Sean Hannity and Fox News have a problem. And Hannity’s problem is one that affects colleagues such as Chris Wallace, Dana Perino and Bret Baier.
Hannity, at times, claims he is not a journalist. But opinion and commentary is journalism. It’s not reporting, but it is opinion journalism, even when the person is an unapologetic pro-Trump hack. As such, Hannity had a responsibility to disclose to his audience his relationship with attorney Michael Cohen. Whether it’s appropriate for Hannity to pop off about the raid on Cohen’s office while maintaining a personal or professional relationship is up to his audience to decide. Naturally, Hannity’s audience wouldn’t care either way but that’s irrelevant.
Experts are weighing in and agree Hannity should have made the disclosure:
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a newspaper reporter or an opinion journalist,” said Indira Lakshmanan, the journalism ethics chair at the Poynter Institute. “If you want to maintain credibility with an audience, and be honest with them, you have to disclose all facts.”
Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, said you don’t “move out of the realm of ethics when we move into the realm of opinion.” She said commentators should still be expected to maintain independence from subjects they covering and disclose relevant ties.
“This is not a small matter,” she said. “We’re talking about one of the most important new stories of this time and he did not disclose his connection to it while commenting on it. His audience deserves to know when he has connections that may be affecting that commentary.”
Bartzen Culver added: “An organization needs to have standards for the people who do its reporting or commenting.”
Again, Hannity’s refusal to disclose his relationship with Cohen reflects poorly on his colleagues. It’s not only journalism experts saying it. Harvard law professor and Trump defender, Alan Dershowitz, confronted Hannity and told him he should have made the disclosure:
.@AlanDersh calls out Hannity for not disclosing Cohen ties!
DERSHOWITZ: "I really think that you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on this show."
HANNITY: "I have the right to privacy." pic.twitter.com/CuCIIo8fuw
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 17, 2018
People can argue over whether or not Hannity’s name should have been revealed and various lawyers have different takes on the issue which is to be expected. But that is irrelevant to the underlying issue about disclosure and the near-universal view is Hannity should have told his audience.