Other than the not-inconsequential egos of cable-news personalities, it’s hard to see Fox News’ end game in its recent tit-for-tat squabbles with “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” – with the latest salvo coming from Sean Hannity.
Stewart has had a field day lampooning Hannity’s support of renegade rancher Cliven Bundy, which prompted Hannity to shoot back with his customary guilt-by-association approach, slamming Stewart for bringing the singer Yusuf Islam to his “Rally to Restore Sanity.”
But that’s where “The Daily Show’s” crack research team ensures that these kinds of exchanges aren’t really a fair fight. Because not only was Stewart able to retaliate with his own you-associate-with-crazy-musicians clip – putting Hannity together with Ted Nugent – but then a litany of Hannity segments that appear to expose his righteous indignation as partisan hackery, his commitment to principle dictated by whose ox is getting gored in any particular situation.
As with any host who stakes out sides as vigorously as Hannity does, the tale of the tape is not always his friend – riddled with contradictions that, as Stewart noted, betray his “blind partisan impulses.” And while these sorts of media feuds ostensibly benefit both parties – scoring points with their respective bases – in this case, Hannity is simply preaching to a choir that surely dismisses Stewart for his liberalism every bit as much as Hannity does, while Stewart is painting a broader, more damning portrait of Fox News hypocrisy for a younger audience that almost surely sees Hannity only when his more out-there moments earn him exposure on Stewart’s (or Stephen Colbert’s) program.
What’s interesting is that lately, for whatever reason, Fox hosts seem to be punching back more at the Comedy Central duo, from “The Five’s” Eric Bolling – about as close to a Hannity clone as the network has – swapping jabs with Stewart over food stamps to Bill O’Reilly going out of his way to badmouth CBS’ choice of Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman.
O’Reilly defended his analysis as being based on Colbert having alienated a sizable chunk of his potential audience, but it couldn’t help but be perceived in some quarters as sour grapes for having been mocked by the Comedy Central host through the years.
Clearly, Stewart’s exalted role in the media ecosystem makes him more than strictly a comedian, but that’s always his fallback position. And it’s worth noting he hardly confines his criticism to Fox News – although it remains his favorite target – having been brutal on CNN (most recently for its Malaysian Airlines coverage) and occasionally MSNBC and other networks.
For Hannity, who approaches every episode of his program as another 12-round bout with liberals and Democrats, Stewart might appear to be just another sparring partner — and he will no doubt claim Stewart has an unfair advantage because of all the left-leaning media in his corner. From outside the ring, however, this week’s exchange simply left Hannity looking like someone so accustomed to letting loose with haymakers as to have exposed his own glass jaw.