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General News    H4'ed 7/10/11

How Hannity's "Fair and Open" Screeners Censor Liberals

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On last Thursday's radio show, Hannity ended a call with "liberal" Mike Stark, crowing "we are not afraid of liberals, we are willing to have fair and open debate on this program". But Hannity doesn't mean  all liberals, he means only his selected liberal guests and callers. He is not only censoring liberal callers openly where everyone can witness it, but secretly, where he hides his true call screening and censorship practices.

Later in this same program, Hannity was confronted by a well spoken caller upset Karl Rove was calling for caps on jury awards. Hannity challenged the caller to explain where in the Constitution these awards were allowed. The caller stunned Hannity by asking him instead to explain where in the Constitution this was prohibited. They briefly debated the rights of the individual to sue corporations for damages in liability cases when Hannity became flustered, nervously laughing, and simply hung up on the man, pivoting to a live ad by saying "speaking of businesses...".

Step One: Stacking The Deck
On Hannity's show, astute liberal guests are replaced by lightweights. Tough callers are shuffled off the air, cut off and deflected. Unlike radio hosts who have callers stand by through commercial breaks, Hannity uses breaks as trapdoors, sending overly probing callers packing. G'bye!

When an eloquent caller squeaks by the screeners and exposes Hannity for shilling for the rich, they are "potted down" - taken off the air before being allowed to finish their thoughts. Often Hannity repeats the callers words back sarcastically, showing extreme rigidity in refusing to hear out his fellow man. Often callers are belittled as "deranged" for bringing up serious criminal allegations. Hannity also interrupts and sometimes bullies guests, making them answer yes or no in a line of questioning that leads to a repetitive talking point.

Some might say all is fair in partisan political punditry. Being a seasoned talk radio pro, Hannity's greatest asset is precisely the way he can handle caller after caller and evade their every attempt to pin him down on facts and issues. But a less "fair" tactic used on the Hannity show is to retroactively "erase" someone's call, using the delay button as we see happened here to Jeff in Raleigh, NC when he started to talk about bias in political broadcasts. G'bye!

Making Call Screeners Do the Unethical
The public needs America's airwaves to rebut distortions, lies of omission and mischaracterizations on issues like the economy, class warfare and tax breaks for the rich but we are barred from access. If tax cuts for billionaires in fact makes jobs, why can't this claim be vetted "fairly and openly"?

Unknown to his listening audience, Hannity's screeners routinely dump liberal callers, which has been documented over years here and here and here and here. When they hear a hard hitting question, they demand a return phone number, an unnecessary form of intimidation unheard of in other call-in programs. But even if the caller provides a number, they are still barred from getting on the air, told they will be called back another day. If they refuse (or even hesitate) to provide a number, they are summarily and rudely hung up on, silenced and not afforded "fair and open" access.

Especially in light of shocking new charges that allege Hannity's TV parent News Corp. exploited personal phone numbers, paid off crooked law enforcement officers and hired goons to invade the privacy of citizens' voicemail accounts, it's obvious why callers would think twice about providing their private numbers to Fox or Hannity's staff.

Do Callers Want To Provide Their Numbers?
Hannity and his chief call screener Lynda mentioned this censorship and intimidation practice ever so briefly on Hannity's program on Monday, March 7, 2011 in response to a report confirming Hannity's parent company was offering a planted caller service for radio hosts. In our article that weekend, we noted that Hannity had been for too long getting away with the practice of discouraging callers by demanding phone numbers.

During this awkward exchange, a demonstrably offended Hannity asked Lynda if they do take the numbers of callers, as if he was not aware of his own call screening practices. But as we learn, he wanted her to vouch on the air as to why.

Lynda confessed on the air it was true that caller numbers were being extracted, but she misrepresented the reasons. Instead of admitting this was done to discourage liberals who are reticent to provide their numbers, she implied this was done as a favor for callers who wanted to be called back at a "convenient" time. This is simply untrue - according to actual Hannity callers, it was demanded as a condition for air time. Besides, who would want to rehash a topic a day after it was discussed to death? Radio pros know this would be bad practice - you go with topics while they are most relevant.

It is a fabrication and flimsy excuse for Hannity screeners to prune liberals under the guise of managing busy caller lines. It is disproven by eyewitness callers, who were told repeatedly and explicitly they cannot get on the air without giving up a number. After training his staff to restrict equal access to free speech on this public call-in show, Hannity had Lynda fib over the air about making phone numbers mandatory.

