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Opinion: Sean Hannity has American democracy in his hands. May Fox have mercy on us all

Sean Hannity of Fox News spreads his arms wide as he appears at a Maryland event in 2016.
Sean Hannity of Fox News, shown in 2016.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

A funny thing happened on Fox News Tuesday night. The Trump-loving jewel of the Murdoch media empire displayed a new and entirely unfamiliar trait: restraint.

Early Wednesday morning, when Donald Trump prematurely declared himself a victor, I immediately flipped to Fox News. This was it. The president’s self-fulfilling prophecy of cosplaying as a two-bit dictator thug came true, with Trump calling for states to stop counting legally cast ballots while he was narrowly ahead. He took to the airwaves to relay his threat to democracy — and America’s free and independent press faced complicity in spreading his lies live. The (authoritarian right-wing) revolution was set to be televised. Whether it had a chance of succeeding rested partially in the hands of the reliably pro-Trump Fox News network.

And they didn’t bite. Nibbled, maybe. Tasted, sure. But, ultimately, the on-air hosts looked at what the president was serving and sent it back.

“He hasn’t won these states; nobody is saying he won these states,” Chris Wallace rebuked, adding, “This is an extremely flammable situation, and the president just threw a match on it.”

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All I could think at this hour: Thank God that Wallace, Bret Baier and the somewhat soft-conservative “hard news” Fox team sat in the anchor chairs. And not Sean Hannity. Or Tucker Carlson. Or Laura Ingraham (who was in the White House crowd during Trump’s speech).

Instead, those three, the hardcore Trumpeteer trio of Fox News’ primetime slate, will saddle up for three consecutive hours Wednesday night to herd their flock of viewers through a hazy, uncertain, ever-developing, too-close-to-call election.

May Fox have mercy on us all.

The coalition for reason and sanity within Fox is already losing ground.

On the popular morning show “Fox and Friends” Wednesday, former Republican Speaker of the House and conjurer of the dark arts Newt Gingrich seized a nearly six-minute window to disseminate fear-mongering propaganda straight into the hearts and minds of willing Fox News viewers (reminder, this includes the president). Gingrich warned of massive voter fraud in Philadelphia before ranting about how unfair counting every ballot could be: “When you sit around and watch all evening long six states in which Trump is ahead, you’re asked to believe none of that counts. And you watch decisions to make other states where Biden is barely ahead go into his column, giving him a psychological boost.”

Of course, there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud. And I can’t believe I have to say this, but there is literally zero material benefit to any “psychological boost” a candidate may feel after polls are closed. Ballot counting is a pure spectator sport for all involved. The game ends when all legally cast ballots are accounted for.

Polls close at different times in different states. Further rules affect when early votes, mail-in votes, election day votes and provisional votes are counted. States such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan opted not to begin counting ballots cast by mail or in early-voting windows until election day arrived. The result: an agonizingly slow tally of early and mail-in votes, which leaned heavily Democratic, that has slowly and surely eaten into Trump’s margins.

The numbers aren’t hard to figure out. Trump told his supporters for months not to vote by mail, while liberal voters— more fearful of contracting COVID-19 at crowded election day polling places — were more inclined to cast ballots before Nov. 3. And yet Republicans like Trump and Gingrich are casting insidious motives onto an entirely legitimate process.

Election experts quickly corrected the president over his fraud claims, and some Republicans noted that counting all voters’ ballots was the norm.

The scariest part has yet to come, when we learn Wednesday night whether the Fox News prime-time trio will go along with the grift.

The lead-up to the election has been a ratings boon for the slate of opinion hosts, and the narratives they promote percolate into the conservative digital media apparatus that has long dominated Facebook feeds and shaped minds.

Something resembling fair and balanced coverage Wednesday night could mean the difference between millions of Americans accepting the legitimacy of the election, or not. It could mean the difference between the Proud Boys continuing to “stand down and stand by,” or not. It could mean the difference between a peaceful transfer of power, or not.

At this point, it’s not hyperbolic to say the fate of American democracy rests in the hands of Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. Buckle up for the three most consequential hours in the history of cable television — and then three more hours every night for days to come.


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