On Monday morning, Sean Hannity, the talk-radio host and the star of the Fox News Channel’s angriest and most watched prime-time show, defended himself in a tweet. “In spite of reports,” Hannity insisted, “I will be doing a live show from Cape Girardeau and interviewing President Trump before the rally. To be clear, I will not be on stage campaigning with the President. I am covering final rally for my show. Something I have done in every election in the past.”
The tweet was, it would turn out, a work not just of fiction, but of fan fiction. Hannity, after ending his show on Monday evening—an episode that was broadcast (this part was accurate) from Donald Trump’s rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri—did the precise thing he had promised he wouldn’t: Beckoned by the president, Hannity strode onto the presidential stage. The line dividing the news commentator from the newsmaker, one that had for so long been stretched to precarious tautness, finally snapped. “They’re very special,” the president said as Hannity and another Fox guest, Jeanine Pirro, crossed over from the screen to the stage. “They’ve done an incredible job for us. They’ve been with us from the beginning.”
The Fox News Channel, wanting to preserve the news in its name, has been at pains for years to insist that it is both more and less than it is. The network has attempted to live within a paradox—defining itself both as a typical news network and as a news network that is somehow not a member of “the media”—which is also to say that it has attempted to have it both ways. Hannity, however, has complicated that. The fact that the president of the United States reportedly watches Fox News in lieu of reading White House–prepared briefing papers has complicated that. The fact that Hannity offers Trump advice complicates that. And Monday’s performance further complicated that. Here was Hannity, his network’s most popular and most emblematic star, shedding the illusion of distance between Fox’s air and the White House’s. Here he was, on the eve of one of the most consequential elections in an American generation, proclaiming himself to be what of course he has been all along: an extension of the White House communications shop. A loyal servant. A happy warrior. A press secretary by another means.