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West Michigan Journalists don’t challenge talk show pundit Sean Hannity

April 9, 2010

Syndicated talk show Host Sean Hannity stopped in Grand Rapids yesterday as part of a book tour, with his newest rant Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda.

About 700 people showed up at Schuler Books in Kentwood to buy Hannity’s book and get a glimpse of the right-wing pundit. All of the major daily news outlets reported on Hannity’s visit and most of them treated it like a celebrity citing.

WOOD radio did not do a news story about Hannity’s stop in Grand Rapids, which makes sense at some level since their station airs the right-wing pundits show Monday-Friday from 3-6pm. The Clear Channel owned radio station did broadcast live from the bookstore and featured photos of the talk show host’s visit.

WOOD TV 8 had the shortest story of the three Grand Rapids-based TV stations, while WXMI and WZZM all provided longer stories.

The FOX 17 story was produced like political theater with a few comments from those who came to hear Hannity. One woman says he is a “true American.” The WXMI broadcast also mentions that a “lone dissenter” was outside the bookstore, but they never expressed what the person was objecting to.

The WXMI story did mention Hannity’s relationship to the Tea Party movement, but they don’t challenge him on the movement’s racist comments and increasing call for violence against the government. Hannity said of the Tea Party movement, “To see people, on their own, calling congress, calling the senate, to see people get motivated, to get involved in the government process, for people to say, ‘you know what? I care about the America we’re going to leave our children and grandchildren,’ is frankly inspiring to me.”

WZZM 13 did the best job of three TV stations by actually challenging Hannity on his message and whether or not it influences or inspires reactionary groups like the Hutaree militia. Hannity responded by saying, “Oh, God, I hope not. That’s not the people I’m seeing at town halls.”

However, the channel 13 reporter lets Hannity off the hook by not verifying any of the claims the talk show host has made not talking with an independent source to get a sense of what role the Hannity plays in the current anti-government currents.

The only local news agency to get input from a non-partisan and independent perspective was the Grand Rapids Press. They spoke with GVSU Professor Erika King who said, “Sean Hannity doesn’t pretend to be a neutral political observer. Nobody expects him to do that.” Not exactly a useful analysis for understanding the talk show host’s role in current politics.

Hannity however, has a long history of engaging in media distortions, lies and hate speech. According to Rory O’Connor, Hannity was fire from his first radio show (1987) because he made anti-gay/lesbian remarks. O’Connor notes in his book Shock Jocks: Hate Speech & Talk Radio, that Hannity has made numerous claims on air that are just simply lies. Some of those statements are, “It doesn’t say anywhere in the Constitution this idea of the separation of church and state.” Hannity has also claimed that the Democratic National Convention doctored the photos of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison and in 2004 he fabricated a poll, which said that minorities supported the end of Social Security.

According to Media Matters, Hannity appeared at and broadcast live last year at a Tea Party Tax Day rally in Atlanta and this week the West Michigan Tea Party website featured Hannity’s visit to Schuler Books.

Media Matters also did a fact check on Hannity’s new book and found 20 falsehoods, smears and distortions. One of those examples deals with the racist language of the Tea Party:

While discussing the tea party movement, Hannity writes that the “lion’s share of the ideas coming out of the Tea Party protests are indeed positive, but they lack any kind of organizational unity.” In the next paragraph, Hannity positively cites Dale Robertson for challenging “Republicans in name only”:

The lion’s share of the ideas coming out of the Tea Party protests are indeed positive, but they lack any kind of organization unity — which is inevitable in such a decentralized, grassroots movement. We also see, within the movement, a good amount of single-issue advocacy — the kind of passionate activism that can have the power to ignite a movement, but cannot on its own sustain a new “revolution” unless it’s consolidated into a unified vision.

The Tea Party protests will continue, as I believe they should. They have been an indispensable catalyst to energize our troops to fight back. They have done more than that as well, supporting, for example, constitutionally conservative candidates against RINOs — Republicans in name only — such as helping to oust Florida’s Republican Party chairman. “We are turning our guns on anyone who doesn’t support constitutionally conservative candidates,” said Dale Robertson, who helped start the Tea Party movement two years ago. [Pages 193-194]

Hannity’s tea party leader was reportedly kicked out of tea party event for carrying sign with racial slur. The Washington Independent’s David Weigel reported on January 4 that “Dale Robertson, a Tea Party activist who operates, is getting stung for an old photo — taken at the Feb. 27, 2009 Tea Party in Houston — in which he holds a sign reading ‘Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar.’ ” Weigel also reported that “Josh Parker of the Houston Tea Party Society tells me that Robertson was booted out of the event for this sign.” Weigel included this picture:

It is unfortunate that the West Michigan news media did not apply some of the same investigative journalism skills with Hannity’s visit. Instead, the news media for the most part gave Hannity a free pass to say whatever he wanted without verifying his claims or the content of his latest book.

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