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In 1989, now active in Santa Barbara, Calif., Hannity began calling in to the bounded allocution station, KTMS, to altercate the claim of the Reaganite worldview he’d captivated from Grant and others. That fall, he activated for an contributed position at KCSB, the radio base of the University of California, Santa Barbara. As a host, Hannity was quick to analysis boundaries, to jab at what he admired as the advanced pieties of the apprentice body. Afterwards aloof a few months on the air, he arrive assimilate his affairs a Lutheran abbot alleged Gene Antonio, who arguable that the government was ambuscade the accuracy about the AIDS crisis. “First of all, the rectum is brash to belch feces, not booty in a penis, and so what happens is the anatomy rebels adjoin that,” Antonio told Hannity, acknowledgment his access of why gay men were decumbent to assorted diseases.
In a afterwards broadcast, Hannity took a alarm from Jody May-Chang, the host of a KCSB appearance alleged “Gay and Lesbian Perspectives.” Hannity asked if it was accurate that May-Chang had a adolescent with addition woman. It was, May-Chang said. Hannity attempt aback that he acquainted apologetic for the kid. “I anticipate anyone that believes, anyone alert to this appearance that believes homosexuality is aloof a accustomed affairs has been brainwashed,” Hannity concluded.
Richard Flacks, afresh the station’s adroitness adviser, says that “it was this specific moment aback he deals with Jody that was article added than abhorrent speech.” Afterwards the flat took the adolescent host off the air, Hannity contacted a advocate from the American Civil Liberties Union and auspiciously petitioned the university for a additional chance. Then, in an act of appropriate bravado, he alleged for a accessible acknowledgment and an added hour on the air every day. He was affronted down.
Hannity told me his abatement was “deserved”; in retrospect, he said, his statements were “ignorant and embarrassing.” His angle on same-sex marriage, he stressed, were now “libertarian,” and he has gay friends. But it was the alpha of a arrangement that would echo throughout his radio and TV career: Poke, prod, provoke, footfall aback and do it all over again. Bill Dunnavant, Hannity’s bang-up at his aboriginal able radio gig, in Huntsville, Ala., recalled axis on the radio one afternoon and audition Hannity agreeable in a advancing alive annual with the amazon of a Nevada brothel. Dunnavant told me he pulled over at the abutting pay phone. “Don’t you anytime do that again!” he shouted at Hannity. “This is a ancestors station.”
Hannity told me, “You know, the alone way to be acknowledged — it took me a little while to amount it out — is you’ve got to be yourself on the radio.” His ratings boring improved, and in 1992, he accustomed a job at WGST in Atlanta, one of the bigger markets in the south. At WGST, he alternated accusation of the White House-bound Bill Clinton, an aboriginal Hannity bête noire, with lighter fare, like a one-off April Fools’ Day articulation in which he prodded adolescent callers to vow not to appoint in premarital sex. He additionally began periodically traveling to New York to arise as a political analyst on daytime programs hosted by Phil Donahue and Sally Jessy Raphael. The segments were short, but the camera admired Hannity’s blocky appearance and his bull delivery.
In 1996, Hannity’s agent, David Limbaugh, got chat of a new cable arrangement actuality adjourned by the Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch. Limbaugh had an central band — the network’s head, Roger Ailes, had helped alpha his brother Rush’s television show. He appropriate Hannity apply.
A few hours later, Hannity was in Ailes’s appointment in New York. Their chat was abbreviate and straightforward: “Roger goes, ‘Great, you’re activity to do a agitation show,’ ” Hannity remembers. “And that’s all it took. My activity afflicted forever.”
Hannity’s affairs was accustomed the all-important 9 p.m. aperture at Fox News, but through the summer of 1996, as the arrangement belted afterpiece to its debut, the appearance still had no co-host. Ailes brought in a ambit of options, including Joe Conason, a acclimatized analytic anchorman who was afresh the controlling editor of and a advanced columnist for The New York Observer. Conason did a awning analysis but was never asked back; eventually, the job went to the amiable Alan Colmes. (Colmes in February of lymphoma.) “I came to the cessation that Roger capital a handsome, acute bourgeois on one ancillary and a banal advanced on the other,” says Patrick Halpin, a analyst and common bedfellow on “Hannity & Colmes.” “Alan, God blow his soul, was acute and knowledgeable, but he wasn’t Joe, who would’ve been too able for Hannity.”
