Back in the early 90's, before his apotheosis as a Fox News superstar, Hannity was a second string Right Wing shock jock toiling in the Atlanta market. In the run up to the ill fated Atlanta Olympics, our paths crossed.
A little background first.
It's rarely recalled now but the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 were marred by a controversythat achieved international notoriety long before the games opened. In 1993, the County Commission of Cobb County, GA, a suburban venue slated to host an Olympic event, decided that it was a good time to pass a resolution condemning the "Homosexual Lifestyle" as being at odds with the county's "traditional family values". The action sparked an intense fight back by LGBT residents and their allies as well as by the larger community throughout Metro Atlanta. Opponents of the resolution organized themselves into the Cobb Citizens Coalition and began the fight for its repeal. The conflict went National and then International.
At the time, I was serving as the Co-Chair for Education and Outreach for a local Atlanta based volunteer organization known as Neighbors Network(NN). Formed in 1988, NN was dedicated to combating hate crime and hate group activity in Georgia through research, education and counter organizing. In the course of our work and research we had documented a high level of long term hate group activity in Cobb County. In keeping with our commitment to aiding communities targeted by hate groups, we contacted the Citizens Coalition.
As difficult as may be to believe, in those days attacks motivated by anti-LGBT bigotry were not generally seen as on a par with attacks based on religious or racial bigotry. As far as I knew or know the NN was, among organizations focusing on Hate Groups at that time, alone in classifying "Gay bashing" as a hate Crime. Consequently, at the request of the Citizens Coalition, we produced a report, The Shadow of Hatred: Hate Group Activity in Cobb County GA, that placed the Cobb Commission's action within the larger context of White Supremacist and Anti-Semitic Hate Group activity and hate-crimes in the county.
While so engaged, we became aware of the activities of Dominionist, Christian Reconstructionist, theocratic groups among the supporters of the resolution. In particular, the activities of American Vision a Reconstructionist propaganda outfit lead by Gary DeMar, author of "textbooks" promoting the spurious notion of a America as a "Christian Nation" as well as an advocate for the supremacy of Old Testament Biblical Law over secular Law. This led to a second report detailing their activities, Hidden Agenda: Religious Extremism in Cobb County, GA.(PDF)
Shortly after the second report was released I got a phone call at my job from a friend who told me to tune in to Hannity's show, as he was on a tear attacking the NN report. When I did so, it wasn't long before I realized that Hannity was repeating, almost verbatim, the attacks that had appeared in the public statements originating from American Vision, DeMar and others. Essentially: the false accusation that we were a gay "front group" whose only interest in hate groups or hate crime was as a cover for promoting the so-called "gay agenda".
As smears go this was a particularly stupid one. It was easily refuted by our group's record since its founding. I decided to call in and demand equal time.
I got through to the Producer, an energetic fellow, without much delay and explained the reason for my call. He wasn't eager to allow me on air to rebut Sean since, as he put it, "It would interfere with the show's flow."
This line of reasoning didn't impress me, so I asked for the phone number of their attorney. That brought the Producer up short. In a more subdued and cautious tone he asked me why I wanted the number. I told him that since he refused to allow me on to correct Sean's false statements I thought it best to let our attorney (a completely fictitious character) take it up with their attorney. He put me on hold.
After a few moments silence, the staccato voice of Hannity himself came rattling down the line, demanding to know: "Did you threaten to sue me?!" Since for all I knew we were on live broadcast, I limited myself to repeating what I'd said to his Producer. I was put back on hold.
After another period of silence, the Producer came back on and offered me a deal. If I would come into the studio on a set date they would arrange for me to debate not Sean but Gary DeMar. Since I hadn't mentioned DeMar prior to this, it pretty much confirmed that Hannity was simply broadcasting unvetted propaganda produced by the very organization that was the subject of our research. It certainly suggested that he didn't feel competent to defend his statements on his own.
I took the deal, despite recognizing that I'd likely be tag teamed by Hannity and DeMar. I did so because we had two advantages. First, the facts were on our side. Second, I was willing to bet that Hannity and DeMar would be expecting the stereotypical Liberal of their fantasies rather than the Radical reality. I thought that would provide some tactical opportunities. Particularly if I didn't tip my hand early on.
There was a third advantage. I had contacts within Hannity's radio station who kept me informed of what was going on behind the scenes. Through them I learned that my request for the attorney's phone number had been timely. It seemed that Hannity was already being threatened with litigation stemming from an earlier broadcast.
