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Is Sean Hannity's Political Talk Hampering Our Children's Critical Thinking?

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With the USA in uncertain economic straits, you would think American parents would be looking more closely at their children's civic education. Despite an ever increasing availability of data, media and technology, however, our kids often develop warped perspectives because they are not being exposed to the range of views present in "reality". This will affect their health, wealth, well-being and political views and will shape America's future.

The problem is that "learning" today is less about going to school or reading and more like negotiating a super-barrage of media inundation where money trumps accuracy. Fake news and slanted discussion is churned out to sell us on political narratives using the emotion-tugging methods perfected by the manipulative geniuses in advertising, marketing, mass-messaging and mutant hybrids thereof.

Many Americans don't realize the effect the multimillionaires secretly exert on public debate of issues. Today's talk radio industry has made propaganda a part of everyday life, expanding political speech we used to see only in campaign ads fully into the content of three-hour shows. But unlike truth-in-advertising regulations that mandate accuracy or balance (as in pharmaceutical ads), nothing compels hosts, producers or execs to be honest - there are no industry guidelines and no legal requirements anymore.

So America's top-rated talkers exaggerate, obfuscate and deceive our citizens every day as they ironically claim both patriotic and spiritual high ground, contradicting not only America's noblest responsibility, but updated "sin" canons issued by the Pope in 2008 including "social injustice which causes[s] poverty or the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few."

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During the Bush era, many of the biggest debates concerning our security and domestic policy have been hijacked by monied minorities with hidden agendas buying high-visibility messaging from friendly media surrogates. Corporate cash translates very easily into air time, whether it's George Soros or the secret financiers behind the Swift Boat ads.

Ping Pong Politics

There is no question the right and left battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate using propaganda instead of open discussion. Each accuses the other of it, but neither admits any fault. There is a difference for the critical thinker, however, and especially for responsible, no-nonsense parents.
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We can either accept the current climate of dueling right vs. left spin machines, or start to insist on a shared open dialogue where accusations can be corrected - on the record - where they originated.

When Sean Hannity stacks the deck by arguing important issues without taking on any qualified adversaries, he weaves a daily narrative that assaults my morals as a citizen, teacher and a dad. Because Hannity's broadcasts lack basic journalistic balance, kids who listen are getting short-changed -- if not brainwashed. With Hannity and Rush Limbaugh representing the most listened-to talk radio hosts (by far), we must consider our minimums for ethics-in-broadcasting because, shamefully, these industry leaders have shaped political discourse to deeply divide the U.S., while reducing our ability to make sound decisions because available facts are missing. This, at a time when we need our best-ever ideas.

Hannity is clear in stating he believes in tax breaks for the wealthy so they can create jobs for the rest of us. Thus, Hannity is a never-ending infomercial for those in the highest tax brackets, sharing his airwaves with Karl Rove, Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, Jerome Corsi and a parade of the hottest neocon luminaries, but shuns all guests he knows will pop his fake plastic "torpedos of truth".

Hannity's core sponsors include the radically partisan Heritage Foundation (one could easily mistake a Hannity rant for a paid ad on his show). Heritage founder Paul Weyrich memorably stated: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down..."

Hannity's artful genius is the way he gets so many middle class listeners to vote to actually lower taxes for the extremely rich, but this may not be so easy if pressure was brought onto Hannity to allow calls and guests in realistic proportion to the actual population. No, Hannity's show is about repetition and moving along quickly when someone tries to bring facts into this neocon bubble.

How is this different from Keith Olbermann or the left? It's very different for the critical thinking American parent. If one pundit includes the perspective of his opponent to openly make a case against it, it is not the same as another pundit who plays dumb, pretending counter-arguments simply don't exist. Whether it's about the economy, terrorism, war, health care, national polls or the real grit and criminality behind American politics, Hannity cherry-picks and hides key facts all day.

By contrast, Hannity-watchers such as Fox Hounds or Media Matters include Hannity's statements in point-by-point, openly reasoned arguments against them for all to see online. Hannity never discusses these reports on air, hoping listeners will not notice. If informed, articulate callers do get by his picky screeners to challenge him, he shifts the discussion, conveniently goes to a break, cuts them off, drowns them out, shouts over them, hangs up, interrupts them or just deletes them entirely using the delay button.

This is why you've never heard any of a number of scandals or important stories on Hannity's broadcasts: the Downing Street memos, the orders to illegally torture and sexually humiliate detainees, the Italian letter, the Ohio 2004 election fraud case, vote caging lists, violations of the Presidential Records Act, the DC Madam call lists, Abramoff's payoffs, Halliburton's fraud/negligence and countless other major stories which completely expose Hannity as a loyal neocon stooge, floating on a raft of glaring political hypocrisies.

Frequent guest Karl Rove, George Bush, Dick Cheney and other Administration cronies find comfort with Sean because he doesn't bring up the criminal accusations. Worst of all, Hannity advocates expanding war today without taking a grain of responsibility for hard-selling it for over eight years based on "bad intel", even after top-level defectors have confirmed Bush's Iraq team deliberately perpetrated a hoax on the USA.

