Sean Hannity targets media watchdog amid questions over future at Fox News

The talkshow host launched a tirade against liberal fascism and Media Matters after courting controversy with discredited conspiracy theory

Sean Hannity spent Wednesday lashing out at a media watchdog and liberal fascism, as his long tenure at Fox News began to look increasingly fragile.

The talkshow host, who has been a fixture on the news channel since 1996, had been embarrassed on Tuesday when Fox distanced itself from a discredited conspiracy theory that Hannity has spent more than a week promoting.

Hannity had subsequently suggested he would stop spreading the unproven idea that Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee employee, was murdered last July because he provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

But on Wednesday, the Trump cheerleader came out swinging, spending hours tweeting invective about Media Matters, a not-for-profit organization that monitors rightwing publications, accusing it of trying to have him fired and insisting he was working harder than ever to get to the truth regarding Rich.

Liberal Fascism. Mmfa is targeting my advertisers to silence my voice. They hope to get me fired. Rush, OReilly, Beck, Imus, & now me, Hannity tweeted at 6.37am, the first in a series of 16 messages targeting Media Matters that he would send by Wednesday afternoon.

Hannity appeared to be referring to a Media Matters campaign that pressured advertisers to withdraw from Bill OReillys former Fox News show, after it emerged Fox and OReilly had paid millions of dollars settling sexual misconduct claims against him. OReilly left the network on 19 April.

Throughout Wednesday, Hannity continually accused Media Matters of aiming to have him fired from his weekday show at Fox, claiming the organization was targeting all of my advertisers, and accusing Media Matters of conspiring with George Soros and an unspecified Clinton to commit liberal fascism.

The tirade came after a turbulent Tuesday for Hannity. Fox News retracted a story that claimed Rich had contacted WikiLeaks, explaining that the piece was not subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Hannity had discussed the story on his show almost every night the previous week.

On his radio show on Tuesday afternoon, Hannity took a defiant tone I am not Fox.com, or FoxNews.com, I retracted nothing, he insisted but later, on his Fox News show, he appeared cowed.

Out of respect for the [Rich] familys wishes, for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time, Hannity said.

Off air, however, the caution did not last. Ok TO BE CLEAR, I am closer to the TRUTH than ever. Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder. Updates when available. Stay tuned! Hannity tweeted at 10.51pm.

Hannitys claims that Media Matters was targeting his advertisers came hours later. But Media Matters president, Angelo Carusone, denied that the organization had launched a campaign against the Fox News host.

Hannitys anger seemed to be about Media Matters which did campaign for companies to drop OReilly publishing a list of his advertisers, but Carusone said that that information was publicly available and pointed out that Media Matters had issued no call to action.

It says a lot about how he perceives himself, Carusone said of Hannity. He understands that theres an embarrassment in being associated with him.

If somebody posted a list of my friends, Im not going to be embarrassed, and neither would they. And its the same thing here. She continued: If someone posts a list of your associations, and your immediate response is, Thats going to embarrass and humiliate them, youre attacking them, its because he recognizes that he himself has become toxic.

Fox News did not respond to questions about Hannitys pledge to continue with the Rich story. But even away from that controversy, Hannity has expressed unhappiness with the network in recent weeks.

On 1 May, the Fox News co-president Bill Shine, Hannitys former producer, left the network amid suggestions he had taken part in covering up sexual harassment allegations against the former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, who died last week.

Days earlier, Hannity had said that if Shine were to leave, it would be the total end of the FNC [Fox News Channel] as we know it, and sent tweets with the hashtag #IstandwithBill and #IstandwithShine.

And on Wednesday afternoon, Hannity seemed determined to let people know he was not prepared to toe the party line over Rich. On Twitter, Hannity said he had heard reports that Fox News had made him stop discussing the story.

Another lie, Hannity said. Nobody told me to say it.

Fox has enjoyed record audiences since Donald Trump became president but has been beset by troubles. The OReilly harassment scandal cast a shadow over Rupert Murdochs takeover bid for Sky, the British television network. He is making a second bid after his attempt to acquire Sky in 2011 was thwarted amid a scandal over phone hacking.

The British media regulator, Ofcom, is currently investigating whether Murdoch and 21st Century Fox are fit and proper owners of Sky. The forceful way Fox retracted its coverage of the Rich conspiracy theory underlines the media companys sensitive situation.

Fox News did not respond to questions about Hannitys future at the network. But Hannitys apparent dissatisfaction has already raised questions about where the 55-year-old would land if he left and the pitfalls he might face.

Glenn Beck left Fox News in 2011 to start his own news site, the Blaze, but received substantially less exposure. The former Fox News contributor Sarah Palin started her own subscription television news network the Sarah Palin Channel in July 2014, but it lasted less than a year before folding.

The growing Sinclair Broadcast Group has been mentioned as one option for Hannity. Sinclair which owns 215 television stations in the US, covering 72% of homes supplements local news with conservative commentary from a studio in Washington DC.

The former Trump spokesman Boris Epshteyn was hired by Sinclair in April as its chief political analyst, and speculation is rife in the media world that the network could have Fox News in its sights.

On 15 May, Politico cited a source with direct knowledge of conversations in claiming that Sinclair was interested in recruiting Hannity, along with Bill OReilly. A spokeswoman for the network told the Guardian that Sinclair is not speaking with Sean Hannity, but questions over Hannitys future are unlikely to go away.

He will probably leave Fox sooner rather than later, Carusone said. But there isnt really a viable alternative for him just yet. Hell spend the next couple of months doing what hes done in the past few hours. Try to rally his audience round him.

But hell continue to antagonize Fox News, because if he does go out he needs to go out fighting with Fox. The lesson he learned from Bill OReilly and others is if you just leave quietly, you lose your audience.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/may/25/sean-hannity-fox-news-media-matters-seth-rich

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