Sean Hannity is the most-watched personality on cable news. But a conversation with him quickly reminds you that his roots are in radio, which he still does three hours a day. Like an old-school top 40 disc jockey, the conservative host can play the hits (“Russia Collusion Hoax,""Trump Derangement Syndrome,” “The Deep State”) on repeat, with unflagging enthusiasm.
Hannity has been at Fox News since it first launched in 1996. But it’s only recently that he’s become the network’s biggest star, outlasting its first breakout host, Bill O’Reilly, and delivering 55% more viewers than Megyn Kelly had in the high-profile 9 p.m. Eastern time slot when she left in 2017. He has largely kept his distance from the company’s internal scandals, although he was named last week in a sexual harassment lawsuit alleging that he offered staffers cash to take out a “beautiful” guest. (When I asked about the suit, Hannity pointed me to Fox News, which said the claims were “false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit.”)
Hannity has come to rule Fox during the Trump administration, and he’s earned a reputation for being the president’s chief media defender and reportedly an informal advisor as well. Hannity’s unfettered advocacy for the president is memorialized in a new book out Tuesday, ominously titled “Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink.” Signed copies of the manifesto for a second Trump term are being offered by the re-election campaign as a fund-raising incentive for donations over $75. A representative for publisher Simon & Schuster said the Republican National Committee purchased the books through retailers.
The tome argues that a victory for Joe Biden and the Democrats in November would “move the country wholesale into socialism and authoritarianism.” Hannity makes a cogent argument for Trump’s economic policies before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A chapter defending the president’s handling of the public health crisis resulting in more than 150,000 fatalities from the virus is a far tougher sell. Hannity, 58, talked about the book and his place in the media landscape in a phone conversation Wednesday.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The book presents a very clear ideological contrast between Republicans and Democrats in the presidential election. It represents the kind of campaign that some of Trump’s advisors want him to run, and which he’s reportedly resisted. Are you trying to send a message with this book?
(Laughs) No. Even though I’m on the air four hours a day, I wanted to go in depth so people had a full understanding at what is at stake 97 days from now. [The book contains] a history of radicalism, what makes the country great, the Democrats’ 2020 agenda, and then it’s followed up purposely by chapter four, which is socialism and the history of its failure. You’re talking about the biggest choice election in our lifetime. ... I never thought Joe Biden would go this far radical left. I’d argue it’s out of weakness that Joe Biden had to embrace Bolshevik Bernie‘s (Sanders) economic agenda, and even plagiarize it — which he has a history of — and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s insane new green deal. He’s pledging trillions of dollars to this.
As former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has said many times on your show, voters are not going to really be able to process any of that until President Trump has the coronavirus under control. You have a chapter in this book that presents the president’s response to the health crisis as a success.
Every poll says the public does not agree with that view by a large margin.
Ninty-nine percent of the media — I call them the “mob,” as you know — I don’t think they’re particularly fond of the president. If Donald Trump cured cancer they would hate him. Everything we now know about what they put this country through with Russia and Trump-Russia collusion has all been disproven. Has anybody on any of these networks ever said they’re sorry that they lied or that they spewed conspiracy theories and one hoax after another?
Live Free or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink
I’m not sure what that has to do with the coronavirus and his response to it.
I’m explaining that they’re never going to give him credit. It doesn’t matter. Listen, we had the largest, fastest medical mobilization in the history of mankind. And Donald Trump got that done. China lied to the world. Every medical expert, they were trying their best. I don’t fault them, but they got it wrong. Every model was wrong. Every bit of information everybody had was wrong. And we’re all adjusting on the fly. But we got every ventilator, he built the beds in the New York at the Javits Center, he sent the Navy ships in. He even manned those hospitals. He provided all the PPE for those hospitals. He converted them to COVID-19 capability.
Couldn’t he have saved more people by not making a political issue out of wearing a mask? He prides himself on what he achieved in the economy. Who would’ve had more authority than President Trump to say, “You know what? I’ve got to put this great economic recovery on pause because we have to really nail this pandemic first.”
We shut the country down. [Ed. note: As early as April, Trump called for the economy to be reopened against the advice of the government’s medical experts.] Look, listen, I am not a party to this group of people that are criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Do you think Dr. Fauci misled the country? That’s what the president said.
Well, no, but he got a lot wrong. I mean, that’s a fair analysis. He’s telling people in the middle of March if you’re young and healthy it’s OK to go on a cruise ship. He was not a big mask advocate in March either.
If Barack Obama were in charge during a pandemic that killed 150,000 people, wouldn’t you have been on his case every single night?
OK. If Joe Biden was president would he have instituted the travel ban? Did those policies save American lives, the ones that Biden said were “hysterical, xenophobia, and fear-mongering”? Did Donald Trump make the right call on the travel ban, yes or no?
Let’s say yes. You still have 150,000 people dying.
Joe Biden wouldn’t have made the call. The Democrats were impeaching. [Trump] was working, they were impeaching. They didn’t get involved in this, and now they’re Monday-morning quarterbacks.
You present a strong argument against socialist regimes and express concern about those ideas seeping into the Democratic platform. But didn’t Democratic primary voters effectively repudiate socialism by choosing Biden over Bernie Sanders?
Well, we never really got to finish it. I think the deck was stacked against poor Bernie. … We know that Joe Biden now has adopted the socialist policies of Bolshevik Bernie; he’s even plagiarized them.
The Democrats won back Congress in 2018 largely through the election of more moderate representatives in swing districts won by Trump. Wouldn’t they put a check on a lot of what you’re talking about?
