Fox News host and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity was put in an awkward position Thursday night when his own network confirmed a New York Times story about the president that Hannity was trying to discredit.
Last summer, President Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a Times report posted late Thursday night. White House Counsel Don McGahn reportedly threatened to quit over the move, and as a result, Trump backed off his demands. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Trump denied the story, calling it, “Fake news, folks. Fake news.”
The report, written by Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, was quickly confirmed by several other news outlets, including CNN. But on Fox, Hannity came out swinging on his popular opinion show, claiming the story was nothing but a distraction.
“The New York Times is trying to distract you,” Hannity told his viewers. “Our sources, and I’ve checked in with many of them, they’re not confirming that tonight … And how many times as the New York Times and others gotten it wrong?”
Hannity opened up discussion to his guests, former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who both largely ignored the story. Unfortunately for Hannity, during the subsequent commercial break, Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry confirmed the New York Times report, adding that a source said former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon believed Trump would fire Mueller and were worried about the political fallout.
That made for an awkward moment for Hannity upon his return from the break.
“All right, so we have sources tonight just confirming … that yeah, maybe President Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for a conflict,” Hannity said, quickly shifting to defend the president. “Does he not have the right to raise those questions?”
“You know, we’ll deal with this tomorrow night,” Hannity said before shifting to footage of a high-speed police chase in Arizona.
Sean Hannity: The New York Times is trying to distract you. They say Trump tried to fire Mueller, but our sources aren’t confirming that!
Sean Hannity, minutes later: Alright, yeah, maybe our sources confirm Trump wanted to fire Mueller. But so what? That’s his right. Anywho… pic.twitter.com/yUIt7Un56d
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) January 26, 2018
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe Friday morning, host Joe Scarborough broke down in laughter after playing the clip of Hannity’s abrupt about-face.
“Look over there! It’s straight out of the Carville handbook,” Scarborough said, referencing former Clinton strategist James Carville. “Look at the car wreck, look at the car wreck! Oh my god, I don’t even know where to begin.”
Hannity wasn’t the only Fox News host to deflect and largely ignore the blockbuster report.
Tucker Carlson Tonight host Tucker Carlson devoted about 20 seconds to the story, focusing instead on a 2005 photo of former president Barack Obama alongside Louis Farrakhan and a quiz game between Fox News reporters. Former Fox News host and current legal analyst Gregg Jarrett defending the president’s actions, labeling the Times report “not reliable” and adding, “The president probably felt as though ‘I’d like to get rid of these guys and get other people who could be fair, objective and neutral.’ ”
And on Fox & Friends Friday morning, hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Pete Hegseth mocked the seriousness and legitimacy of the report, holding up a copy of the New York Times while criticizing the use of anonymous sources (the newsroom enacted strict guidelines about anonymous sources during the 2016 campaign).
“That happened last June. Do you — it’s something we have to tell you have about because it is a headline on The New York Times,” Earhardt said. “What do you think about that? Do you even care?”
The Ingraham Angle host Laura Ingraham spent the most time of any Fox News host on the subject, with four minutes. She agreed that it would have looked terrible if Trump fired Mueller and said it was a “huge mistake” for the president to have fired FBI director James Comey. Of course, Ingraham, like every other Fox News host, has devoted significant airtime to questioning the legitimacy of Mueller’s investigation, repeatedly turning to conspiracy theories and rumors to paint the picture of a witch-hunt against the president.
In fact, the latest conspiracy theory to dominate Fox News — that the missing text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and his romantic partner, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, amounted to a cover-up of a “secret society” within the FBI determined to bring down President Trump — was debunked by the network’s own news division.
The term “secret society,” a phrased used in one of the text messages Page sent to Strzok, aired on Fox News more than 100 times over a two-day period, according to liberal media watchdog Media Matters. The conspiracy theory wasn’t just being promoted by the network’s hosts — it was also pushed by elected officials like Rep. Trey Gowdy (R, S.C.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R, Wi.).
But Hannity and others have largely gone silent after ABC News published Page’s full text message, revealing “secret society” to be nothing but a one-off joke.
“Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society,” Page wrote, referencing joke calendars featuring Russian president Vladimir Putin given as a gag gift for those working on the early Russia probe.