"President Obama is weak on national defense" is something Sean Hannity loves to repeat to his audience. Because Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have publicly hoped Obama fails, it's no surprise they continue their mutiny against our military's Commander In Chief, even on the announcement of a troop surge in Afghanistan. Hannity is not ashamed to hype up fear and doubt in the minds of American families, predicting on his show that the USA is one horrendous national security crisis away from abandoning Obama for a Conservative who is "strong on national defense". This of course, shows our enemies we are a divided people, allowing them more post-9/11 gloating.
Hannity feels Obama should extend the Iraq and Afghanistan wars until we've "won" to remain on the offensive in the "war on terror". Not only doesn't anyone understand what Hannity means by "winning" or "war on terror", this country's second biggest radio pundit won't even answer the question. Is it when suicide attacks cease? Will that ever happen?
Both Hannity and Limbaugh have said on the air that Iran should be bombed by us - a prospect that any sober Mid East expert would agree assures a deadly escalation in attacks on American citizens, allies and interests.
But even as Hannity derides Obama for not being aggressive enough, Hannity himself refuses to respond to published criticisms of his professional ethics, journalistic standards, ulterior motives and connections to taxpayer-funded propaganda operations originating inside the Bush White House for which records are hidden.
If Hannity believes our country must get tough against it's enemies, he sets a poor personal example for bravery when he cowers from head-to-head debate live on the air with articulate, informed liberals, censoring qualified guests who have highly relevant facts to add to his claims on America's most important issues.
To critical-thinking parents, issues like the economy and war must be debated transparently. We need our best minds weighing in and stress-testing their arguments so voters can make informed decisions. If Hannity says we need tax cuts for the rich so they can create jobs for the rest of us, we must hear him defend this under scrutiny - the opposing view - then we must review the research, we must decide for ourselves. It's quite fair to say that Hannity wants another neocon elected president to secure tax cuts for the most wealthy. Congress did just this in 2001 and 2003 using the same controversial reconciliation method Hannity now calls "ramming it down our throats".
American parents cannot decide without the proper 411, Sean. Do not say Reaganomics created jobs without delineating how many were low-paying, no-benefits jobs during the gentrification and franchisation of America as short-term profits chased entire industries overseas. We need the full stats: how many of those jobs were "second" jobs? How many were American owned companies? How much did the deficit grow?
It's easy to spin the stats, but it's beyond yellow-bellied weakness that Hannity won't debate smart critics on the air - it's an admission that his arguments cannot hold up till he figures out something tricky to say "unilaterally".
Though some issues are subjective, some are less so.Hannity cannot defend Bush's management of pre-war intel to an insider like Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. Tens of millions are therefore missing the opportunity to hear Hannity's claims vetted where they were made. Here is a relevant, articulate guest, a first-hand witness to Cheney and Scooter Libby's intelligence chicanery, who is willing to do national interviews over the public airwaves so ordinary folks can make up their own minds (telling truths his boss Colin Powell should have publicized himself long ago).
Is There A Measure For Journalistic Balance?
Anyone who called for Dan Rather to be fired for his 'partisan' journalism in the Texas Air Guard story leading up to the 2004 election feels there is a line for broadcasters and Rather crossed it. It is totally reasonable, therefore, to apply this same standard to Hannity or Limbaugh. While Rather's story turned out to be true - Bush abandoned his military post to work on a political campaign - one questionable document was enough to seal Rather's fate - he was fired and tossed on his ear by CBS/Viacom.
This brings us to Hannity's "accidental" astroturfing report on Michelle Bachmann's rally at the Capitol. While newspapers reported a possible 10,000 attendees, Hannity suggested there were more like 30,000 protesters. When celebrity participant Jon Voigt claimed on the air 40,000 were there, Hannity added that the whole event came together by spontaneous word-of-mouth.
