Fox News: We didn't know about Sean Hannity's relationship with Michael Cohen -- but he has our full support

My goodness. Not even a week’s “vacation,” just for the sake of appearances?

Fox was in a jam in admitting how much they knew about Hannity getting legal advice from Cohen. It’s bad either way. If they claim Hannity didn’t tell them, it looks he hung them out to dry by withholding information from management that was relevant to a conflict of interest. If they claim he did tell them, they have to explain why they let him go on the air and rant about Cohen without forcing him to disclose his relationship to viewers — which would implicate Fox management in a cover-up of the ethical problem. Whether their statement this afternoon is true or not, they’ll get less heat for it than they would have if they admitted complicity in hiding his relationship with Cohen.

Refusing to discipline him makes cynical sense too for all sorts of reasons. Fox viewers are already annoyed that the network cut loose Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly under pressure from liberal activists over the sexual harassment allegations against them. Then Laura Ingraham came under fire from a David-Hogg-led boycott and disappeared for a week. Now Hannity’s getting pummeled for yesterday’s disclosure in court about his relationship with Cohen. That has nothing to do with the left, but that’s irrelevant: If Fox doesn’t “stand up” for its anchors, irrespective of what they’re accused of, the left will “win,” or so Hannity might claim to his 15 million radio listeners. Which would make life very uncomfortable for Fox.

That’s the other thing about this — he’s no ordinary anchor, even at FNC. Because he gets the best ratings; because he’s such an institution at the network; because he’s buds with the president and has another enormous platform via his radio show every day, Hannity really might be able to take his audience with him if he left. (He reportedly has a “key man” clause in his contract that gives him that option post-Ailes.) He’d get picked up somewhere, even if he had to follow Beck’s lead and create his own Internet network. I’m not sure anyone else at Fox, Carlson and Ingraham included, could say the same. And meanwhile Fox would have a vacuum at 9 p.m., the third vacancy in primetime in less than two years, a bad vibe for the ratings leader in cable news. Hannity has all the leverage.

So Fox is giving him a pass, as expected. The interesting question is what they might do if it turned out that Hannity had refused to disclose *other* professional relationships with his regular guests. An oversight with Michael Cohen might be excusable. Oversights among multiple guests would look like a pattern. New from Rosie Gray:

Though Hannity says he was never actually Cohen’s client, he does appear to have used the legal services of two other well-connected Trump-world lawyers in a different matter a year ago.

On May 25, 2017, KFAQ, a radio station based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, received a cease-and-desist letter signed by two lawyers for Hannity: Victoria Toensing and Jay Alan Sekulow. Toensing’s signature sits above her name and that of her husband Joseph E. diGenova, the members of diGenova and Toensing LLP, and she identifies herself as “Counsel for Sean Hannity,” according to an image of the signature page obtained by The Atlantic. Sekulow is also identified in the letter page as a “Counsel for Sean Hannity.”

Sekulow, diGenova, and Toensing have frequently appeared on Hannity’s program; diGenova appeared on the show as recently as Monday night. Asked for comment, Hannity sent a text consisting of NewsBusters and Daily Caller links to stories about ethical misconduct in the mainstream media and declined to offer further comment. “I don’t have time for these silly questions,” he said.

That’s the defense of last resort here for Hannity and Fox, if it comes to that. The rest of the media is sleazy about not disclosing its personal and professional relationships with the people it covers so conservative media should be held to no higher standard. Even if Fox (especially its “news” side) is unhappy with that rationale, Hannity can and will use it in his own defense on the radio. The libs are worse! If Fox disciplines him anyway, then they’re siding with the libs. Again: He has all the leverage.

With one wrinkle. To my surprise, quite a few Fox guests have criticized Hannity on FNC’s own airwaves in the past 24 hours. The hosts, like Tucker Carlson and the “Fox & Friends” crew, have ridden to his defense but Juan Williams, Alan Dershowitz, and even Andrew Napolitano have gently reprimanded him — Dershowitz on Hannity’s own show. Maybe that’s the compromise management reached with Hannity. They’ll defend him, they won’t reprimand him in any way, but they also want stop anyone from criticizing him on air.