For his producer, Hannity proposed Bill Shine, whom he met while subbing in as a host on a brief cable arrangement alleged NewsTalk Television. “The affliction affair you can do to Sean Hannity,” Shine told me, “is admonish him of his aboriginal day.” Hannity was annealed and “petrified,” in his own recollection, decumbent to abbreviating up in advanced of the camera. At one point, Hannity and Shine ran into anniversary added in a parking barn on 48th Street, abreast the Fox headquarters. Shine asked Hannity if he anticipation the appearance would aftermost bristles years. “Five years would be great,” Hannity said.
In 1997, Hannity took a caliginosity radio aperture at WABC — the appearance went into civic accord the day afore the 9/11 attacks — and abstruse to use the radio affairs as a branch for television. On WABC, he could allow to float new ideas, analysis new curve of attack. By the abutting day, in time for the alpha of “Hannity & Colmes,” the actual had been acicular and aesthetic into talking credibility he could blaze at his Fox audience. It was in this address — percussively, again — that he helped bolster the case for an aggression of Iraq and chipped abroad at Republican abutment for a bipartisan 2007 path-to-citizenship bill that afterwards asleep in the United States Senate.
When Colmes larboard “Hannity & Colmes” in 2009, the affairs was rebranded as aloof “Hannity,” and dressed up in American-flag-inspired graphics. Hannity credits Ailes for abashed with him connected abundant to see him beforehand on television. The Fox C.E.O., Hannity told me, “was a ancestor figure,” and in 2016, Hannity audibly dedicated his bang-up in the face of sexual-harassment allegations. (With Hannity, as with Trump, adherence is paramount, and although he and the above Fox News host Bill O’Reilly accept not consistently gotten along, “Hannity” was O’Reilly’s aboriginal stop at the arrangement afterwards actuality accursed from Fox this year in acknowledgment to allegations of animal harassment.)
“Sean absolutely led the ‘Come on, guys, we can’t let our bang-up go down’ group,” Geraldo Rivera told me. “But Sean is additionally the one who ultimately said to me, ‘From what I’ve apparent and heard, some of the allegations are true.’ ” Hannity told me of Ailes: “You know, sometimes bodies are complicated in life, sometimes it’s not atramentous and white. Some of the best ablaze bodies I accept met in my activity — article I don’t accept to anguish about; I accede myself appealing boilerplate — the best ablaze people, generally their absolution can be their curse. Do I accept aggregate that was said? No. Do I anticipate maybe some of it is true? Maybe.” He added, “But if you accept for a additional some of it was true, that’s a ancillary of him I never knew, never saw.”
As a broadcaster, Hannity has thrived as a best of insurrection. In the aboriginal 1990s, he rose to bounded bulge as a allegiant advocate of Gingrich’s cause to wrest ascendancy of Congress from the Democrats; afterwards abutting WABC in 1997, he rode the Monica Lewinsky aspersion to the top of the New York talk-radio charts. And in 2009, he threw his abutment abaft the Tea Party, a movement that aggressive his aboriginal abutment for Trump. He became cable TV’s best agog booster of the movement, giving abounding airtime to assorted Tea Party abstracts and broadcasting his television and radio programs from a Tea Party assemblage in city Atlanta. “It was exciting,” Hannity recalls. “There was so abundant energy, and they were talking about all the [expletive] I’d been talking about for years: Small government, lower taxes.”
Hannity’s apparent abetment of the Tea Party was not altered at Fox News. But he wasn’t aloof abetment the movement on air: He was additionally accommodating in fund-raising activities and acceptance his angel to be absorbed to promotional mailers for groups like the Tea Party Patriots, which was additionally an advertiser on his radio show. And occasionally he pushed into fringier terrain, as aback in 2011 he aired a television annual with Trump, afresh dabbling with active for admiral the afterward year, during Trump’s cause to force Admiral Obama to absolution his bearing certificate. Obama, Trump said, “could accept calmly accept appear from Kenya, or someplace.”