Soon after, Hannity's TV show was found to have spliced in video of crowd scenes from a more crowded rally held in September. Hannity apologized, explaining it was an accident and there was no intentional deception. But skeptics still ask how old footage of big crowds could have "mistakenly" been added to a current clip, especially given the discrepancy between the turnout numbers Hannity broadcast and what eyewitnesses reported. Fox issued a proclamation that they would start to fire subordinates if this kind of funny stuff continued.
Rather's Executive Critics Let Hannity Skate
Does The First Amendment Include Propaganda?
Nope. There are prohibitions and penalties on free speech. For example, when that speech incites violence, causes riots, violates noise ordinances, signage restrictions, libel laws, obscenity laws, littering or vandalism laws, product safety laws, false labeling, junk faxing, spam, electioneering and copyright statutes. These are just some examples of limits on free speech.
All these regulations protect us from abuse, yet can be exploited themselves, preventing (or allowing) the selling of snake oil, or someone putting stickers on our car, dropping leaflets in our yard, making enormous signs, pirating movies, yelling fire in a theater, or false promises (for example, the Miracle Ear filters out the sounds you don't want to hear).
US history documents these abuses and attempted remedies, such as requirements for open public debate, transparency in courts and penalties for slander. But the authors of the first amendment couldn't imagine how technologies like TV and radio could be exploited for propaganda. Just this week, Rwandan DJ Valerie Bemeriki was given a life sentence, joining her bosses in prison for radio broadcasts encouraging persecution of Tutsis in 1994.
Would our founding fathers have permitted this on American airwaves? We know they wanted a proper, well-rounded education for the electorate, the sentiment that gave us the nation's first public schools.
During WWII, America saw how deadly effective radio propaganda could be. So the government tried to clean up bias-in-broadcasting with the Smith Mundt Act and the Fairness Doctrine of 1949, federal laws which required ethical self-policing and equal time provisions. The laws were impossible to enforce and vulnerable to abuse by officials to silence political criticism, but in practical terms it kept most political debate off the air entirely.
Armed with arguments fashioned by then-attorneys Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, Reagan struck down the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and Rush Limbaugh went on the air. Corporate partner Clearchannel bought him a station in almost every market during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and he became the litmus-test case for slanted political discussion, winning over fans as he changed the way political fact and opinion were allowed to be presented over public airwaves - unapologetically partisan with no internal checks, corporate ombudsmen or ethics boards.
Despite wide denouncement of Limbaugh's tactics, he got insanely rich off a dedicated right wing listener base. Hannity would join him, pushing the limits and precedent for on-air electioneering for candidates like Rudy Giuliani, George Allen and Rick Santorum who became frequent, favored guests as they were running for office but while their opponents were not heard from.
Hannity also announced a set of principles for political candidates to follow, inspiring the GOP's "purity test" and has just recently launched a district-by-district interactive map and Conservative voting guide, blurring the lines between "news, talk and opinion" and "electioneering communications" which are subject to transparency regulations, funding restrictions and other free speech limitations.
Should the US Have Legislative or Grassroots Enforcement of Balance?
Scalia is now one of five in-the-tank Conservatives on the high Court and if he gets his way, foreign entities like al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Kremlin or neo-Nazis will have an easy time funding US candidates or producing electioneering programming to help win office, making propaganda essentially legal - as they almost literally buy members of our Congress.
These legal and legislative debates over political free speech are tricky because the administration in power at any given time is liable to seek advantages over their detractors. Thus, the American people should decide, not the government.
Ultimately, Hannity's censure should come from those who feel that refusal to engage in honest debate is propaganda. This includes Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews, accused of left-wing bias and censorship themselves. Yes, "the left does it too" arguments are valid to the extent MSNBC and others intentionally squelch relevant perspectives, censor critics, or fail to publicly solicit fair representation of opposing views.
Who should Hannity debate?
