Is it possible that Sean Hannity — a conservative talker who seems more like an outright Republican ward activist than a major broadcast talent like Rush Limbaugh, or a card-carrying (former) trained journalist-turned-talker like Bill O’Reilly — has gone too far in blurring the lines between him, his network, his politics and money? The answer seems “yes” — at least to the suits at Fox News who reportedly angrily pulled him from his starring role at a Cincinnati Tea Party rally.
And is it possible that the initial reports may not tell all of the story? A top conservative blogger adds a new tidbit to this tale of ideology-based journalism, money and corporate imagery.
The context of this controversy is paramount. There have been rumblings over the past months that Fox News maven Rupert Murdoch (who also owns a few little other media properties to boot all over the world plus a movie studio) has not exactly been totally proud of what Fox News is in terms of being so widely perceived as blatantly partisan.
In fact, last week Murdoch showed he had a great future as a comedian’s straight man when he insisted that the Fox News Channel is not all Republicans (SURE: just as KFC’s new up-chuck Double Down is not high in calories, sodium and fat).
Murdoch had trouble coming up with the names of any Democrats at Fox News, but, in all fairness, that’s natural:
He’s the CEO of the company, and might not know the name of guy who sanitizes the rest rooms…
But the bottom line serious fact is this: Murdoch has seemed to be truly, genuinely, sincerely stung over sustained criticism that Fox News is overtly biased.
He’s gotten criticism from media analysts, columnists, left and centrist bloggers, the White House and even from Senate Republican Tom Corburn. When I was in grad school studying journalism a journalism prof urged me not to join a political party saying: “A journalist is overtly objective.” For many years partisans had claimed that media infooutlets were covertly biased. But in 21st century America, for many it is no longer a sin to be overtly biased.
Yet, it’s clear Murdoch has not been happy about charges that Fox News may be an appendage of the Republican party (or, some now suggest, the Republican party at times seems an appendage of Fox News). So the larger context of this Los Angeles Times report that is creating a lot of buzz on the Internet is important:
Angry Fox News executives ordered host Sean Hannity to abandon plans to broadcast his nightly show as part of a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati on Thursday after top executives learned that he was set to headline the event, proceeds from which would benefit the local Tea Party organization.
It’s clear why: this is even more overt political bias on the part of a Fox News talker property than usual. Charges that Fox News essentially helped create the Tea Party Movement by heavily promoting it have raged for months and this would be pointed to as proof of a connection. MORE:
Rally organizers had listed Hannity, who is on a book tour, as the headliner of the four-hour Tax Day event at the University of Cincinnati. The rally, expected to draw as many as 13,000 people, was set feature speakers such as “Liberal Facism” author Jonah Goldberg and local Tea Party leaders. Participants were being charged a minimum of $5, with seats near Hannity’s set going for $20, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, which reported that any profits would go to future Tea Party events. Media Matters for America noted that Hannity’s personal website directed supporters to a link to buy tickets for the Cincinnati rally.
But senior Fox News executives said they were not aware Hannity was being billed as the centerpiece of the event or that Tea Party organizers were charging for admission to Hannity’s show as part of the rally. They first learned of it Thursday morning from John Finley, Hannity’s executive producer, who was in Cincinnati to produce Hannity’s show.
Furious, top officials recalled Hannity back to New York to do his show in his regular studio. The network plans to do an extensive post-mortem about the incident with Finley and Hannity’s staff.
“Fox News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity’s television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event,” said Bill Shine, the network’s executive vice president of programming. “When senior executives in New York were made aware of this, we changed our plans for tonight’s show.”
But is that the case? Is there more? Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, reports:
The Cincinnati Tea Party folks tell me that they had no deal with Hannity — he had a deal with the University of Cincinnati, and they had a deal with the University of Cincinnati, but there was no deal between them.
It’s unlikely Murdoch was the force in dragging Hannity home but recent reports make it clear that The Big Boss is looking for a better image for his top-rated news channel. Hannity is a top earner for Fox News. But its now evident that there are some limits to network celebrities’ cross over into the realm of politics and political money making and that — yes– Fox News does care about its image.
