I have been highly critical of what I view as the erosion of the line between journalism and advocacy in cable news, including a column this week criticizing CNN for its unrelenting anti-Trump coverage. MSNBC has previously been criticized for its host, Al Sharpton, appearing at campaign rallies. Now Fox is facing an equally serious incident after Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. Both are known to be close confidants of Trump, but they also work for a news organization that is covering Trump and this election. While many view the journalistic rule of separation as artificial in the age of partisan cable programming, it represents the most glaring breach in the rule that we have seen. The incident raises an increasing conflict with journalistic values and programming. All of the networks now have anchors who are openly partisan but maintain facial neutrality by not contributing or campaigning for parties. The fear is that a departure from that technical rule will lead to a race to the bottom of networks working as an extension of political parties and a return to the age of “Yellow Journalism.” Update: Fox News has rebuked both Hannity and Pirro for their participation.
Cable networks now increasingly maintain fairly homogeneous viewerships composed of people who seek “echo programming” that take a consistent liberal or conservative perspective. It is part of the deepening divisions in our country where people only hear on viewpoint and news that confirm their political preferences. In that environment, the separation of actual campaigning can seem precious. However, the erosion of the line between reporting and campaigning among media figures.
Hannity was billed as one of the people to appear with Trump at the rally with Rush Limbaugh. He later said that he would be simply having a show at the event and emphasized that “to be clear, I will not be on stage campaigning.”