Alan Colmes served as Fox's in-house "left wing" balance with mixed results for years until he was scrapped for a panel format. While liberals might chomp at the bit to see whip-smart Rachel Maddow or Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman or editor of The Nation Katrina vanden Heuval take on Hannity openly, Hannity surrogates say it's against their financial interest to give air time to a media competitor. Frequent substitute Mark Simone said as much on Hannity's show, exposing their fervor for market dominance and profits over the public's need to hear balance or necessary news items.
But this still should not pre-empt authors such as Naomi Wolf, Naomi Klein or Thomas Ricks, or whistleblowers like Scott McClellan who had fascinating exchanges during his press tours.
A recent appearance by Michael Moore on Hannity's Fox-TV show allowed viewers a rare glimpse at what real head-to-head debate might look like. Hannity dodged or ignored questions about everything from his journalistic ethics to his religious morality. In a stunning back-and-forth between qualified opponents in a debate over economic policy, Hannity listeners heard for perhaps the first time that our own FBI has already surmised that a massive bank fraud crime wave was the principal cause of America's sub-prime mortgage crisis. See Hannity squirm as he allows this fact to go out over the air, abruptly changing topics before Moore could inform the public that a sizable FBI task force preventing the spread of mortgage fraud was dismantled by President Bush after 9/11.
Selling The Terror in "War on Terror"
So expect more fearmongering this Christmas season - America will be "unsafe" and vulnerable to extremist attacks if we do not borrow from our kids' piggy banks to support a large ground troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, paying private contractors twice as much as our soldiers receive. Do not think too hard about the fact that Hannity will not define "victory" militarily (or "defeat" economically). Even if he did, we have not seen measurable results after fighting on these fronts for so many years - we can just tell our bankrupt children "mistakes were made" because we were influenced by broadcasters who failed to explore more than one side of the issue, the same excuse Bush apologists give for blundering into Iraq in the first place.
For those of us that do think for ourselves, consider the fact that the "Awakening" success of General Petraeus' Iraqi troop surge hinged on US taxpayer cash going to deadly insurgents and their affiliates to lay down their arms. With a reported 20% of the military budget in Afghanistan already going to the Taliban and other tribal warlords as bribes for not attacking our convoys on their roads, I'd say our strategy of paying radicals not to kill us is a strange signal that we lost a long time ago. Whether to wage war or not is a valid question for us today, but choosing war without paying for it is an economic loss our kids will suffer under for a long time.
So Hannity continually calls for the President to confront our foes around the globe while his call screeners hang up on PhD's and censor published authors, policy experts, pundits and even moms, dads or students who want a fair chance to put crucial evidence into the most-listened to radio discussions in America.
UPDATE: In a recent turnabout, I just learned Mr. Hannity invited Rep. Dennis Kucinich on his show last Friday - look for coverage of that appearance in a future post. Yesterday however, Hannity received a relative pasting on his radio show as he allowed a notably more articulate spate of liberal callers on the air. One caller in the 5'o clock hour accused Hannity of selling war to the public because he was in bed with private profiteers. Hannity acknowledged he thought Raytheon, as one example, was a great company and actually admitted (albeit somewhat facetiously) that he indeed was part of the "Military Industrial Complex" President Eisenhower warned would engage in wars of choice to amass wealth.
I applaud Hannity's recent uptick in honesty, allowing a smattering of intelligent left-wing points of view on the air. He didn't even bleep and cut off the caller who mentioned the Iran-Contra scandal like he did last time! Were Hannity to represent actual public political sentiment at realistic levels (or "democratically"), his show would become much more interesting and news-worthy, but Hannity must balance this with fear he may be discovered complicit in war crimes or violating domestic propaganda statutes as Bush's loyal spokesman.
So as always, look for the appearance of balance rather than the real thing. If it's not live head-to-head, civil debate between heavyweights using transparent journalistic standards, it's not helpful. Do your part - ask questions civilly and tweet (using the #hannity hashtag) when you hear another manipulation made.