Hannity’s being sent to his room is a big story on the Internet. Here is some of the reaction from blogs and websites:
As Media Matters reports, seats for the April 15 Hannity show in Cincinnati, Ohio, are being sold at a price of $5-$100 ($20 and up gets you a chance to be on TV) with all proceeds going to the Cincinnati Tea Party. Given the problems that have arisen with Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concerts, the CTP might want to keep an eye out for what gets deducted as “expenses.”
Is there no length to which Fox News won’t go to promote and propagandize for the GOP and/or their causes? Apparently not.
Criticism that the Tea Party and Hannity were trying to make a profit from the event began bouncing around on blogs, including the media blog Media Matters, about two days prior to Thursday’s rally at the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Bank Arena.
“Unequivocally, from our standpoint, this is wrong,” Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, told Media Matters. “For a news organization to charge people for access, then take that money and roll it over to a political action group that they cover quite a bit.”
Cincinnati Tea Party officials said the idea that they would make money on the event is false.
“The Left drove that story, Fox capitulated to it and left,” said Chris Littleton, a Cincinnati Tea Party spokesman. He criticized Fox for not coming to Tea Party if it had concerns.
Hannity’s show spent about $100,000 to come to Cincinnati, Littleton said.
Several people in the audience shouted “refund!”
Justin Binik-Thomas, vice president of national affairs and strategy for the Cincinnati Tea Party, said the group will probably lose money on the event, although final financials won’t be available for several more days.
“We’re a nonprofit,” he said, adding that Fox was “well aware” of that. If any profit is made, it will fund future events, he said.
The Tea Party reported about $77,500 in ticket sales. It had budgeted $60,000 in expenses for the event, including security and other costs, officials said. However, there will also likely be extra costs associated with the event – especially if the Tea Party decides to give refunds for the Hannity tickets.
Organizers sold about 7,500 tickets and gave away another 420. Basic tickets cost $5 and special VIP tickets to sit near the Hannity taping cost $20. The Hannity tickets, nearly 2,000 of them, sold out.
Sounds like Hannity has a little explaining to do — maybe even an apology. He’s a professional and he should know by now the difference between raising money for a legitimate charity and raising money for a political cause. Even us opinionators have to follow the rules.
Glenn Reynolds reported at 6 PM: “Sean Hannity — who was supposed to do his show from here live — has had to go back to New York on some sort of personal emergency, but the folks here, though disappointed, still seem full of energy.”
Evidently, the Fox News people did not come clean in explaining this.
Last week, News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch said before a Washington, DC crowd that Fox News should not be supporting the movement.
“I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party,” he said. Earlier this week, the network published an article to its website that was semi-critical of the tea party.
This all comes after Rupert Murdoch suggested that perhaps FOX shouldn’t be supporting the Tea Party movement. I doubt that FOX and Murdoch are suddenly interested in journalism but they are concerned that they may have created a Frankenstein they can’t control.
Before the tea party movement got going, FOX News was very excited to use their entire network to promote them because a Democratic politician was elected to the White House. Now, they are trying to make believe that never happened. I wonder if their legal department got involved when money was changing hands with the teabaggers?
Interestingly enough, Hannity was still promoting his appearance in Cincinnati tonight all the way through the end of his radio show this afternoon…….
There’s no limit to how far Fox hosts can go to hustle the rubes for ratings and to help the Republican party. But they get “furious” when the rubes try to cash in for themselves. All they have to do is find a way to blame the liberals and they’re home free.
Sean Hannity was all set to broadcast his show from a Cincinnati Tea Party event tonight, but was recalled to his Manhattan studio by “furious” executives late today.
Hannity had been promoting the appearance on his show all week. Glenn Beck even mentioned Hannity’s Cincinnati appearance on his show late today.
Now you can follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter.
KelliRChapman Poor Tea Party, their beloved Sean Hannity didn’t show.
7 minutes ago from web
DONNAinOHIO Still disappointed that Sean Hannity was pulled from Cincinnati Tea Party.
8 minutes ago from Tweed
pat1944 @argylestyle gonna happen sooner rather than later. Hannity had a moment today when Tea Party cancelled for him. Fox claim ignorance. Right
9 minutes ago from web
roadwar91 What’s Gotten into Fox ? Yanking Hannity from Mega Tea Party Event in Cincinnati ? Too Funny. #coffeeparty – http://bit.ly/cKutLP
18 minutes ago from web
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.