How Far Will Sean Hannity Go?

When he finally went to bed early in the morning on Oct. 2, Sean Hannity had a good sense, as he typically does, of how he would structure that night’s Fox News Channel broadcast. He’d lead with Puerto Rico, and a defense of the Trump administration’s hurricane relief efforts, before moving on to the N.F.L. players who continued to kneel during the national anthem before games. But by the time he woke up, a few hours later — Hannity rarely sleeps more than four hours a night, a trait he shares with his friend President Trump — the screen of his iPhone was jammed with alerts of a shooting in downtown Las Vegas, where a man named Stephen Paddock had opened fire on the attendees of a country-music festival. Dozens were dead, hundreds injured. “What the hell is going on?” Hannity recalls thinking.

In his morning call with his senior executive producer at Fox, Porter Berry, and his executive producer, Tiffany Fazio, he suggested a rewrite of the opening monologue, a six-to-seven-minute riff that he sees as the most important part of the show. On Twitter, he told the producers, he’d noticed many liberals calling for increased gun control. He wanted to center his monologue on a theme he frequently returns to on Fox and on his syndicated daily radio show, which reaches approximately 13.5 million Americans: Why was it that liberals always used tragedies to further their own political ends? To make the segment really hum, he would need material to react to — Hannity’s most effective segments are oppositional — and Berry and Fazio agreed to start digging.

Until a few years ago, the staff of “Hannity,” the top nightly cable show in the United States, shared news by text or email, but today, much of the collaborative work is handled via a Twitter account accessible to only the staff. “If I like something, I’ll click Like, and if other producers like something, they’ll click Like,” Berry told me. The result is a “pool of ideas” — “50, 60, 70 stories,” in addition to articles Hannity himself has flagged for inclusion. “You’ve got to pull it all together,” Berry added. “Build that argument.” Soon, a few top contenders had emerged, among them a Facebook comment from a CBS executive, Hayley Geftman-Gold, who wrote that she was “not even sympathetic” because “country-music fans often are Republican gun toters.”

Around 3 p.m., Hannity settled into his studio on one of the top floors of the iHeartRadio offices just north of Times Square. Hannity has been a talk-radio host for three decades — he has been on television a comparatively meager 23 years — and his posture was relaxed, his normally helmeted-for-TV hair swept into a hand-combed side part. He bickered amiably with his longtime executive producer, Lynda McLaughlin, and his young chief engineer, Jason Mosse, and when I took a seat behind McLaughlin, Hannity hissed into the talk-back channel, placing a finger over his lips: “Shhh, guys. That’s a New York Times writer. Nobody be themselves.”

Hannity later told me he had, over time, developed separate approaches for his radio and television shows. “My thoughts are the same: I’m mad,” he said. “But with television, I’ve got the images to help me out. With radio, it’s on me to paint the picture.” He opened his Oct. 2 radio broadcast with police-scanner audio from Las Vegas, punctuated by the sound of a SWAT team using breach charges to enter the shooter’s hotel room. When it ended, Hannity compared the officers to the first responders who had run toward the crumbling World Trade Center in 2001. “In this particular case,” he said, “you’ve got the same policemen that are regularly trashed by individuals, those same policemen standing outside the door where this madman is firing his weaponry.”

 

 

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