The Fake Equivalency Trick

Left-wingers Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann therefore do not "do it too" as these talk radio hosts assert. There is a huge difference between Hannity and Maddow's methodology, the way she provides relevant background on issues before introducing opinion or analysis, or airs corrections when proven wrong. Rachel Maddow also has made multiple open calls for right-wingers to appear as guests in civil debate on her MSNBC show and airs their refusals to appear as proof of greater journalistic even-handedness.

Consider these dramatic examples of Maddow going head-to-head with right-wingers Pat Buchanan, Dick Armey (who resigned days later), Tim Phillips, Tom Ridge, David Frum, Joe Scarborough, McCain campaign rep Nancy Pfotenhauer, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Jon Henke, Rick Berman, Meghan McCain, Dick Shelby, Sen. Tom Coburn and others - notice how the viewer benefits when right and left clash openly in these potent clips. Is this equivalent to Hannity lecturing "Larry the lib" from Cleveland?

Even Ann Coulter deserves more credit for courage than Hannity or Limbaugh who cower from smart liberals. In this rare unscripted exchange you'll see Bill Maher coaxing Ann Coulter to admit George Bush's presidency had "big problems" to the delight of the liberal audience. As a concerned parent, I want my children to witness balanced discussion like this so they can learn and make their minds up.

Corporatizing Elections

This issue is crucial to the future of the U.S. as capitalists seek less regulation on the use of money to mislead the population on a host of issues. The Supreme Court is now considering overturning parts of McCain-Feingold covering campaign funding laws, specifically funding of attack ads by corporations or foreign donors. Part of the issue is whether international entities will have the right to influence federal elections.

The test case involved Citizens United, a right wing nonprofit run by longtime anti-Clinton operatives. They produced "Hillary: The Movie" designed to bash Clinton during her 2008 presidential run, but was paid for by corporate cash without following political fundraising rules. Banned by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), it was ruled "electioneering communications" because the movie was to air within 30 days of the election and it's sole purpose was to convince viewers that Clinton was unfit for office.

In this appeal, Citizens United's lead attorney Ted Olson has called for unrestricted electioneering communications, allowing funding directly from corporations, including those foreign-held - this has been illegal since 1990. Olson noted one's financial status should not determine their ability to engage in political "free speech" while at the same time arguing wealthy corporations should have the same rights as individual citizens, even if they are controlled by foreign governments.From Olson's own Wall Street Journal editorial:

The government defends this restriction by saying that corporations and unions are uniquely capable of amassing great wealth and must therefore be prevented from overwhelming the voices of others during an election. Relying on a 1990 Supreme Court decision (Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce), the government characterizes this threat as a "type of corruption" on the peculiar theory that such expenditures do not "reflect actual public support for the political ideas espoused by corporations." Therefore, the government reasons, corporate expenditures "distort" the political process and must be banned.

Olson (portrayed by actor Paul Jeans in the movie "Recount") was instrumental in 2000 convincing the Supreme Court to stop the Florida recount and skip judicial oversight of the disputed election, representing George W. Bush. Another key member of that same Bush legal team in Florida was John Roberts, later made Chief Justice of the court by Bush! Justice Roberts surprised experts by agreeing to hear this case, pitting the popular democratic process against the influence of campaign cash supplied by the wealthiest corporations on the planet.

Isn't Hannity's Show Also "Electioneering Communications"?

As some have suggested, this begs the same questions of talk radio shows like Hannity's which calls itself the "Stop Obama Express". During the 2008 election, the principal thrust of Hannity's broadcasts were clearly proclaiming Obama unfit for office and this continues today, with Hannity blatantly creating his own district-by-district voter's guide. In light of the McCain-Feingold lawsuit, is it legal for private corporate sponsors to support Sean Hannity as he musters everything possible for four hours a day to bash or pimp up candidates over public airwaves?

In the end, it is up to the perceiver - but if, as a parent, you do not believe Hannity should confront the most intelligent peer-reviewed dissent to stand up for his arguments, you are subjecting America's youth to the same propaganda the World War II generation felt should be stamped out.

It is perfectly fine for broadcasters to have a political ideology, but if they cover and discuss news and politics, they should be obligated to follow the basic moral responsiblity we teach fifth graders learning how to write an essay in school. You cannot announce WMD were located in Iraq, for example, on a Friday afternoon, have it debunked over the weekend, and fail to mention it the following week - not ethically, anyway.

If America's biggest radio personalities feel no need to model morals for our children, it's time parents, industry groups, educators, sponsors and the religious community shame them into volunteering better balance, just like we teach our own children the concept of fair play. Hannity may accept that his supporters are gullible and play to their emotions, but we need him on board to make younger Americans a more discriminating, well-informed generation because the previous generation, made up of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, liberal and independents alike has left the kids with incomprehensible debt while the rich got richer.

As for Sean Hannity, he will have a lot of explaining to do when his kids come home from their first day in a real journalism class. That is, unless they've already been taught that money trumps one's moral responsibility to tell one's countrymen the truth - the whole truth - and nothing but.


(OpEdNews Contributing Editor since October 2006) Inner city schoolteacher from New York, mostly covering media manipulation. I put election/finance reform ahead of all issues but also advocate for fiscal conservatism, ethics in journalism and (more...)

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