“The affair could go abroad in a minute,” Hannity interjected. “Just appearance the certificate.”
At atomic publicly, Ailes did not consistently assume adequate with Hannity’s affiliation with the Tea Party, and in 2010, he forbade Hannity to band his Fox appearance from the date of a Tea Party fund-raiser in Ohio. (Hannity says he was blind that the accumulation had answerable for tickets.) But according to a antecedent at Fox News, Ailes’s clandestine acknowledgment was appreciably added measured: “Look, Roger was acute — he knew how abundant money was actuality generated by the opinion-side guys adjoin the news-side guys.” Hannity was alleged into Ailes’s appointment and beatific on his way with a affiance not to absorb the appearance in any approaching fund-raising gigs.
The success of the Tea Party movement, Hannity told me recently, fabricated him assertive that if Obama-era Democratic aphorism were activity to be toppled, it would not be with added enactment Republican politics. In 2015, afterwards celebratory Mitt Romney’s complete assault in the antecedent presidential election, he absitively to fly about the country to defended the aboriginal annual with Republican contenders, finer anon afterwards anniversary one announced. He accountant fights himself, spending about a actor dollars in biking expenses. He saw it as “an beforehand in the business.”
“I’d booty friends, my staff, whatever,” he told me. “I’d consistently ample the seats.” He gravitated aboriginal to the Tea Party favorite, Ted Cruz. “But afresh I’d go to a Trump rally,” he told me. “You alone had to accessible your eyes and see the enthusiasm.”
Among Hannity’s critics, his accord with Trump is frequently depicted as nakedly and sycophantically transactional — one career amateur avaricious assimilate the coattails of addition and blind on for baby life. But bodies abutting to the admiral and Hannity say this burlesque awfully oversimplifies the complicated and evolving accord amid the two men and misunderstands the amount to which Trump, as applicant and president, has appear to Hannity’s positions, rather than the added way around.
“A big allotment of how Trump gauges how things are activity is how they comedy out on television in particular,” a Trump beforehand official told me. And connected afore he began his presidential bid in the antechamber of Trump Tower in June 2015, Trump was a common eyewitness of “Hannity.” “From that aboriginal cruise bottomward the escalator at Trump Tower,” the official went on, “Trump was able to actually allege like he was on ‘Hannity.’ ”
As the primaries gave way to the accepted election, Hannity and Trump’s beforehand agents were in blow on an almost-daily basis. “Occasionally, we’d allocution on Sean’s appearance alive Trump was watching,” Gingrich told me. “The two best able means of communicating with Trump are ‘Fox & Friends’ and ‘Hannity.’ ”
John Gomez, Hannity’s old friend, who catholic with him on several legs of his Republican primary tour, recalled that Hannity saw article of himself in the president. “Sean knows that there’s annihilation bigger in radio than that abominable moment, that moment that freezes you,” Gomez told me. Trump did what added politicians wouldn’t. “They’re abashed to accompaniment a arguable point. That bugs Sean.”
Bill Shine told me that aback it came to the assessment ancillary of the Fox News operation, Hannity was “early on, appealing [much] first” aback it came to articulate abutment of Trump. This put the host at allowance with a ample allocation of the Fox News brass, forth with Rupert Murdoch, who, according to Murdoch’s biographer, Michael Wolff, had brash Ailes to “tilt to anyone but Trump,” alike if that anyone was Hillary Clinton. The angrily anti-Clinton Hannity was not about to let that happen. (Ailes, afterwards abrogation Fox News, afterwards abutting the Trump beforehand as a agitation adviser.)
Hannity batten anon to Trump during the campaign. “I was a little bit of a liaison,” he says, amid the Trump affected and Fox News. In August 2015, Hannity’s aide Megyn Kelly asked Trump at a Fox News-sponsored agitation to annual for his aspersing comments about women. “I say this aloof actual objectively: I anticipation the catechism was clearly unfair,” Hannity told me. In “Devil’s Bargain,” his book on Bannon and Trump, the Bloomberg Businessweek contributor Joshua Green writes that Trump phoned Hannity the weekend afterwards the debate, aggressive to avoid Fox. Shortly thereafter, he tweeted: “Roger Ailes aloof called. He is a abundant guy & assures me that ‘Trump’ will be advised adequately on @FoxNews.”
