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Hannity’s antics at a Trump rally crossed a line, even for Fox News

“This was an unfortunate distraction.”

Sean Hannity onstage with Trump.
C-SPAN

In its modern incarnation, Fox News effectively serves as an arm of the Trump campaign — echoing his talking points, suppressing unflattering stories, smearing Democrats, and even spreading conspiracy theories that serve the president’s interests. Still, it usually tries to maintain the appearance of being in the business of independent journalism.

On Monday night, that mask slipped off.

Two of Fox News’ veteran hosts — Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro — literally appeared onstage with President Trump and stumped for Republicans during the president’s rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. It’s the sort of behavior expected from propagandists, not journalists, and it crosses an ethical line that even Fox News has tried to police in the past.

Fox News staffers were “aghast,” CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported Tuesday: “People throughout the company think a new line was crossed,” one said. ”It disturbs me to my core,” said another.

The whole fracas started when Hannity got on the stage with Trump just hours after he posted a tweet promising he wouldn’t do exactly that.

“In spite of reports, I will be doing a live show from Cape Girardeau and interviewing President Trump before the rally,” Hannity tweeted on Monday morning. “To be clear, I will not be on stage campaigning with the President. I am covering final rally for my show. Something I have done in every election in the past.”

Life, as they say, comes at you fast. Less than 12 hours after posting that tweet, Hannity and Pirro got onstage with the president and gave what amounted to campaign speeches for Republicans.

“By the way, all those people in the back are fake news,” Hannity began, referring to the journalists who were there covering Trump’s rally. “The one thing that has made and defined your president more than anything else — promises made, promises kept … Mr. President, thank you.”

Pirro’s remarks were even more nakedly partisan than Hannity’s.

“If you like the America that [Trump] is making now, you’ve gotta make sure you get out there tomorrow if you haven’t voted yet — everyone you know, your grandmother, your cousin, your kids, even your next door neighbor if you don’t like him — get ‘em out to vote for Donald Trump and all the people that are running for the Republican Party!”

Hannity and Pirro’s appearance onstage with Trump at one of his rallies was a bad look for a network that wants people to believe it does journalism. So on Tuesday, Fox News took the unusual step of releasing a statement that obliquely criticized Hannity and Pirro while not indicating any punishment would be meted out.

“FOX News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” the statement says. “We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”

Fox News is the network of Trumpism, even if it doesn’t want to admit it

Fox News has tried in the past to draw a nominal line around getting too involved with political campaigns, including telling Hannity to stop appearing in Trump ads in 2016. But the onstage appearance just made the subtext text — Fox News is the network of Trumpism.

The interview Hannity did with Trump before getting onstage with him illustrates the dynamic at play: Fox News provides fawning coverage of the president, and in return gets access other networks can only dream of, along with free promos from the most powerful person in the world.

“I never miss your opening monologue. I would never do that,” Trump told Hannity.

“I don’t think anybody has your energy,” Hannity replied. “You really love this.”

Hannity has been notoriously loath to acknowledge the conflicts of interest he has when it comes to “covering” Trump. For instance, earlier this year, Hannity continued to defend Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, even after it was revealed in federal court that Hannity was in fact a client of Cohen’s. Hannity never publicly acknowledged his conflict of interest, and instead dismissed the controversy surrounding it as an invasion of his “right to privacy.”

Pirro, meanwhile, has been granted numerous exclusive interviews with Trump this year in which she reliably lobs softball questions over the plate for him.

While Hannity’s decision to appear onstage with the president at a political rally seems quite clearly to contradict the vow he made hours earlier to not appear onstage with the president at a political rally, on Tuesday he claimed, “What I said in my tweet yesterday was 100% truthful” — his case being that since Trump “surprised” him by inviting him onto the stage, he didn’t in fact break any promises.