There they go again.
Yesterday the New York Times ran this breathless headline, on the front page, no less.
Sean Hannity Turns Adviser in the Service of Donald Trump
The reporter, Jim Rutenberg, was, in the style of that long-ago lovable TV rube Gomer Pyle, just all “Gol…llllllly Ned” about Sean Hannity and Hannity’s relationship with his friend Donald Trump. Rutenberg wrote, in part, as follows:
During major inflection points in Donald J. Trump’s campaign, the advisers, family members and friends who make up his kitchen cabinet burn up their email accounts and phone lines gaming out how to get his candidacy on track (and what counsel he might go along with).
But one person in the mix brings more than just his political advice. He also happens to control an hour of prime time on the Fox News Channel.
That person is Sean Hannity.
Mr. Hannity uses his show on the nation’s most-watched cable news network to blare Mr. Trump’s message relentlessly — giving Mr. Trump the kind of promotional television exposure even a billionaire can’t afford for long.
But Mr. Hannity is not only Mr. Trump’s biggest media booster; he also veers into the role of adviser.
No! Say it ain’t so!!!! A media personality “veers into the role of adviser”!!!!!! Oh noooooooooooo!
The article ends this way:
Mr. Hannity told me his support for Mr. Trump makes him “more honest” than mainstream reporters who hide their biases. It turns out even “honesty” is a relative concept these days. For some people more than others.
Catch that little dig at the end? “It turns out even ‘honesty’ is a relative concept these days. For some people more than others.”
Let’s take Mr. Rutenberg up on this and explore the kinds of things the Times did not find fit to print in his article. Remembering that Hannity is specifically a commentator and freely says he is not a journalist, let’s focus on the role of supposedly “impartial journalists” — in the liberal media. Where do we begin?
• Philip Graham, Publisher of the Washington Post: A minimum of checking by Mr. Rutenberg would uncover Mr. Graham, the liberal Post’s predecessor publisher to his wife, the late Katharine Graham. Mrs. Graham herself describes her husband’s close relationship with then Senate Democratic Leader Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s. The two men, she wrote in her autobiography Personal History, had a “natural affinity,” and she describes how LBJ once sent a list of Democratic committee assignments to Graham, circling the ones LBJ viewed as “key new appointments.” Graham responded by sending a copy of the resulting editorial Graham had published in the Post praising the appointments “under Senator Lyndon Johnson’s leadership.” Over time, the Washington Post publisher became a key Johnson adviser, arguably responsible for making LBJ president.
As discussed in Theodore H. White’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the President 1960, Phil Graham played a major role in getting Lyndon Johnson, newly defeated by John F. Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic Convention, onto the Kennedy ticket. White described the liberal publisher Mr. Graham as “a man of great influence in Washington politics” and “a trusted confidant of Johnson’s.” Understanding both of these roles that Graham played, JFK personally wondered to Graham “if he thought Johnson would accept the Vice-Presidency” if he, Kennedy, offered it. Graham dutifully went to Johnson, by then the Democrats’ Senate Majority Leader — the Harry Reid of his day — and delivered the message. White goes on to describe the machinations by LBJ’s friends to get him on the ticket, describing the publisher of the Washington Post — say again, the publisher of the Washington Post, that bastion of “impartial journalism” — as a member of “Johnson’s inner council.” There was resistance, not least from JFK’s campaign manager/brother Bobby Kennedy, who appeared in the LBJ suite to attempt to dissuade LBJ. Graham took it upon himself to pick up the phone, speak directly to Jack Kennedy and urge him to now “make the hard offer by a direct call from the nominee to the perplexed Majority Leader…” Kennedy did so. On November 22, 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson became president of the United States — thanks, in large measure to his friend Phil Graham.
