“My overpaid friends in the media, well, they have their chauffeur-driven limousines, they like their fine steakhouses and expensive-wine lifestyles. None of them are feeling this, the people you’re watching on TV, and therein lies the contempt.”
That was Fox News star Sean Hannity back in September 2016, speaking out against the mainstream media for being out of touch with everyday working Americans and not understanding the struggles they face. This was, of course, framed within the presidential election as Hannity claimed those in the media were elitists who were championing Hillary Clinton.
At the time, Hannity’s comments were ridiculed due to his massive $29 million salary (now $36 million) and the fact that he had recently let Newt Gingrich use his private jet to fly to a meeting with then-candidate Donald Trump. Yet, that didn’t stop Hannity from railing against the rest of the media. After Trump’s surprising election victory, the Fox News star has devoted much of his airtime to painting the “Destroy Trump Media” as out-of-touch elitists who are cocooned in their liberal bubbles.
In the wake of recent revelations, however, can Hannity continue to sell this narrative? And will his audience continue to buy his working-class shtick?
It was a week ago when it came out that Hannity was the secret third client of Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen. While Hannity has described the relationship as informal largely centered on real estate questions and much ado about nothing — an explanation Fox News has bought as it stands behind its star — the revelation not only brings up issues of disclosure and journalistic ethics, it also shines the spotlight on the too-chummy relationship Hannity enjoys with the president.
Following the Cohen news, the Washington Post reported that Hannity is essentially the president’s shadow chief of staff and that the two men speak regularly on the phone. When he’s not speaking with the Fox News host, “Trump is known to cite Hannity when he talks with White House advisers.”
But besides Hannity basically having a desk in the West Wing and sharing a lawyer with the President of the United States, the Cohen revelation also has led to reporting by The Guardian’s Jon Swaine that highlighted Hannity’s previously unknown real estate empire. And how Hannity’s real estate dealings placed him in proximity to a fraudulent property dealer.
Earlier this week, Swaine reported that over the past decade, Hannity had spent over $90 million to purchase more than 870 homes, ranging from mansions to low-income rentals. On top of that, the conservative commentator had obtained many of those properties via HUD mortgages, something that wasn’t disclosed when he praised HUD Secretary Ben Carson during an interview on his show last year. Since Carson took over HUD, Hannity saw his HUD loans increased by $5 million.
Swaine followed that report with another one showing that one of Hannity’s shell companies purchased homes from a dealer who had rigged foreclosure auctions. That dealer eventually served time in prison for the conspiracy. It doesn’t appear that Hannity had any knowledge those home purchases were involved in fraud.
What these recent stories show, more than anything, is just how much Hannity is part of the elite. He not only has the ear of the leader of the free world, but he is also directly influencing policy. As he amasses a real estate empire, he utilizes the government to help increase his holdings — all while he maintains a friendly relationship with the leader of HUD. And on top of all of this, he’s retained the president’s “fixer” — potentially to deal with these real estate issues.
So is he going to keep portraying himself as some kind of regular, blue-collar guy to his audience? Will he keep acting like it is the rest of the media — consisting largely of folks mired in the lower-middle-class — who are out of touch with struggling Middle America? Will the guy with the president’s cell phone number continue to pretend like he’s an outsider? And more than anything, will his viewers and listeners continue to buy this act?