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Over the last few weeks, Fox News has weathered a boycott targeting talk show host Laura Ingraham’s advertisers that followed a tweet she sent poking fun at Parkland, Florida, high school student David Hogg. Now, the network is facing questions about her lead-in, Sean Hannity, who on Monday was revealed to be a client of President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen.
Hannity did not previously disclose his relationship with Cohen until it was revealed by the lawyer under pressure from a New York judge. On Monday, Hannity addressed the matter on his nationally syndicated radio show and on his Fox News program, making the same points on both — that, while he has had legal conversations with Cohen, he has never been represented by Cohen in any legal matter and has never “retained” him in the traditional sense.
On Tuesday, as Fox News did with Ingraham, the network put out a statement in support of Hannity. “While Fox News was unaware of Sean Hannity’s informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court yesterday, we have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support,” it said.
Fox News had not commented on the Hannity revelation, despite persistent questions about whether the network was aware of his relationship with Cohen and whether his decision to not disclose it violated any company rules. On Monday, spokespeople for the network pointed to Hannity’s statement and to his comments on his Fox News show.
While the network was relatively silent until Tuesday, some of Hannity’s colleagues forcefully defended him on air. “Keep in mind: Sean Hannity is a talk show host. He’s not under investigation by anyone for anything,” Hannity’s lead-in, Tucker Carlson, said on Monday night. “Who he hires as a lawyer and why is nobody’s business. No judge has a right to violate his privacy or anybody else’s.”
Hannity also got cover from the cast of Fox & Friends on Tuesday morning. “People say, ‘Well, what type of linkage is there?’ There’s absolutely no linkage,” co-host Brian Kilmeade said.
The sentiment on the network was not uniformly in favor of Hannity’s decision not to disclose the relationship, though. “First of all, Sean, I do want to say that I really think that you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on this show,” frequent Fox News guest and confidante of the president Alan Dershowitz told Hannity on Monday night. And earlier in the day, The Five co-host Juan Williams said, “The question for me is: Why Sean didn’t disclose this earlier?”
Former CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord, a friend of Hannity who writes for his website, predicted to The Hollywood Reporter that his stature at Fox News would not be diminished by the blowback he’s facing right now. “I think Fox will be acutely aware of just how popular Sean is with conservatives and take note that conservative media and others are rallying to him big time,” Lord said. “Not to mention that there is more than enough hypocrisy from Fox competitors to choke the entire field of horses in the Kentucky Derby.”
Industry analyst Andrew Tyndall on Tuesday wrote that if Hannity is not telling the full story about his relationship with Cohen, who had claimed him as a “client,” then Fox News would need to discipline him. “A legitimate journalistic organization would have to fire Hannity,” he said. “It is inexcusable to have failed to disclose the nature of their relationship not only to viewers, but presumably to management as well.”
There’s also the question of whether Hannity is under the same disclosure standards as the network’s straight news anchors. As former Fox Newser and current CNN morning show co-anchor Alisyn Camerota asked on Tuesday morning, “Does it matter, if he’s not a journalist, should he have had to disclose all of that?” Her co-host, Chris Cuomo, answered her question, saying, “It doesn’t matter if he’s a journalist or not.”
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