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Fox News, now 25 years in, has never had more competition. There are the longtime cable news rivals, CNN and MSNBC, of course, but also newer competition from the right in the form of Newsmax and others.
Despite that competition, Fox News has maintained its grip on the conservative news ecosystem. Sean Hannity, who has been with the channel since the beginning, thinks he knows why.
“I would argue with a lot of these other channels, if they even exist I because I really don’t like to pay much attention to them, is that they claim that they’re balanced, they claim that they’re journalists and they’re not,” he says. “When you’re watching these people that claim to be journalists, you know they’re not journalists, they are talk show hosts like me, but I’m honest about it and I think that honesty actually goes a long way with the audience.”
Hannity makes no secret about his opinions, or his points of view. “I obviously do opinion but I’m honest about it, I’m a registered conservative and my audience knows I’m a conservative. I don’t hide my conservatism, I don’t hide the politicians I like.”
Hannity, who also hosts a daily radio program, argues that being straightforward about his viewpoints are why he has been the only constant in Fox News’ primetime lineup since launch, first as the co-host of Hannity & Colmes, and later leading his solo program.
“In many ways I think the mission has stayed the same,” he says. “I mean I know critics of Fox wouldn’t agree with this statement but trust me when I say there are plenty of people at Fox that don’t agree with Sean Hannity.”
His 9 p.m. show averaged 2.9 million viewers in Q3, placing him third in all of cable news, behind only his Fox News lead-in, Tucker Carlson, and the Fox 5 p.m. panel show The Five. His 9 p.m. competition Rachel Maddow on MSNBC averaged 2.2 million viewers, while CNN’s Chris Cuomo averaged 928,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.
Fox News as a whole, meanwhile, is leaning into streaming, heavily promoting its Fox Nation streaming service, a service which includes next-day replays of Hannity’s show, ensuring that he is playing a part in making the shift to digital (even if he isn’t hosting digital exclusive programs as Tucker Carlson is doing).
Hannity signed a new multi-year deal with Fox in 2020, which, combined with new deals for 10 p.m. host Laura Ingraham and Carlson, will ensure that the channel’s primetime lineup is stable, at least in the medium term.
Four years ago, just two weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Hannity told this reporter that the “media doesn’t understand Donald Trump.” He argued that their “elitism” forced them to miss the forest for the trees. When asked whether he stands by those comments after a full four-year term, the Fox host is unequivocal.
“They [the media] still don’t [understand him],” he says. “Was he breaking a lot of dishes in the kitchen as he cooked? Yep absolutely. Do I think people were as outraged as they acted? I really don’t.”
Hannity, of course, makes no secret of his support for the former president (it has been a subject of criticism of some of his coverage), or his contempt for how he thinks Trump was covered during his term. During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter he argued that Trump would have won “40-plus states easily” had it not been for COVID-19, and he praised the “transformative” development of the vaccines. In other words, he thinks Trump was dealt a bad hand by the virus, while President Biden got off easy from the media.
“I used to say Joe Biden was in the candidate protection program,” he says. “The media allowed him to hide in his basement and basically say nothing and disappear for an entire week at a time as he would get ready for that one big event, maybe a debate, maybe a speech at the DNC, and they gave him very little to no scrutiny.”
Despite his media criticism, Hannity’s news diet is decidedly old school (he was tearing out newspaper pages when he first picked up the phone, and he says he doesn’t use a computer or have an email account). In fact, his entire routine is structured to a tee.
“I’m a lunatic all week long, I’m a total complete recluse hermit loser,” he says. “I get up in the morning and do an hour and a half workout every day. I do mixed martial arts, then I have my radio producer comes with a stack of a pile of stuff to go through. I’ll go through that whole pack, you know, sorting everything out by topic. I read hard newspapers. All of them. I get the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times I won’t usually touch, that’s just a waste of my time, too aggravating.”
It’s a habit and routine that Hannity says he has no intention of stopping anytime soon. “I think if I stopped, I’d probably be driving around in a car talking to myself and doing my own monologues, and I’d be responding to myself and then you’d probably have to take me away, and put me in a home next to Joe Biden,” he says.
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