By Isaac Peterson
[Editor’s note: The MSR welcomes back its former staff writer with timely observations on Congressman Ellison’s controversial run-in with talk-show host Sean Hannity.]
If you don’t keep up with political Internet blogs, you might have missed a huge story that had left-leaning bloggers laughing and cheering and many bloggers on the right clutching their pearls and looking for a fainting couch.
For the amount of handwringing and gnashing of teeth on the right, you would think Barack Obama had just declared himself president for life and outlawed the Republican Party. It turned out that, for them, it was something almost as horrifying: Congressman Keith Ellison had appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox ”News” Network program. And he was mean to Sean.
Hannity was doing his usual fact-free smearing of Obama, playing a montage of edited, out-of-context clips of Obama blaming the sequester on Republicans. Obama has been outspoken recently about that very thing, but Fox, as usual, went far out of their way to paint it as a lie (it’s not) and fear-mongering. And Hannity has been one of Fox’s point men on that front.
Then, in a very ill-advised move, Hannity announced that Keith was there to respond. I could see what was coming like a scene in a slasher flick featuring slow-moving teenagers in a lakefront cabin on a dark night. I had that kind of feeling, the kind that makes you holler, ”No — don’t go in the basement!”
Hannity went right down the basement steps and there was Keith waiting, who right off the bat told Hannity, ”Quite frankly, you are the worst excuse for a journalist I’ve ever seen.” And when Hannity pretended he hadn’t heard, Keith then informed him that ”What you just displayed was not journalism. It was yellow journalism. It wasn’t anything close to try to tell the American people what’s really going on. I mean it’s just shocking.”
And then, for Hannity, it all went downhill from there. Sean had tried to set Keith up to try to keep him off balance and defending Obama, but Hannity was the one who ended up off balance and needing defense against Ellison’s nonstop barrage.
Keith turned Hannity’s usual tactic against him, telling Hannity, among other things, that Hannity is a shill for the Republican Party. The only reason Hannity never lost control was that he never had it and was reduced to ending the interview early.
How badly whipped was Hannity? By the next morning, it seemed like the entire GOP was out doing damage control, including statements from as high up as the Republican National Congressional Committee, who called Keith’s performance ”childish.” (Wait a minute — I thought the GOP went way out of its way to deny any relationship between themselves and Fox.)
Bloggers throughout the right whined about what Ellison had done, some calling for him to apologize or for other Democrats to denounce him. Why? What deference does an elected member of the U.S. Congress owe the likes of Hannity? Is Sean Hannity a world leader? Has Hannity been elected or appointed to high office? Is he a high-level religious leader, like a pope? A Nobel Prize winner?
No, Sean Hannity is just the loudmouthed and opinionated host of a cable TV program. On Fox ”News.”
And good luck getting Keith Ellison to apologize for telling the unvarnished truth. It would be a better use of time for Fox to actually be “fair and balanced.” (But then, trying to get Fox to change would be like advising a vampire to straighten up and get a day job.)
When someone like Hannity or Limbaugh is criticized, often the defense of what they do is that they’re ”just entertainers.” I love how Keith’s critics are up in arms over how he used Hannity’s tactics against him — but somehow, when Keith did it, it wasn’t entertaining.
But from where I sit, that’s entertainment.
The smack-down Keith laid on Hannity was so harsh, Sean complained about Keith on his show the rest of the week. He compared Keith to the KKK, invoked the Nation of Islam and Black militant Khalid Muhammad, and criticized Keith’s one-time support for Louis Farrakhan, which I’ve read Keith has since disavowed. And Hannity, apparently having learned not to go back into the basement, launched his attacks without Keith there to respond.
I’m still looking, but so far I haven’t seen any releases calling Hannity’s attacks on Keith in Keith’s absence ”childish.” In fact, why are Hannity’s tactics not childish when he himself uses them? Why are those tactics okay when Hannity uses them, but outrageous when they’re used against him?
And how could Hannity have expected one of the most outspoken and straight-talking members in all of U.S. government to come on his show and be the meek little lamb? Why the surprise that Keith Ellison has an opinion and wasn’t afraid to say what it is?
Why expect Keith to come on and not be Keith? The Keith that Hannity wanted him to be would have never have been elected in his district.
I read recently that Fox’s viewership is at its lowest level in 12 years. Here’s an idea to bring their ratings back up: Bring on Keith Ellison to do his number on Hannity more often. Make him a regular on Bill O’Reilly’s ego-fest of a program; I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone have a stroke on live TV.
In fact, give Keith his own program on Fox, and let Keith be Keith — let him talk about what he thinks of all the rest of Fox’s programming. Now, that would make it bearable and fun to have Fox on all the televisions in bars, restaurants, and airport terminals all over the country.
Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.