Opinion

Sean Hannity and the Republican virtue problem

The Fox News host's grotesque ethical lapse is just the top of a very large pile

The highest-rated show on Fox News is Sean Hannity's hour at 9 p.m. Since the 2016 election, he has been the most shameless lickspittle of President Trump in major media, a man whose life's work became slavishly praising the president, excusing his mistakes, and ferociously attacking his enemies. He could give the worshipful state press in any totalitarian regime a run for their money.

He was typically steamed over the FBI raid on Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen, attacking it night after night, shouting about a "witch hunt." But after a federal judge ordered the disclosure Monday evening of the identity of Cohen's mysterious third client, we learned it was Sean Hannity himself.

It's just more one egregious ethical lapse in a conservative movement that has become a moral cesspool.

Since Cohen's lawyer activities apparently mainly consist of arranging hush money payments to pornographic actresses who have had affairs with powerful conservative men, speculation immediately centered on whether Hannity had concealed one himself. He immediately insisted, with credibility even closer to absolute zero levels than usual, that he didn't actually hire Cohen as a lawyer, but only asked for some real estate advice, or something.

But as Marcy Wheeler points out, any sex cover-up probably wouldn't even be the worst thing Hannity has done during this administration. He repeatedly stoked the Seth Rich conspiracy theory (that the former DNC staffer had been assassinated by Democratic sources for leaking to Wikileaks), and did an interview with Julian Assange suggesting the DNC emails had not been hacked by Russia. Any conversations with Cohen around those things could be worse than any hush money payout.

Anyway, regardless of how those details turn out, it is still egregiously unethical for Hannity to have covered the Cohen news without disclosing that he is personally an interested party.

But let's zoom out just slightly to consider the rest of the American conservative movement. The Trump administration is absolutely riddled with corruption, whether it's alleged insider trading on the part of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, or squandering ludicrous sums on lavish flights on the part of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, or EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (not to mention an illegal secret phone booth), or profiting from government use of one's own businesses, as Trump himself has done. Multiple Trump administration and campaign officials have been indicted as part of the Mueller investigation into Russiagate, and it is already known for sure that several people in the Trump campaign at least attempted to work with Russian sources to defeat Hillary Clinton.

And just a few months ago, most top Republican leaders (including Trump) and the vast majority of Alabama Republicans obediently lined up to support a candidate for the Alabama Senate seat who was credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, as well as dating and attempting to date other underage teenagers. A few months before that, Montana Republicans voted into office Greg Gianforte, who had days previously body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs and punched him in the head, breaking his glasses. Despite an audio recording and witness testimony, both Gianforte and his spokesman proceeded to lie about what had happened until after the election, which he won. He then reversed course and pled guilty to avoid jail time. He has faced no consequences whatsoever from within the Republican caucus.

Of course, no doubt Republicans would describe their thinking differently. By conservative lights, Roy Moore was likely framed by the FAKE NEWS MEDIA, while whatever Gianforte did was probably provoked by the BIASED LIBERAL reporter.

But that is hardly exculpatory. Presented with compelling evidence of gross moral misconduct on the part of practically any conservative elite — up to and including personal testimony and audiotape — the great majority of Republicans look the other way, invent excuses, or simply refuse to believe the evidence of their senses. In terms of concrete outcomes, there isn't much difference between accepting molesters and automatically refusing to believe one's political candidate is one, no matter how many feet thick the pile of evidence is.

Now that the GOP has created an easy career path for the most cynical, conscience-free people around, is it any wonder the party is full to bursting of moral abominations?

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