to spokespeople for both.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek