The New York Times wrote a story this week on Sean Hannity, calling him one of America’s most influential TV personalities. The fact that Hannity even agreed to participate was shocking enough, considering the crusade he and his friend Donald Trump have undertaken against the “liberal” media.
Within the story, though, was a line that stood out sharply. In the past, Hannity has made the statement that he is not a journalist. He clarified that idea by saying “I’m a journalist. But I’m an advocacy journalist or an opinion journalist. I want to give my audience the best show possible.”
This is an almost amazing idea. A man credited as one of the greatest influences of the American public is rather outspoken about his interests in entertainment, rather than fact. Despite his attack on the bias of the “media” at large, he has no problem admitting that his own work is heavily impacted by opinion, spin, and the will of what his viewers want to hear.
It is no wonder, then, that Hannity’s show is so wildly popular. It is watched by people who are getting exactly what they are asking for in terms of political spin. They are embodying the idea that media has no values of its own, but rather reflects the ideas of the consumer themself.
Hannity’s transparency on this matter is startling when one considers the relationship his viewers have with his show. For many, Hannity is seen as news, unfiltered, uncensored, unbiased. The fact that he himself makes no such claims seems not to matter to those watching at home.
This reveals a profound problem in the way Americans interact with their information. The lines between facts and opinions have become blurred. The skills by which we observe our deliverers of information have dulled, and we have lost our ability to synthesize information on our own.
Regardless of whether Hannity’s opinions line up with your own, it is important to know what we are watching when we see it. Hannity is offering an extended opinion piece, a kind of long-form editorial that is untethered by traditional journalistic values. It is the fault of the viewer if one is to give him a level of credibility that he makes no claim of for himself.