Hannity, 55, has established himself as a controversial but central figure in American media since Trump’s ascendency to the White House in January.
Six months after the departure of Fox’s star anchor Bill O’Reilly following sexual harassment accusations, Hannity’s daily show on Fox News tops the ratings for news channels, with nearly four million viewers on some evenings.
“Three million viewers! Fourteen million listeners! You can’t buy that kind of publicity.”
The lines come from a religiously-inspired film, “Let There Be Light,” co-produced this year by Hannity, who plays none other than himself in a supporting role.
There’s nothing like a bit of self-promotion to reinforce the Hannity brand.
Hair always impeccably parted and with a reassuring air, the conservative broadcaster doesn’t consider himself a journalist, which gives him complete freedom in shaping his shows.
In 30 years on the air and 23 on TV, the New Yorker has cut an image as the herald of conservative America — which in his view the general media ignores — with a style less abrasive than O’Reilly or the “godfather” of conservative radio Rush Limbaugh.
But what now gives him an edge over his rivals is his near-perfect alignment with Trump.
In early 2016, even before Trump won the Republican nomination, Hannity sided with the billionaire, who is also his friend.
“He realized very early that his audience was reacting to Donald Trump, that Trump was resonating with them,” said Brian Rosenwald, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania who is writing a book on political talk radio.
Since then, every night on Fox News, Hannity defends tooth and nail the president whom he has already interviewed twice. CNN, a mainstream media outlet which Hannity and Trump disparages, is still waiting for a turn.
Hannity’s attacks — because he knows very well to be on the offensive — are directed toward Democrats generally and in particular Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential challenger whom Trump defeated.
– Conspiracy theories –
Some Republicans and the mainstream media also fall in Hannity’s sights as he takes up the same themes as Trump.
“Except for me and a few others who are giving him a fair shake, they are all against him,” Hannity said during a Friday radio show about the “corrupt” media.
Hannity declined an interview request from AFP.
According to several media outlets including The New York Times, Hannity has the ear of the president and does not hesitate to share views with him on a range of topics.
Hannity’s ability “to have access to top officials including the president himself shows how much he is trusted by those in power and the public respects him for that immensely,” says Dante Mazza, a Republican student at Columbia University in New York.
“I think he represents very well the thoughts and feelings of today’s American conservative,” Mazza adds.
The university researcher, Rosenwald, does not want to describe Hannity’s discourse as propaganda, which he calls “a little bit of a loaded word.”
But Rosenwald can “guarantee you that he’s receiving information every day from the White House.”
King of his audience, Hannity is feared more by some elected Republicans than he is by the Democrats who abhor him.
“He is very influential” and capable of swaying a lot Republican primary votes, Rosenwald said.
“The most important election in a lot of districts these days is the primary. Because general elections aren’t competitive.”
Hannity often draws on conspiracy theories to discredit Democrats or to unmask the dark forces supposedly working to weaken the president.
In May, he defended the unproven argument that Democrats plotted to murder Seth Rich, a young employee of that party.
Hannity eventually abandoned that line at the request of Rich’s family, but several advertisers received complaints over his coverage. Ultimately, those complaints meant nothing.
“He’s very quick to remind people on a regular basis: I’m not a journalist, my job is not to get every fact right every day. My job is not to ask the hardest questions,” said Rosenwald. “He’s an entertainer or a talk show host, whichever term you prefer. His goal is to put out the best product every day.”