One could understand screening out callers who are poor speakers, nervous, boring, rambling, even hostile - but refusing access based on political point of view is not only immoral, it runs afoul of professional ethics, American tradition and the expressed views of the founding fathers. Intellectually speaking, it's cowardice of the highest order. The United States public deserves to hear our best and brightest political ideas openly vetted as they would in any town hall.

The Communications Act of 1934 and subsequent regulations always considered the public interest of paramount importance in allowing broadcast licenses, for example decreeing the government may require a licensee "to conduct himself as a proxy or fiduciary with obligations to present those views and voices which are representative of his community" ensuring they are "accessible to divergent viewpoints, and they must be able to facilitate citizen participation in matters of democratic concern".

Secrets Between Hannity and His Staff?
In the days following Hannity and Limbaugh's adamant denials that they had ever aired planted calls, admissions surfaced that  Glenn Beck, Ed Schultz and others had indeed set-up such calls. Limbaugh confessed he was asked to plant calls "over the years", but kept concealed who among his associations suggested this.

Hannity watchers wondered openly about calls they considered "too perfect" to be real and calls that set-up prepared answers to make Hannity look brilliant, but one such caller revealed that Lynda the screener did in fact coach him with pre-scripted instructions that they asked be kept from Hannity.

Any listener with a pencil can tally the lopsided call ratios, the dim-bulb libs that become Hannity's foils and the noticeable absence of marquee liberal pundits who are replaced by Fox's hired liberals, such as Tamara Holder or Juan Williams. These paid punching bag pundits are reliably ineffective and can't seem to call up any of the readily available counterarguments that debunk Hannity's claims.

Hannity an American Middle Class Impostor
Hannity's listeners might occasionally wonder why they never get to hear juicy head-to-head debate, for example Hannity against Maddow, having it out. This question was answered by Hannity's guest host Mark Simone who asserts that Hannity would not give any of his air time to a media competitor. At best Hannity would be putting ratings and profit above the public good, but we know the real reason - his arguments could never survive. 
Despite this, Hannity still claims to be balanced. He is more open than Rush Limbaugh who was traumatized by a 1990 incident when he was shouted down and called a liar by a CBS TV audience. Humiliated, he had to kick all the people out in order to finish the taping. Through this, he discovered his method for success in talk radio, boasting here the secret was to simply stack the deck. Decades later, Limbaugh was proven right - he unapologetically does not allow dissent on his #1 show.

Hannity owes most of his success to the same strategy, broadcasting in bias to converted dittoheads who expect daily Democrat bashing. But Hannity's "everyman" schtick radically departs from Limbaugh's "screw you, I'm rich" persona. While Limbaugh poses in front of dollar signs and chandeliers, smugly blowing cigar smoke in his photo shoots, Hannity plays the average family man, trying to blend in among actual middle class workers and small business owners as he advocates for tax breaks and subsidies expressly tailored to benefit the country's wealthiest multibillionaires.

Thus, Hannity needs a plausible facade to justify the Orwellian claim of fairness and balance. He takes an occasional fleeting tongue lashing on the air while he fumbles for the volume slider to drown out and dump the voice of hardworking Americans, spinning the stats to make them seem as if they simply have not figured it out yet. This exercise is repeated every weekday as Hannity betrays the middle class and struggling business owner, convincing many that there must only be one "socialized" income tax bracket above $250K because what's good for the most wealthy is good for us all.

Unlike Limbaugh who celebrates excess with hubris, Hannity is Judas, an imposter who will not tolerate open dialogue of the economic realities that prove tax cuts for the rich haven't created jobs, not under Obama/Boehner, not under Bush/Pelosi, not under Bush/Hastert, and only while creating large deficits under Reagan/O'Neill. Conversely, jobs abounded under Clinton/Gingrich when the Earned Income Tax credit turned the tables, and we need jobs now.

Now Directly Bought and Paid For By Heritage Foundation
Hannity continues to peddle trickle-down tax theory, even after the job-killing economic collapse of 2008. The reasons lie in his sponsorships. Hannity is currently being paid in the millions by the Heritage Foundation, a Conservative think tank that originally promoted trickle-down economics under Reagan and recently came under unprecedented scrutiny for years of secret payments to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia.

