The Washington journalists at Fox News are used to some of the over-the-top commentary of the high-rated opinion hosts on the cable network.
But Sean Hannity’s on-stage appearance at President Trump’s Missouri rally on the eve of the midterm election was seen as an egregious breach of standards for a news organization, even one with a political commentator who is known to be a cheerleader for the White House.
The images of Hannity embracing the president — presented by other news outlets as an example of how Fox News serves as a propaganda machine for the White House — led the network’s top Washington journalists to complain to senior executives on Tuesday.
Fox News Chief Political Anchor Bret Baier told the Los Angeles Times that Hannity’s actions were the main topic during a previously scheduled lunch with Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott and president of news Jay Wallace held a few hours before the network presented its midterm election coverage Tuesday in New York. Washington anchor Martha MacCallum, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace and senior political analyst Brit Hume were also in attendance.
“There was a lot of concern about it and making sure that we as a network were … sending the right signals and ... there was a commitment to show the importance of news,” said Baier, who was asked about Hannity during an interview about the network’s midterm coverage.
The coverage, led by Baier and MacCallum, was watched by more than 7.8 million viewers, more than any other broadcast or cable network, as the Democrats regained control of the House while the Republicans added to their majority in the Senate. Fox News was the first to project that the Democrats would take the House.
But the straight-ahead journalism on Fox News is often overshadowed by its voluble prime-time commentators whose views closely align with Trump and often echo the president’s harsh criticism of the mainstream media.
Baier said he had a personal discussion with Hannity about the Missouri appearance. He declined to reveal any details about their talk but appeared satisfied with the outcome.
“Going forward I think things will be a little different,” Baier said. “What he does and what I do are two different things but on an event like that it obviously bleeds into our news coverage and he acknowledges that. We had a good conversation. I’ve had a long relationship with him and he’s always been great with me. But this is a moment that needed to be dealt with.”
Before the Tuesday lunch, Fox News publicly rebuked the actions of Hannity and weekend host Jeanine Pirro, who also appeared at the rally. But there is no indication that any disciplinary measures are being taken.
“Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” the company said in a statement. “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.”
Hannity issued a statement on Tuesday claiming he did not know Trump would call him onstage at the rally.
“When the POTUS invited me on stage to give a few remarks last night, I was surprised, yet honored by the president’s request. This was not planned.”
However, the explanation was at odds with a news release issued by the Trump campaign Sunday that promoted the appearances of Hannity and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh at the event.