Fox News host Sean Hannity in late July presented a daring prediction about former FBI director James B. Comey. A then-ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, roared Hannity, would find Comey guilty of a “lack of candor” in answering questions about the handling of classified information and other matters.
Said Hannity on his July 31 program: “The DOJ’s watchdog, the Inspector General [Michael] Horowitz, is preparing a damning report on Comey’s ‘conduct in his final days as the FBI director that will likely conclude that he leaked classified information and showed a lack of candor.’ That would be lying. That’s why a lot of other people just got indicted and they’re going to jail for that.”
That proclamation was based on a story by “Hannity” regular John Solomon in the Hill. The headline: “James Comey’s next reckoning is imminent — this time for leaking.”
And it was bogus, as the eventual actual Justice Department IG report made clear. Released in late August, the report did not find that Comey behaved with a “lack of candor,” which is indeed a bureaucratic term for lying. And it “found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos to members of the media.”
Faced with a black-and-white rebuttal of their reporting, Hannity and Solomon did what propagandists do: They gaslit. “Let’s be clear, this report is exactly what a few weeks ago we told you exactly what it would be. We were not wrong,” said Hannity. When pressed on the fully off-target conclusions of his IG report preview, Solomon sent the Erik Wemple Blog an explanation of how Comey violated FBI policy and leaked a memo … to his attorneys.
What does Solomon get for such work? A contract, it turns out: He is now a Fox News contributor.
The story of Solomon’s hiring is foremost about timing:
*It comes just over a month after Solomon’s smear job against Comey came to light.
*It comes just a couple of weeks after Solomon’s work came under direct attack from the whistleblower complaint revolving around President Trump and Ukraine. “Beginning in late March 2019, a series of articles appeared in an online publication called The Hill. In these articles, several Ukrainian officials — most notably, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko — made a series of allegations against other Ukrainian officials and current and former U.S. officials,” reads the complaint, referencing Solomon’s work in the Hill.
For instance: Solomon had interviewed Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko, who alleged that U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had passed along a “do not prosecute” list during their first meeting. Lutsenko later withdrew this allegation. Attacks against Yovanovitch, however, were consistent with the pro-Trump cause: Rudolph W. Giuliani, a personal attorney for Trump, gave Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “nine-page document dated March 28 that included a detailed timeline of the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine and allegations of impropriety against Ms. Yovanovitch, including that she was ‘very close’ to Mr. Biden.” Yovanovitch was removed from her post in May.
There’s no update/correction to the Hill’s article to note that Lutsenko had retracted this allegation.
*It comes a few weeks after the Washington Examiner reported that Solomon was leaving his post as executive vice president at the Hill. “After two-plus amazing years at Hill.TV I am moving on next month to build my own startup media company,” Solomon wrote in a memo to colleagues.
*It comes more than a year after The Hill declared that Solomon would write for the publication only as an “opinion contributor” after his news-side colleagues complained about the lack of rigor in his stories.
*It comes via scoop from the Washington Examiner on Saturday night, precisely when few people might take heed.
What is Fox News doing here? The company didn’t answer questions posed by the Erik Wemple Blog.
Not that it really needs to. Solomon plays a key role for the “Hannity” franchise at Fox News: He feeds it reporting that aligns with its worldview, on a steady basis. Need to cook up a discredited scandal from the Clinton years to distract from Trump’s corruption? Solomon is there for you, with some half-baked stuff on Uranium One. Need some dicey stuff on the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts? Solomon is there for you. Need Ukrainian conspiracy chatter? Solomon, again, is there for you.
And so “Hannity” is there for Solomon.
Every major contributor acquisition tells a bigger story about a cable-news outlet. This is not a good one. The viewership of “Hannity” hinges on a pipeline of thin, conspiratorial gruel that the host can promise with every broadcast. Baked into the show’s very premise is the feeling that the world is coming apart right now, and only “Hannity” knows the real story. That’s why the host is forever beseeching his viewers to “buckle up” for the revelations that stream from his set. “All right. Tonight, buckle up. We have big breaking news tonight, multiple fronts,” said Hannity last Friday night.
Two nights earlier, he started with this: “We begin tonight with a Fox News alert. It’s an incredibly busy breaking news night. Now breaking moments ago, we have just obtained, I have it in my hand, a brand-new document from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani detailing his interview with the Ukrainian prosecutor who was fired at the request of former Vice President Joe Biden. Remember the shakedown with your taxpayer money? Oh, he was corrupt.”
Problem is, the “news” side of Fox News isn’t particularly prolific in turning out accountability stories on Democratic politicians. Too often, the network — and Hannity, as well — depends on mainstream outlets to supply such information.
With a resume that includes stops at the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Washington Times and Circa, Solomon also furnishes something Hannity will continue to need: time-tested journalistic-sounding defenses when the story falls apart:
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