Sean Hannity often looks angry, although sometimes it’s hard to tell. Even when he’s content, he looks like someone who’s spoiling for a fight. That’s how he appeared earlier this month, after Fox News fired its co-president Bill Shine, a Hannity booster whose career had, in turn, been helped by Hannity’s success. Shine’s dismissal came in the wake of lawsuits, and allegations of sexual harassment, bequeathed to Fox by its former president, Roger Ailes, and its former ratings king, Bill O’Reilly. Hannity had tweeted that O’Reilly’s departure would mean “the total end of the FNC as we know it. Done.” That almost sounded like a threat to quit. The next day he began “Hannity,” the hour-long program that he anchors, by addressing what he imagined to be an impatient, Schadenfreude-hungry audience: “I want to welcome all of our friends from the alt-left propaganda media I kind of suspect may be tuning in tonight.”
Those new to the Hannity experience might have felt as if they’d barged into an irate one-sided conversation. But that was no reason to step away. The Times’s Bret Stephens once called Hannity “Fox News’s dumbest anchor,” but he was missing the point. Hannity is a talented broadcaster, and he frequently uses that talent to defend and promote Donald Trump, and to attack those who don’t share his positive and doubt-free view of the President. Like a Trumpian mini-me, he sometimes sounds as if he’s channelling Trump, as when he hinted the other day, to Lou Dobbs, who hosts a show on the Fox Business Network, that he knew something juicy about the swimsuit model Chrissy Teigen. “I have a story,” Hannity said. “I’m going to be very nice tonight, Lou. You’ll be proud of me. I met John Legend and her at a Super Bowl event. But there’s a story I’m going to keep to myself because I’m being very nice.”
DOBBS: Oh, come on. Come on.
HANNITY: I’m being very nice.
Did Hannity perhaps remember how Trump, in the first Presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, said, “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.’ ”?
Like Trump, Hannity doesn’t like to listen to anyone with whom he disagrees, and he likes to hold forth, uninterrupted. He begins his program with what he calls his Opening Monologue, as if he were just another late-night host. On the night after the Shine dismissal, he started by saying, “Hey, you guys in the media, this Opening Monologue is written just for you,” after which he talked about the “alt-radical-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump media,” and “the alt-radical-destroy-Trump propaganda media,” or, simply, “the destroy-Trump media.” They are, he said, “on a mission to take down President Trump. . . . they want him thrown out of office, if possible, handcuffed, mug-shotted, perp-walked, and put in jail.” He wrapped up the segment by saying, “That’s tonight’s very important Opening Monologue.”
Sometimes Hannity says that he’s happy, even if he doesn’t look it. After the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he appeared simultaneously angry and happy: “Democrats—the destroy-Trump media, alt-radical left—they will do everything they can do to stop this bill from ever reaching the President’s desk!” Hannity said. Then he spoke with one of his regulars, the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who seemed to be urging Hannity to cheer up:
GINGRICH: Look, tonight—no. No. Be excited. Be happy. Be positive.
HANNITY: I am!
But perhaps he still didn’t seem quite happy enough, as if he sensed that, without a Senate concurrence, none of it was quite real:
GINGRICH: And this is really big. I mean, we are repealing Obamacare!
HANNITY: You—I know you know because we go back since 1990. I know you know how to celebrate because I remember drinking a big can of beer called Foster’s Lager with you, if you remember, back in those days. So I think you’re right. I’ll take your elder-statesman perspective. And I think it’s a big win, absolutely, and I am happy about it.
And sometimes Hannity simply tries to avoid the news. On the day that Sally Yates testified that Trump had ignored her warnings that General Michael Flynn, Trump’s designated national-security adviser, appeared to have been compromised by contact with Russian agents, Hannity began his Opening Monologue by referring to “explosive new details in a massive political scandal that is becoming Watergate on steroids.” He then explained what he viewed as the actual scandal in question: “Now we know that information about [Flynn] was, in fact, leaked to the press.”
Another avoidance came last Tuesday, when Hannity went on the air a few hours after Trump abruptly fired James Comey, the F.B.I. director. Hannity was ready. “All right, we’re going to cut through all of the noise, all of the nonsense on this program tonight, and tell you exactly what the left and destroy-Trump media will not tell you,” he said. “James Comey . . . is a national embarrassment. It’s that plain, it’s that simple. And, frankly, he’s very lucky that President Trump kept him around this long because of his now unhinged and very erratic behavior.” When he was done, Hannity called that evening’s skewing of reality “perhaps my most important Opening Monologue ever.”
By this week, during which the Washington Post reported that Trump had shared classified information with the Russians, and the Times reported that Trump, in a private conversation with Comey, seemed to suggest that the F.B.I. drop its investigation of General Flynn, Hannity’s hair seemed to have caught fire. He said that “the destroy-Trump propaganda media, destroy-Trump Democrats, never-Trumpers who have been seething in the dark, along with weak Republicans and, of course, the deep state—these groups are now working themselves into a feeding frenzy and clearly are now out for blood.” By then, the Messenger’s bucket of redundant adjectives seemed to be running dry.
Sad. A few years ago, Jon Stewart chatted with Bill O’Reilly, with whom he had an intermittently semi-cordial, though testy, relationship, and said, “You’ve become the voice of sanity” at Fox News. (Stewart diluted the compliment by saying that this was “like being the thinnest kid at fat camp.”) Stewart exaggerated; there were, and are, reasonable voices at Fox—people like Bret Baier and Shepard Smith. And Hannity, to give him his due, deserves credit for the burden he’s assumed: with O’Reilly relieved of his duties, Hannity, with his Trumpian echo, became the last cantankerous prime-time voice from the Ailes era. He’s like a living exhibit at the Fox Museum, an ongoing display of jubilant anger (“Obamacare is in a death spiral!”), complete with Opening Monologues, credulous interviews, and the sort of mysterious fury that Glenn Beck, another former prime-timer at Fox, recently remarked upon to the Times: “We’re just driving the stake into the heart of the republic, and it’s getting worse and worse and worse. All that it takes to break this cycle is for enough people to say: ‘Wait a minute, I just want to admit my part, and I want to stop. I’m going to try to really listen to people on the other side.’ We may still disagree. But we’re not going hate each other.”
That could almost be the subject for another, very important Opening Monologue, though one that is not likely to be performed by Sean Hannity.