Last night, I expected Sean Hannity would fail the American public similarly in his interview with President Donald Trump. But it wouldn’t be fair to beer-guzzling amateurs playing recreational slow-pitch to compare what I saw to softball.
T-ball is closer to the mark.
At the interview’s end, Hannity said this about his approach to asking questions: “Sometimes I know when you do other interviews that people want to play gotcha. But every once in a while, I think it’s important for the American people to hear you in answer in your own words at length on some important issues.”
Let’s look at what that meant in practice.
A long stretch at the beginning of the interview was dedicated to telling Trump that he was victimized by the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, and the FBI. Hannity asked Trump to react, prompting answers such as, “I think it’s far bigger than Watergate. I think it’s possibly the biggest scandal in political history in this country.”
Consider all the probing questions one might ask a Republican president about energy policy, or the political strengths and weaknesses of the Democratic Party.
Here is how the Fox News host teed up his guest on those subjects:
We have not just Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez—about 100 House, Senate members at least and many of the Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 have bought into the New Green Deal. Everything is free, no oil, no gas. Comrade de Blasio has added no steel building or glass buildings in New York in five years. But importantly, airplanes are gone, combustion engines gone. How do you react if these are the policies you will be running against?
The odds that Democrats will run in 2020 on abolishing airplanes, combustion engines, and steel and glass buildings from New York City are zero. So why ask the question in that way? No journalistic impulse could justify it. Hannity teed up a straw man so big, even a child would be unlikely to swing and miss.
It’s interesting because I just heard about this crazy deal in New York City where they want to build concrete buildings with little tiny windows. You know, I built a lot of buildings, Sean. I can tell you, the bigger the window, the better I did with it. People want big windows, and now they’re going to take them down to nothing.
Such is the quality of civic information Hannity drew out of the country’s most powerful man. Here’s Hannity a bit later, asking a worthless question insofar as it could yield only information that Trump already tells the country almost daily:
The Washington Post, The New York Times received Pulitzers for their, quote, coverage of the Russian probe. You’ve seen the coverage for two years. Russia, Russia, Russia. Trump, Trump, Trump. Collusion, collusion, collusion. The Mueller report couldn’t be clearer on the issue specifically. Do you think the news media in this country and their coverage on this owes you an apology?
Inevitably, Hannity provoked the answer, “Well, they do owe me an apology, a big one,” a position that every sentient viewer already knew and that tells Americans absolutely nothing about any of the important challenges facing the country.
A few questions did prompt Trump to speak on newsworthy subjects. “What is your full reaction to the Mueller report?” Hannity said. During follow-up questions about the Russia investigation, Trump declared, “This was an attempted coup.” Hannity neither challenged the claim nor asked Trump to justify it.
I do not object merely that Trump was interviewed by someone who shares his views on most subjects or who wants to see his campaign agenda come to fruition. Presidents ought to give some interviews to journalists who are sympathetic to the vision that they set forth. But those journalists should still hold them accountable to the public by asking tough questions about their progress, their unkept promises, and the thorny trade-offs that they inevitably confront.
That is the job.
Hannity was less a stand-in for the public than a sycophant, proving himself less adept at eliciting new information from Trump than the field on Twitter that perpetually asks, “What’s happening?” Given an opportunity to serve his audience and his country, he failed.