Not surprisingly, Hannity refused to discuss or even announce a series of articles that broke in Politico and ran in the Washington Post, The Economist and Huffington Post decrying Limbaugh and Hannity's "political payola" and the way multimillion dollar sponsorships are now legal, distorting public debate during talk radio broadcasts.

Though Hannity maintains he agrees with Heritage 99.9% of the time, we wonder what has happened to the provision in the Communication Act of 1934 entitled "Announcement That Matter Is Paid For", otherwise known as Section 317, stating "All matter broadcast by any radio station for which service, money, or any other valuable consideration is directly or indirectly paid, or promised to or charge or accepted by, the station so broadcasting, from any person, shall, at the time the same is so broadcast, be announced as paid for or furnished, as the case may be, by such person."

This seems at odds with Politico's assertion Heritage was paying a premium for Hannity to perform "on-air plugs - praising or sometimes defending the groups, while urging listeners to donate - often woven seamlessly into programming in ways that do not seem like paid advertising."

With the Heritage Foundation channelling over $75 million dollars per year to Conservative members of Congress, Hannity's show becomes the de facto daily drive time infomercial, using Hannity, himself a former blue collar worker as the affable, accessible spokesman middle class voters relate to. But because show content and Heritage talking points become so inextricably entwined, we're seeing a new day in the commodification of programming time and the monetization of a host's endorsements.

As the 2012 elections approach, this will get far muddier. Hannity and Fox already pushed the legal boundaries of electioneering during the 2010 campaign season, actively carrying out on-air partisan fundraising for candidates and providing valuable exclusive exposure to SuperPAC operators. Karl Rove is one example, emboldened by judiciary inaction after the legality of his SuperPAC American Crossroads was questioned under money laundering and racketeering statutes in Ohio.

Sure to be back stronger, only the shame of American middle class voters can stop the expanding numbers of elected officials hopping on the Citizens United secret billionaire money train with Hannity blowing the whistle.

If News Is Not Reported, Does It Make a Sound?
Limbaugh is also being paid directly by the Heritage Foundation, almost twice as much as Hannity's current contract. With combined audiences of perhaps 20 million or more, it's evident why Hannity chose to simply ignore the entire furor. We've seen this repeatedly over the years as scandals break in the news, how Hannity simply whitewashes the stories so they do not sully the virgin ears of his listeners.

When news of the arrest of James O'Keefe broke live during his show on charges of felony phone tampering, Hannity pretended not to notice even though he was most responsible for bringing O'Keefe into national prominence.

Though it may be legal by current interpretations, it's not hard to imagine class action civil suits brought by Americans charging continual and systematic denial of valuable air time and individual liberty based on quantifiable political bias.

Based on Hannity's own on-air claims that his show is "fair and open to liberals", such a lawsuit would live or die depending on the sworn testimony of his call screeners. Are they instructed to allow liberals through without an unreasonable demand for personal information? Are they told to differentiate between informed articulate liberals and nervous airheads?

Why haven't we heard a liberal Ph.D, published author, policy wonk, lawyer, activist, expert or candidate in all these years? Someone to dispute the claims that there were WMD in Iraq? That torture works? That the ultra rich make all the jobs? That deepwater drilling is not safe? Is it fair to call it Obama's recesion? Is it wise to call for the bombing of Iran on the air?
The screeners would know best who calls in looking for the chance to debate these matters, but a key aspect would be the ruling of a prospective judge in the case as to whether the court's need for evidence would supercede the non-disclosure agreement Hannity's screeners likely have signed.
Does Anyone Serve The Public Interest?
As equal time and fairness provisions in regulation of political broadcasts were gradually struck down, it was always maintained that free market solutions would ensure the necessary "public interest" element to preclude government intervention. This relies on a typical advertising model, where companies offering legitimate commercial goods and services support the programming.

But if a Conservative think tank buys multimillion dollar "charter" sponsorships on a show that provides on-air electioneering and candidate fundraising, could this decrease any need to cater to a diverse audience, to provide balance? 
Where ever will we see the honest, open exchange of ideas that will help get us out of the current economic crisis? Maybe it's up to Hannity's call screeners, to finally let the American people talk it over. Sworn to secrecy, it is their own participation that they will have to reconcile when they are faced with the blunt realization that they are working against the vital public interest in a known propaganda operation.
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(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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