Fox News star Sean Hannity has made one thing clear: He is “not a journalist.”
Which begs the question: What is he?
The New York Times provided one answer. Hannity is a regular, if unofficial, Trump advisor. According to the Times, Hannity has “peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging.”
“Do I talk to my friend who I’ve known for years and speak my mind? I can’t not speak my mind,” Hannity told the New York Times.
Yet Hannity’s role is, in many respects, unprecedented. He controls an hour of primetime on the most popular cable channel in America. He has made clear that his top priority is electing Donald Trump the next president of the United States.
The last two nights, Hannity has devoted the entire hour to interviewing Trump. But these aren’t simple interviews — it is an elaborate propaganda event produced by Hannity.
First, Hannity relentlessly promotes the events, helping Trump build a crowd.
If you live in Milwaukee and want to come to an exclusive townhall on Tuesday, sign up! https://t.co/vkNBw1zaib
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) August 12, 2016
Then, Hannity invites special guests — always Trump fans — to hammer home whatever Trump wants the message to be. Last night’s topic was immigration and Hannity provided Rudy Giuliani, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. (Hannity recently described Don Jr. as his “best friend.”)
One thing Trump doesn’t have to worry about is fielding a difficult question. Yesterday’s inquiries included the following:
You want to build the wall. You’re going to build that wall within two years?
What do you think the height should be?
These are three men that have governed successfully. Are these are three people you would want to work for you?
Mostly there are no questions at all. Hannity and Trump just take turns talking.
This is not unusual. Hannity has “interviewed” Trump dozens of times and never made news.
In recent days, appearing on Hannity — and other shows on Fox News — has been pretty much the only kind of “interview” Trump has participated in. Trump has not appeared on MSNBC since May 20 or on CNN since June 13. (Trump is scheduled to appear on Anderson Cooper on Thursday night.)
Meanwhile, his campaign — which still lacks a field operation and other essential functions — has turned into an extended episode of Hannity. Since May 5, when John Kasich dropped out, Hannity’s show has featured Trump interviews 15 times, consuming over five-and-a-half hours of airtime, according to data provided to ThinkProgress by Media Matters.
Overall, Trump has appeared on Hannity for more than 22 hours since declaring his run for the presidency in June 2015. According to Media Matters, he’s provided Trump with over $31 million in free television time.
It’s not unusual, of course, for candidates to seek free media by participating in interviews on cable news channels. But that involves tradeoffs. The candidate gets attention but the interviewer is trying to “make news” by asking the candidate questions that are challenging and sometimes uncomfortable.
Hannity has turned this relationship on its head. He’s said explicitly his goal is not challenge Trump but to get him elected. It’s not surprising that Trump is interested in doing little else but appear on his program.
Hannity is not only effectively a member of Trump’s campaign. He’s probably the most important member of his campaign.