Just a little light gossip from Gabriel Sherman, although the timing makes sense to me. It’d be to Hannity’s advantage to start circulating rumors of his unhappiness too, even if they’re insincere, as it might give him more leverage over the direction of the network.
Fox journalists, bristling at being branded an arm of the Trump White House, are lobbying Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace to rein in Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Pirro. “Reporters are telling management that we’re being defined by the worst people on our air,” a frustrated senior Fox staffer told me. Fox’s opinion hosts, meanwhile, have made the case that Fox’s prime-time lineup not only reflects the audience’s worldview, but is responsible for the majority of the network’s advertising revenue. “We make the money,” an anchor close to Hannity told me…
Another vector influencing the Trump-Fox relationship is Hannity’s frustration with the Murdochs. Sources said Hannity is angry at the Murdochs’ firing of Ailes and Bill Shine, Hannity’s close friend and former producer. Hannity believes the Murdochs are out to get Trump. “Hannity told Trump last year that the Murdochs hate Trump, and Hannity is the only one holding Fox together,” a source who heard the conversation told me. Hannity has told friends that he intends to leave Fox when his contract expires in early 2021, two people who’ve spoken with him said. (Hannity did not respond to a request for comment.)
Why might Hannity be eyeing 2021 as a bookend to his time at Fox? For starters, he turns 60 that year. He may reason that if there’s something else he wants to do professionally (start his own online broadcast platform a la The Blaze, maybe?), that’d be a fine milestone year to do it. 2021 will mark 25 years for him at Fox, another nice round number that might lead him to consider it a natural endpoint for his tenure.
Early 2021 is also the beginning of a new presidential term either for Trump or for some Democrat. If it’s Trump, there’s almost certainly a job waiting for Hannity as a top advisor if he wants one. Few people ever get to work for the president in the West Wing; Hannity might not be able to resist the opportunity. If it’s a Democrat who’s sworn in, with Hannity facing a return to the role of nightly right-wing attack dog against the administration, he might feel that he’s been there and done that. He spent half of Clinton’s presidency and the entirety of Obama’s in that niche. Who needs it?
Worse, he might find himself stuck in the middle of a nasty Republican dispute over whether the party should get Trumpier after the 2020 defeat or steer back towards the center. Hannity doesn’t like to be crosswise with the base or with the party leadership since antagonizing either costs him influence, but he might not be able to avoid it with one or the other. Plus, if Trump loses badly next year he’s apt to be the target of recriminations due to his close association with POTUS whether he likes it or not. Why volunteer to navigate the treacherous waters of post-Trump conservative media? Lie low for a few years, then come back when it’s clear which way the party’s headed in 2024.
2021 will be an interesting year for Fox News too, especially if Trump loses. If he wins, the bottom line will require that the network remain on the same course it is now, even if that doesn’t suit the Murdoch family’s political tastes. If he loses, though, the news side of the network will surely try to seize the moment as an opportunity to retrench. All sorts of right-wing institutions will be doing soul-searching in the wake of a Trump defeat; Fox’s news wing will make the argument internally that the company got too close to him, it hurt their credibility with everyone outside Trump’s base, and now’s the chance to restore some daylight between the network and the party. It seems not completely coincidental, as Sherman notes, that Fox Broadcasting just named Paul Ryan a corporate director. With the possible exception of Mitt Romney, no one better embodies the pre-Trump model of the Republican Party than Ryan does. Hannity’s departure might make it irresistible for the network to rebrand as at least *somewhat* less populist and opinionated than it’s become. Imagine if they kept Tucker and Ingraham together in primetime but added a newsier hour a la Megyn Kelly’s old show.
Of course, all of this could be wrong and Hannity might be right there at 9 p.m. broadcasting through President Dinesh D’Souza’s second term in 2032. But as I said up top, it probably benefits him to let the Murdochs know indirectly that he’s dissatisfied. They won’t part with him lightly given his ratings. He might get a bigger check or more influence over the programming line-up if executives think that’s what’s needed to keep him.