Litman: Hannity had an unholy alliance with Trump. The 1st Amendment still protects him

Fox News star Sean Hannity may seem unlikely and unworthy to be a poster child for 1st Amendment rights, but that’s the reality of our Trump-driven political world.

Hanniity is a confidante and counselor to the former president as well as being one of Fox’s most-watched prime time commentators. He also presents the antithesis of 1st Amendment protections. He once said to the New York Times ,, “I never claimed that I was a journalist.” However, he should still be considered one for the benefit of his colleagues in legitimate media.

The House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 events sent a letter last week to Hannity asking for his cooperation in its investigation. That drew return fire from Hannity’s lawyer that the request “would raise serious constitutional issues including 1st Amendment concerns regarding freedom of the press.”

Then over the weekend, former Trump Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, who had testified to the Jan. 6 committee days earlier, told the Washington Post about a disquieting alliance between Hannity and the 45th president.

According to Grisham Hannity was a constant voice of reason for Trump, offering him policy advice that he often elevated above the opinions of his White House advisors. Hannity wasn’t the only Fox News celebrity to have special White House privileges. Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Laura Ingraham all had similar access to the White House. This was something staffers were forced to accept from Trump’s cable-TV addicts.

Particularly troubling is Hannity’s apparent role in the events of Jan. 6, and his mendacious on-air commentary during the same critical stretch. Hannity’s texts to Trump Chief Of Staff Mark Meadows, which show his frequent contact with the White House as well as the president, are available for the House committee. As Rep. Bennie Thompson (D.Miss.), in a Jan. 6 letter to Hannity, the chairman of the House committee, stated The texts strongly suggest that the texts had been known of the insurrection before it occurred, according to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). It also details the damage-control talks with Trump following the incident. Hannity also called Meadows during the Capitol attack to ask him to tell Trump to stop the rioters.

While this was happening, The host of “The Sean Hannity Show” was suggesting a false parallel between the insurrections and Black Lives Matterdemonstrations. The host said, “Where’s the committee, congressman?” “I’d like that committee” — while arguing that the rioters were largely peaceful.

This pattern of conduct challenges the arms-length adversarial model that a vigilant press holds the government accountable. Hannity’s behind-the scenes texts sound more like a Steve Bannon and less like Walter Cronkite.

Indeed. Everything about Hannity’s furtive role as an insider undermines rather than advances the principles that justifies 1st Amendment protection of journalists.

The Supreme Court provided the legal justification in New York Times vs. Sullivan. This case established an additional margin of protection for journalists when they are accused of defamation of public figures. In essence, journalists can only be sued for falsehoods if they publish them knowingly or with reckless disregard of the truth. This leeway in journalism can be justified as it is better to allow the press to have a broad berth than suppressing stories that could advance self-government and the truth.

The Sullivan decision quoted Judge Learned hand: The 1st Amendment states that the right conclusions can be drawn from a variety of voices than through an authoritative selection. This is, and will always be, absurd to many. But we are putting our .”

All into it. As slimy as Hannity’s dual duty — as a Fox News host and as a presidential friend — schmoozing government officials, is one of the things journalists do. In a well-understood dance, they charm and persuade sources to release information. The coin of the realm is getting inside information and having direct access to information.

Hannity was not intent on holding the government accountable or afflicting those in power. His schmoozing was driven by perverse motives. Instead, he was a toady who sat in the shadows of the administration and worked to further its political goals, including Trump’s anti-democratic attempts to steal the election from Biden.

Hannity subordinated facts and interests to these ends, appearing on TV nightly to give viewers an account that was, to put it mildly, biased in Trump’s favor.

In a perfect world with unerring judges Hannity’s claim for a 1st Amendment protection could be denied. In the real world, however, allowing courts to remove 1st Amendment protections that are based on psychoanalyzing journalists’ motivations would make it difficult for the press to be free and allow society to have access to the truth.

In the case of Fox News communications with the White House it is a striking irony that even a sycophantic rascal such as Hannity cannot be protected by the 1st Amendment’s demands.


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