IS A JOURNALIST WHAT YOU DO OR WHAT YOU ARE?
This New York Times piece about Sean Hannity raises that question. It appears that Mr. Hannity took it upon himself to offer advice to then President Donald Trump in the wake of last year’s insurrection. Among the nuggets Mr. Hannity offered was that President Trump should listen to “[n]o more crazy people.”
Now, the House Committee investigating the events of January 6 and its aftermath have asked Mr. Hannity to cooperate and answer questions about his communications with President Trump and his aides in the days surrounding January 6. But according to Mr. Hannity’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow (who coincidentally defended President Trump in his impeachment trial) is saying that the Committee’s inquiry into Mr. Hannity’s communications raises “First Amendment concerns regarding freedom of the press.”
As someone who actually spends time defending the media and the freedom of the press, I’m not sure I agree entirely with Mr. Sekulow’s new found devotion to the First Amendment. And it gets back to the headline of this post. To paraphrase a quote from the Watergate hearings, what was Mr. Hannity doing, and when was he doing it? I have a little trouble seeing how Mr. Hannity was acting as a journalist in his communications with the Trump team. In my understanding, a journalist gathers news and reports it to the public. That typically involves, you know, asking questions.
I don’t see in the exchanges that Mr. Hannity had with the Trump team a lot of questions. He’s giving advice, and did not appear to be broadcasting his actions since we didn’t even know about it until the Committee released the text messages. So, Mr. Hannity must be arguing that because he is a journalist (and let’s be honest, that is subject to debate in some circles), any of his communications get First Amendment protection.
The Committee will no doubt argue that whether he is or isn’t a journalist, Mr. Hannity wasn’t acting as a journalist in his advisory texts to the Trump team. And he ought not be allowed to shield all inquiry simply because of his job title.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. More to come I’m sure.