Hannity is the latest TV-news personality to take on what has in recent years developed into a Super Bowl Sunday tradition: a pre-game interview with the President of the United States. Savannah Guthrie, Gayle King and Bill O’Reilly are among the big names that have tackled the tricky assignment in the past decade. This year, Hannity, the longtime Fox News host and political firebrand, says the only pressure he feels is to deliver what he thinks the audience at home is craving.
“I want to make sure I put myself in the position of somebody at home, hanging out with friends and waiting for the game to start,” Hannity tells Variety. He intends to query President Trump on his feelings regarding the impeachment trial in the Senate, the state of the economy and the recent death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. But he thinks the crowds at home will also want to get Trump’s take on the big football game of the day and his predictions about which team might win.
Hannity isn’t the first Fox News opinion host to take on this job. O’Reilly did pre-game interviews with President Barack Obama in 2011 and 2014. But Hannity will do the job at a time when the America’s body politic is more polarized than ever, and he will have to navigate the fact that the interview appears on Fox Broadcast Co. on a day when TV’s largest audience of the year tunes in to relax. He’s not holding court as usual at on “Hannity” at 9 p.m. weeknights, when viewers come to hear a more partisan take on current events.
Keeping the audience in mind, says Hannity, may help. “It’s a nice, fun American day,” Hannity says. “What do you do on Super Bowl Sunday? I imagine you’re with friends and family, and you are probably grilling, making chicken wings. You’re making steaks maybe grilling a little fish, smoking some barbecue.” But, he adds, “there are important issues in the news.”
At the same time, he says, he is ready to press Trump on the U.S. relationship with North Korea; how Iran has been behaving since its missiles struck the Ain al-Assad base in Iraq in response to Soleimani’s death; and avoiding a “boots on the ground” response to conflicts that might involve the U.S.
The interview is likely to take place at the White House. It will be pre-taped, and Hannity says he is likely to get 10 to 15 minutes. Some portion of the exchange may be held for broadcast on “Hannity.” He also acknowledges he has enjoyed a long relationship with President Trump that is likely to create a more comfortable mood between them from the outset of their talk.
The day is a big one for the Fox News host, who is typically the most-watched personality in cable news, and also important for the parent company. Since selling the bulk of its cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co., Fox Corp. has placed a big bet on the appeal of live programming, particularly sports and news. Mixing Hannity with the trappings of the Super Bowl places an even bigger emphasis on the company’s biggest lines of business, particularly Fox News.
A bevy of TV journalists describe the Super Bowl interview as one of the toughest assignments in TV news. “I would say it’s the most important interview of my life,” O’Reilly told Variety in 2017 in the hours leading up to his interview with Trump before Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl LI. NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie interviewed President Obama in 2015, and told Variety the process was “really tricky.“
Many anchors realize they have to balance a desire to challenge the president with the fact the crowd at home may have different expectations. Confrontation is not the order of the day. “It’s very hard to interrupt the president, but I think the American people in interviews like this want to hear the president ultimately provide the answer,” Hannity says.
“It’s not my day,” says Hannity. “People want to hear from the president.”