Hannity visits CBS News

Conservative pundit joins Couric for freeSpeech

Fox News pundit Sean Hannity had an unlikely platform Monday night — CBS News.

Hannity is the second conservative pundit to appear on CBS’ “Evening News With Katie Couric,” which has tried to shed its image as the newscast conservatives love to hate.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh was the third guest on the freeSpeech segment, which debuted along with Katie Couric on Sept. 5, but Hannity is the first from a competing TV news network.

With 12.5 million radio listeners a week, Hannity is the second most popular radio personality behind Limbaugh. “Hannity & Colmes” draws 1.7 million viewers a night on Fox News Channel.

More than conservative, Hannity has been a vocal critic of CBS News, especially after Memogate, though he counts Bob Schieffer, who has appeared on “Hannity & Colmes,” as a friend.

“I have been a critic of the old media for bias and for ignoring conservative voices,” Hannity said. “Now here’s the old media saying we are going to give a known conservative 95 seconds of unedited air time. It’s a sign the times are changing.”

To provide balance, exec producer Rome Hartman said liberal blogger Arianna Huffington will get her say on Tuesday night.

“The only thing we are trying to do is have a wide range of voices represented,” Hartman said. “We are not trying to have it ping-pong back and forth on a partisan basis.”

In the last few weeks, freeSpeech has featured Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of liberal weekly the Nation, and Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.

Aside from Couric herself, the freeSpeech segment was the most visible change to the newscast when it was relaunched in September, and critics have targeted it for detracting from time devoted to news in the 22-minute broadcast.

Hartman argues that the range of opinion is part of the news and the segment is still part of his plan for the newscast, which fell back to third place after winning the first few weeks after Couric’s debut.

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