So it came to pass that I found myself in the lobby of the radio station waiting to go on Hannity's show. I'd brought along a satchel of DeMar's books that I'd used in my research marked for quick reference. While I was there specifically to refute attacks NN's organizational character and credibility, I was pretty sure that DeMar was going to focus on our Report's conclusion that by advocating Levitical law he was advocating the death penalty for "sodomites." He'd already publicly branded our conclusion as a lie. Unfortunately for him he'd addressed this point in a number of his books and I was prepared to cite his own words.
My confidence was buoyed a bit when one of my contacts got word to me that the show had been delayed because DeMar had tried to renege on his appearance. Hannity had persuaded him by threatening to put me on air unopposed if he didn't show.
When we finally got into the studio things went pretty much as expected. I'd decided to start out by playing to their expectations, encouraging them to be aggressive and dominant.That's the way the first fifteen minutes went until I finally pulled out the books and read a particularly juicy passage wherein DeMar opined that it wouldn't be necessary to execute that many homosexuals since it wouldn't take that many to "terrorize" the rest back into the closet.
At the commercial break I decided to shift gears and confront Hannity. Discarding any conciliatory tone, I told him that, while I didn't expect him to be sympathetic, I did expect him to be fair. He denied being unfair. I replied that in that case he wouldn't object if I timed his contribution as we went along. I took off my watch and laid it on the console in front of me.
Oddly enough, this seemed to work. He back off big time and left DeMar to carry the ball largely alone. He did some color commentary; describing DeMar and Myself as "A couple of scorpions in a bottle." He asked some questions but mostly he laid back out of the line of Fire.
The rest of the hour was consumed with escalating combativeness between myself and DeMar, with him doggedly denying that his advocacy Old Testament Law was advocacy of the death penalty for homosexuals and my pointing out where he'd written approvingly of it. He seemed to think that if he hadn't literally said "I advocate the death penalty for homosexuals." that was sufficient. In his view, advocating biblical laws mandating the death penalty for homosexuals didn't count.
We did manage to keep it relatively civilized except, perhaps, when he called me "anti-Christian" or when I described him as a man lacking the verbal courage of his written convictions.
If it had ended at this, I think that both DeMar and Hannity would have been satisfied with the result. I wasn't quite finished though. As part of winding up the show, Hannity was giving us both an opportunity for a final statement. I was to go first and then DeMar.
I dialed it back to my earlier conciliatory pose and said that perhaps I had been mistaken. That perhaps DeMar hadn't meant to endorse the execution of homosexuals with his endorsement of Biblical Law. That I was prepared to withdraw the charge then and there if he would publicly repudiate the passage from Leviticus that called for such punishment. There was a pause.
When DeMar spoke it was apparent that he was talking to run out the clock without actually taking up my offer. I waited until I thought the diversion would be plain to the audience and then let fly.
I barked at him.
That's to say, I broke in on him in a loud voice saying "Come on Gary! It's a yes or no question! Do you, or do you not repudiate it?!"
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Hannity levitate halfway out of his chair. Thrusting himself forward over his control console, arms wide, fingers spread, he made a frantic effort to catch DeMar's attention. It was useless. DeMar had frozen with my first word. His eyes blazed and bulged only for me. "No! I do not repudiate it!" he roared.
Dialing my voice back to mid range, I bent forward and spoke directly into the microphone. "I rest my case." I glanced over at Hannity and saw that he'd dropped back into his seat. His elbows were resting on the console and his head was in his hands.
Credit his professionalism; he managed to recover and get us off the air without a glitch. DeMar strode out of the studio with an angry glare. Hannity refused to look at, or speak to me as I left.
So what's the moral of this story? I don't know that there is one but I do have some observations. Hannity is, I think, a mix of careerist and true believer. I don't think anyone motivated purely by self interest would put himself at risk by uncritically regurgitating propaganda funneled from extremist outfits. The fact that Hannity was prepared to coerce DeMar's participation suggests that any trust between them was ephemeral. At the same time it shows the lengths to which he'd go to shift responsibility away from himself and unto others. I don't think Hannity is unique. Most of the RW talkers I've heard strike me as being a similar mix.
More importantly, I think Hannity is representative in another regard. I think most of these RW talkers are wholly unprepared to deal with anyone who's ready mix it up and play hard ball. It's not impossible to beat these guy's, even in their own house.
Lastly, if you're going up against scheming, devious, bastards, it's helpful to be a bit of a scheming, devious, bastard yourself.