Absolutely not … have you read the Green New Deal? Those promises are impossible to fulfill. If you’re going to get rid of oil and gas on top of it — the way Joe is pledging to stop fracking, and oil exploration — number one, you’re going to lose tens of millions of career jobs. Donald Trump made us energy-independent for the first time in 75 years, the largest oil producer in the world in over 75 years. We’re going to give up the lifeblood of the world’s economy and we’re going to promise to tax people into oblivion and we’re going to promise everybody everything’s free and the government’s going to take care of everything you need in life, from the minute you’re born until the day you die.
You don’t think climate change is an issue?
I believe that we need to be good stewards of the beautiful planet God gave every man, woman, and child on Earth, absolutely. Is Sean Hannity in favor of new creative sources of energy, clean energy? Absolutely. Do I think one day we’ll get there? I do. I believe in science, and I believe in ingenuity, especially when people live free. But we’re not there yet. Right now the lifeblood of the world’s economy is oil, gas, and coal, fact.
I want to talk about Fox News.
I’m sorry, you’re breaking up on me. I’m kidding, go ahead.
You have an opinion show, but you use words on your program like “investigation.” You say you have reporters covering stories. Define for me how you see the difference between what you do and what Bret Baier does on “Special Report.”
I have no comments about any other show on Fox. I have my hour I’m responsible for, and that’s it. I’m too busy in my day to follow what everybody else is doing. I watch very little cable news, to be very blunt with you … So I would argue Sean Hannity is a talk show host. And I can produce hours and hours and hours of radio and TV of just straight news reporting. I can produce thousands of hours of Sean Hannity doing investigative reporting. I have a responsibility to put on news, information, opinion that you’re not going to get anywhere else and investigative reporting ... I am basically an entire newspaper.
Has Fox News changed since its founding chief executive, Roger Ailes, left in 2016? [Ailes, who was ousted over sexual harassment allegations, died in 2017.]
I think [Fox News Media Chief Executive] Suzanne Scott is phenomenal in her job. The Murdochs have been nothing but supportive. I like to view myself as a good partner to whoever I’m in business with.
Tell me about your relationship with President Trump. How often do you talk to him?
Wouldn’t you like to know the answer to that? It’s interesting to me. I mean, there’s so much speculation. There’s been so much written about it.
Here is your chance to set the record straight.
You want a headline out of this. I got it. But I’ve known Donald Trump now, I guess, 25 years. I think he’s the most transparent politician and honest politician I’ve seen in our lifetime. Nothing he does surprises me. Listen, if I talk to anybody like you I neither confirm nor deny I talk to anybody. If I have friends and I talk to my friends, it’s nobody’s business. If I have sources and I talk to sources, it’s nobody’s business.
But clearly your role has changed. You’re an influencer in this country. You have a hotline to the most powerful man in the world who probably relies on you as a friend.
You’re just assuming I have a hotline to the president of the United States. I find it amusing, but I’m going to allow the speculation to continue.
You were upset over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. You called for a ban on police using chokeholds. But how do you feel about the Black Lives Matter movement? Do you think there is systemic racism in police departments in this country? Can you understand the anger behind this moment the nation is having?
The George Floyd incident angers me on a level that words can’t express. if you don’t feel that and see that this can’t happen ever again in America you don’t have a heart and you don’t have a soul. This can never happen again … I always said about the Deep State — I made a distinction almost every night about 99% of good FBI and intelligence agents, not the 1%. I [say] the same thing about police. We now have nearly 2,000 cops injured, we have about a dozen or more dead. We see rocks, and bottles, and bricks, and Molotov cocktails hurled at them. I make a distinction very clearly between Black Lives Matter the group — and the people that have righteous indignation and are calling for justice and changes after what should never happen to any human being on Earth. There were plenty of peaceful protesters, and I stated it over and over again. But now what we’re seeing in Seattle and Portland and New York City and Chicago is that none of this is about George Floyd. What unfortunately it is — you’re looking at a preview of coming attractions.
What we’re looking at is happening under President Trump. Why hasn’t he said anything to unite the country and quell some of this?
Excuse me. All Donald Trump has done is protect — which he legally has the constitutional authority and obligation to do — the federal buildings. He’s offered every one of these cities and mayors, liberal ones, all the help he can muster. They’ve got to ask for it. They’re saying, “Stay away.” And he’s saying, “Please let us help you. We can restore order.” But they have to ask.... The one thing these cities have in common, they’ve been run by liberal Democrats for decades.
But there’s been record-low crime in America for the last couple of decades under these same mayors and governors. What’s the difference?
Oh, really? Because during Obama and Biden’s years, president and vice president, I think I was the only one on national TV to actually scroll the names of thousands shot and thousands dead, and they barely mentioned Chicago.
Do you ever hear anything from the president that make you say, “Man, I wish he had not said that?”
Yeah, I’ve said it publicly a lot — I wish he’d tweet five to 10% less, or retweet never. But I would also add that this — there’s never been a president that has been made for a moment like him. You compare Biden-Obama’s record against Donald Trump’s record — I’ll take that bet every day. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 97 days, but I’ll tell you this, it would be probably the greatest moment in the history of watching the mob and the media, your friends that you interview a lot, have to choke on the words, “We can now project that Donald J. Trump has been re-elected the 45th president of the United States.”
What does “Hannity” look like under a Joe Biden presidency?
I’ll do what I always do — I’ll advocate for the country I love. I will fight for the principles I believe in. I will do the work that the mob and the media will never do. That’s what I do.