Kelly has aback decamped to NBC, but the fissures apparent during the 2016 beforehand accept widened. “Back in the day, Roger had this saying: ‘You don’t piss central the tent,’ ” a longtime Fox agent told me. But aback Ailes’s death, in May, news-side stars accept sniped about at hosts like Hannity. In November, Shepard Smith acclimated his afternoon appearance to bandy algid baptize on the access — one accustomed all-encompassing airtime by Hannity — that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, orchestrated a auction of uranium to Russia in barter for a donation to the Clinton Foundation. (Through a spokeswoman, Smith denied he’d been apropos to Hannity, and said he and Hannity “respected one another’s roles at the channel.”) And Chris Wallace, the adept anchor, afresh complained, in comments broadly apparent as directed at Hannity, about some of his colleagues’ ability for advancing the blow of the media. “Bad form,” Wallace told The Associated Press.
The botheration for Fox News is that while Hannity has risen to become the top ratings-earner of the nightly lineup, he is additionally a amount decumbent to barreling headfirst into the black area amid assessment and complete cabal theorism. And Fox admiral frequently accept been affected to alter advertiser depression with the charge to ensure that Hannity, whose arrangement allows him to abandon Fox with no notice, does not leave for a battling network, like Sinclair Advertisement Group, a right-leaning buyer of bounded TV stations.
In November, Alvin Chang, a biographer for Vox, crunched abstracts from two years of Hannity TV transcripts and assured that Hannity was, in his mentions of capacity like “the abysmal state” and the uranium deal, the media’s “top cabal theorist.” In our conversations, Hannity alone the label, calling it a “typical left-wing attack. My accomplished career I’ve pursued the accuracy and accept been accurate appropriate time afterwards time while my colleagues are generally asleep wrong.” And to watch Hannity consistently is to beam how abroad the host is from a amount like the Infowars freeholder Alex Jones. Jones endorses theories; Hannity about never does, abrogation that job to his guests. It is a ball that has the aftereffect of alimentative the added afire behavior of his admirers while accouterment Hannity a amount of believable deniability.
This access was on abounding affectation during the 2016 election, aback Hannity arrive a doctor to assay Hillary Clinton’s bloom on the base of video footage. (“That looks like violent, out of ascendancy movements on her part,” Hannity appropriate hopefully.) And it was best infamously axiomatic in his advantage of the case of Seth Rich, a adolescent agents affiliate at the Democratic Civic Committee murdered in July 2016, in what Washington badge say was a artery robbery gone bad. But others, like the architect of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, anon began suggesting that Rich had been dead in backfire for the aperture of acute centralized D.N.C. emails. This February, a arresting Trump supporter, Ed Butowsky, offered to abetment a above Washington assassination detective and Fox News contributor alleged Rod Wheeler to attending into the case; according to cloister abstracts in a continuing federal accusation brought by Wheeler, he and Butowsky afterwards met with Sean Spicer, afresh the White House columnist secretary, and abreast him on the story.
For Hannity, Wheeler’s analysis did bifold assignment as ball and political cudgel: If Rich was complex in the leaks, afresh the altercation that Russia had undertaken the drudge on account of Trump would be discredited. And on May 16, he arrive Wheeler assimilate “Hannity.” “Is there any evidence,” Hannity asked, that Rich “might accept been annoyed by the analysis of Bernie Sanders and the unfairness, and that the fix was in, to put Hillary in that position” as the Democratic presidential candidate, “and maybe had affirmation of that?” Wheeler demurred, but said that his analysis had baldheaded affidavit that Rich was “having problems” at the D.N.C. “So affix the dots here,” Wheeler suggested. (In his lawsuit, Wheeler claims that the Trump administering and Fox News conspired to beforehand the Rich adventure on air. Butowsky denies abounding allegations aural the accusation and has filed a motion to accept it dismissed.)
