The Truth About How Sean Hannity Covers Donald Trump

CREDIT: SCREENSHOT
CREDIT: SCREENSHOT

A few days ago, I reviewed all of Hannity’s interviews with Donald Trump since he announced his campaign last June. My conclusion: the dozens of interviews Hannity gave Trump amounted to “a serialized infomercial spanning nearly an entire year.”

Hannity was not pleased about the article. In a 7-minute rant on his radio program, Hannity called the article a “hit piece” that “cherry picked questions to make him look as bad as possible.” He also said the piece was part of a high-level political conspiracy to marginalize him. But he didn’t dispute the charge that his questions were all softballs; instead, he justified his conduct by saying he’s “not a journalist” and doesn’t have “much disagreement” with Trump and other Republicans.

Neil Cavuto addressed the controversy on his show yesterday in an interview with Hannity. Cavuto claimed that Hannity asked Trump “edgy” questions and “elicit a great deal of news.” This is a claim even Hannity doesn’t make on behalf of himself.

Hannity is also particularly sensitive about a claim that the original piece never made: that Trump got more time on his show than other candidates. He insisted that all candidates were given “equal time” and he had no preferences. (This was likely in response to supporters of Ted Cruz who circulated my original piece.)

This, however, is not true. From the time each campaign announced their candidacy to the end of March, Trump has appeared of Hannity’s prime time show more often than any other candidate and, more importantly, has spent hours longer on air than any other candidate.

Over the duration of the primary season, Trump has appeared on Hannity’s TV show for over three hours longer than Ted Cruz, according to data Media Matters compiled for ThinkProgress:

Hannity often airs his interviews multiple times. More than three hours of Hannity’s show have been repeats of Trump interviews, far exceeding any other candidate:

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos
CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

Overall, Trump has enjoyed over 14 hours and 30 minutes of airtime on Hannity’s TV show while Cruz received just over 9 hours.

The time Trump receives on Hannity’s show is extremely valuable. Media Matters calculates that Trump received 23 hours of air time on Fox News in 2015. That time is worth an estimated $30 million, based on advertising rates and the viewership of each program. No other candidate received more than 10 hours of coverage on Fox in 2015.

Trump has been able to rocket to the top of the Republican field while spending very little money on the strength of free air time, sometimes referred to as “earned” media. Much of Trump’s time on Fox was spent on Hannity’s show. Some of Trump’s appearances on the show literally double as campaign events. Hannity travels to a state that is voting soon and interviews Trump for an hour in front of a local audience.

Hannity’s interviews with Cruz can occasionally get more contentious. Early this week, Hannity “blew up” at Cruz, saying he was “getting sick of” Cruz avoiding “a legitimate question.” Hannity had been asking Cruz if his efforts to woo delegates were undermining the “integrity of the election,” a claim frequently made by Donald Trump.

On thing that hasn’t changed is Hannity’s approach to interviewing Donald Trump, who has appeared on his TV show three more times already in April. In an appearance Thursday night, Hannity noted that “Newt Gingrich said you are now the presumptive nominee. And he said to the establishment Republicans they better now get used to the idea.” Then came the question: “Who are people you would like to have with you, working with you?”