• Walter Cronkite, anchorman of the CBS Evening News: The year — 1968. The Vietnam War rages, and “impartial journalist” and anchorman Cronkite has taken upon himself to decide the war is a disaster. His solution? Defeat President Lyndon Johnson in his expected bid for the Democratic Party’s re-nomination. How does Cronkite do this? As historian Douglas Brinkley records in his detailed biography Cronkite, “just days” after the anchorman has filed a “Report from Vietnam” (in which the “impartial journalist” reported to the nation that the war was a disaster — not coincidentally the liberal view of the war in the day) anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy comes close to defeating LBJ in New Hampshire. The political pros in the Democratic Party didn’t think the “irascible” McCarthy had the donor heft to actually defeat Johnson. But Bobby Kennedy — then the Senator from New York — did. So? So Walter Cronkite, anchorman of the CBS Evening News and“impartial journalist,” has what is described as an “off-the-record meeting at Kennedy’s Capitol Hill office.” According to RFK’s press secretary Frank Mankiewicz, Cronkite told Kennedy: “You must announce your intention to run against Johnson to show people there will be a way out of this terrible war.” Kennedy listened, “wide-eyed,” as Walter Cronkite, the man dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” the “impartial journalist” of today’s Jim Rutenberg’s imagination went on in decidedly partisan tones to urge RFK to run for president. And Kennedy’s quite serious reply: “Walter, I’ll run for president if you’ll agree to run for Senator from New York.” Writes Brinkley: “Kennedy thought a Cronkite candidacy was a surefire winner: the anchorman was the most beloved man in New York City (maybe all of America).” Cronkite demurred, says Brinkley, because he wanted to “protect the integrity of American journalism.”
Ah yes. the integrity of American journalism.
There are other examples — plenty of others. Think Sidney Blumenthal, the one-time reporter for the Washington Post, New Republic, and New Yorker who eventually made an honest man of his Clinton adviser status and signed on formally as a Clinton White House aide. To show how the game works? Here’s a profile of Blumenthal last fall in the Washington Post. The title — really — was “So Who Exactly Is Sidney Blumenthal?” This being a biographical piece, the Post curiously omits one key biographical fact: that being Blumenthal’s tie as a Washington Post reporter. In fact, Blumenthal the one-time “impartial journalist” of the Post, was described in this fashion by, amazingly enough, NPR:
In 1988, when Bill Clinton was still governor of Arkansas, Blumenthal was already writing flattering pieces about him in The Washington Post. He had already met both Bill and Hillary Clinton at one of their Renaissance Weekend gatherings.
It would be three more years before (George) Stephanopoulos would join Clinton’s first presidential campaign. There he would find a ready ally in Blumenthal, who had moved from the Post to his previous employer, The New Republic. Blumenthal had generated controversy at that magazine in 1984 with his enthusiastic coverage of another youthful Democratic presidential hopeful, Colorado Sen. Gary Hart.
The Hart flirtation was soon surpassed by Blumenthal’s infatuation with Bill Clinton, whose 1992 campaign he praised for its potential to bring “epochal change.” He also found ample opportunity to lay waste to Clinton’s rivals — President George H.W. Bush and the billionaire independent H. Ross Perot.
After Clinton became president, Blumenthal became the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, a prestigious position that gave him wide latitude to report on the new era and the new administration.”
So in other words? It was OK for Phil Graham to present his paper as the home of hard hitting journalism — when in fact he was part of LBJ’s “inner council” who actively used the paper to push LBJ’s career and in fact played a major role in making LBJ vice president. It was OK in Cronkite’s mind to use his TV show to push the liberal view of the Vietnam War, and behind closed doors it was perfectly fine to try and get Bobby Kennedy to run for president. But actually run himself? Heavens! Cronkite had the integrity of journalism to protect. And it was OK for Sid Blumenthal to be presented as an “impartial journalist” — when, like Cronkite, behind the scenes he was “a ready ally” in journalism for Bill Clinton.
Recall Rutenberg’s closing words on Hannity? “It turns out even ‘honesty’ is a relative concept these days. For some people more than others.” Let me see. Has Sean Hannity been anything other than up front about his support for Trump? No. Has he misled his audience? No. Did Graham and Cronkite and Blumenthal and too many others to count mislead the audiences of the Washington Post, CBS News, and all the rest? Yes. Absolutely yes.
It is precisely this kind of thing that makes another Rutenberg story so amusing. That would be this one in early August of this year, when Rutenberg took to the Times to headline — really — this:
Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism
Among other fantasies about “objectivity in journalism” Rutenberg wrote this:
If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?
Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.
Got that? It’s because of Donald Trump that all of a sudden — out of the blue! — American journalists have to “throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer….”
To which the obvious question. Which textbook of American journalism is that? The one used by Phil Graham, Walter Cronkite, and Sidney Blumenthal?
Or the one used by Sean Hannity?
I’ll go with Hannity any day.