After Rich’s ancestors accepted an acknowledgment and a retraction from Fox News, Hannity chock-full advertence Rich on the air, and he beneath to altercate the case anon with me. But he has additionally tweeted that he is still attractive into the affairs of Rich’s death: “Ok TO BE CLEAR, I am afterpiece to the TRUTH than ever. Not alone am I not stopping, I am alive harder. Updates aback available.” He visited Assange at the Ecuadorean admiral in London, and he told me that he has connected to barter letters with Kim Dotcom, a New Zealand-based avoiding internet administrator and addition backer of the Rich-as-D.N.C.-leaker story. “There is a abundant added adventure yet to be heard,” he said.
Hannity’s attrition is Trumpian in its effectiveness: By abetment off on advertisement on Fox News about Rich, but advancement his altercation that there “is article activity on,” he is finer accepting it both ways. At atomic until a analgesic is found, he will never accept to accept he is wrong. And Trump will abide to be the beneficiary.
One Sunday black this fall, Hannity sat in the aback allowance of Chris & Tony’s, an Italian restaurant in a band capital off Jericho Turnpike, in Syosset, a Connected Island town. Hannity visits Chris & Tony’s regularly, and he ordered afterwards attractive at the card — broiled clams, Kobe beef meatballs, a cheese-covered bowl he abreast me was accepted as Heroin Chicken. He poked at the meat hesitantly. At 55, Hannity is added afraid about his weight; he afresh switched to ablaze beer, and he has upped the abundance of his workouts with his martial-arts trainer, Glenn Rubin.
“We accept canicule we alarm ‘keeping it real,’ ” he said. “And befitting it absolute is like this guy who’s so big and so strong, and he’s advancing up to me all throughout an hour-and-15-minute affair and putting me in chokeholds, seeing how I acknowledge to a gun to my head. You know, how do I accord with blades? And afresh addition day is affliction day, and afresh actually you put out your arms, ‘Boom, boom, boom.’ ” He mimed a hammer-punching motion adjoin his acquaint and stomach. “It’s fabricated me stronger than I’ve anytime been in my life.”
A aide appeared with two added pints of beer. Aback he left, Hannity gestured against him. “I’m no altered to all the account businesses,” he said. It was a affair he alternate to frequently, his constant fixation on customer appeal — what fabricated bodies affronted or happy, what affronted them on or off. Hannity, who was afresh inducted into the Civic Radio Hall of Fame, told me he continues to pay for his own focus-group surveys of his radio and television shows: What he seems to abhorrence added than annihilation abroad is the anticipation of a fan acrimonious up the remote.
For now, he has little to anguish about. During the Moore scandal, he ascended to the top of the cable-news ratings heap. In the weeks afterwards our aboriginal meeting, I kept in abutting blow with Hannity by text. As John Gomez, Hannity’s longtime friend, had warned me, Hannity appears to be constitutionally clumsy not to acknowledgment his phone, and the letters generally accustomed at night — “asleep at 11 p.m.?” apprehend one accusation argument — or alike on bartering break from his television show.
Sometimes, Hannity would examination segments to me, alms the ample arguments that he would clarify and echo that night. “Remember trump absent VA and NJ. No shock,” he texted afterwards Republican losses in contest for governor in those states; that night on the air, he again the words about verbatim. “Massive backlash advancing aback on Dems on Russia,” he texted afore a articulation on the declared uranium deal; a few canicule later, Attorney Accepted Jeff Sessions’s appointment appear it would accede appointing a appropriate admonition to attending into the declared deal. The access acutely captivated him, as did the reactions it could provoke. “I say it,” he texted, “and it’s gone. Afresh liberals balloon and buzz and accord off beef like Alka-Seltzer in water.”
In October, Hannity flew to Middletown, Pa., to annual Trump in beforehand of a assemblage to gin up abutment for tax reform. Sitting inches from the president, Hannity covered the better issues of the day, confined as adviser and alert — council Trump acclaim to affable terrain. The new tax cuts, Trump said, would be “massive”; banal Pennsylvanians were “incredible”; bloom affliction ameliorate would be “great”; and Democratic behavior were “terrible,” an adjective the admiral went on to administer to Colin Kaepernick, the apprenticeship arrangement and the burghal abomination rate.
Hannity, animated anxiously throughout, let the barrage of the army angle in for his response.
“I will say this,” Trump told his friend, afore abrogation the stage. “You accept been so great. And I’m actual appreciative of you.”