It was the usual attacks on Obama over those with whom he associates. But last night (3/19/08), Sean Hannity was confronted about his own past association with white supremacist Hal Turner. First Hannity denied knowing Turner, then he said he had long ago banned Turner from his show. While it’s probably true that Hannity banned Turner, what Hannity didn’t mention is that before Turner got banned, he was regularly welcomed on Hannity’s show, even after saying on the air that if it weren’t for the graciousness of white people, “black people would still be swinging on trees in Africa.”
Malik Shabazz, of the New Black Panther Party, was the guest. FOX News frequently hosts members of that organization, usually as objects of derision. Last night, Shabazz was there because his organization had endorsed Barack Obama. It was an endorsement that Obama specifically rejected but FOX News deliberately trumped up the endorsement by inviting Shabazz on the program (See, look what kind of extremists Obama associates with), playing a clip from one of Shabazz’ more incendiary confrontations with Hannity
(Jews knew about 9/11 and got out of the way), and repeatedly running the “news” on the crawl that the Obama campaign had rejected the endorsement because the New Black Panther Party is considered to be an organization that advocates violence.
But last night, Shabazz wisely toned down his rhetoric and confronted Hannity on his own bias against Obama. “Why won’t you acknowledge the brilliance of Barack Obama’s speech? Why won’t you accept his call to come out of the divisive throngs of racism?” Shabazz asked.
Hannity praised Obama as a very effective politician. Then Hannity added, “What I don’t think you’re understanding here, Malik, is that when you hear the minister of him for 20 years, when you hear the associations with Louis Farrakhan, one of the biggest racists and anti-Semites in the country, what you’re not understanding is, America hears extremism at its worst.”
Shabazz responded, “Let me ask you this. Are you to be judged by your promotion and association with Hal Turner?”
Hannity waved his arm around. “I don’t know anybody named ” this is nonsense. I don’t..” Then Hannity changed his tune. “Sir, sir.. That was a man that was banned from my radio show ten years ago, that ran a Senate campaign in New Jersey.”
Then, as Shabazz refused to stop talking or back down, Hannity, in a tacit admission, said, “I’m not running for president.”
“A neo Nazi, you backed his career,” Shabazz said.
Hannity answered, “That is an absolute, positive, lie and you’ve been reading the wrong websites (presumably, he meant ours), my friend. Good try.”
In fact, the information about Hannity’s association with Turner comes from an article by Max Blumenthal in the online version of The Nation magazine, dated June 3, 2005. And while it may be a stretch to say that Hannity “backed Turner’s career,” there’s little doubt that Hannity promoted Turner’s views. To quote from the article:
Turner was once a prominent activist in New Jersey’s Republican Party. To area conservatives, he was best known by his moniker for call-ins to the Sean Hannity Show, “Hal from North Bergen.” For years, Hannity offered his top-rated radio show as a regular forum for Turner’s occasionally racist, always over-the-top rants. Hannity also chatted with him off-air, allegedly offering encouragement to Turner as he struggled to overcome a cocaine habit and homosexual leanings.
Turner has boasted that Hannity once invited Turner and his son on to the set of Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes. Today, Turner lurks on the fringes of the far right, spouting hate-laced tirades on his webcast radio show. Hannity, meanwhile, remains mum about his former alliance with the neo-Nazi, homing in instead on the supposed racism of black and Latino Democrats.
On WABC Hannity inherited (Bob) Grant’s fan base of angry white males, who listened to his show in the New York City area. Hannity recognized his audience’s thirst for red meat, racist rhetoric.
However, he knew that if he wanted to avoid Grant’s fate, he needed an air of deniability. When “Hal from North Bergen” began calling his show, Hannity found he could avoid the dangers of direct race-baiting by simply outsourcing it to Turner.
During an August 1998 episode of the show, Turner reminded Hannity that were it not for the graciousness of the white man, “black people would still be swinging on trees in Africa,” according to Daryle Jenkins, co-founder of the New Jersey-based antiracism group One People’s Project. Instead of rebuking Turner or cutting him off, Hannity continued to welcome his calls. On December 10 of the following year, Turner called Hannity’s show to announce his campaign to run for a seat in the US House of Representatives from New Jersey, and to attack his presumptive opponent, Democratic Representative Robert Menendez, as a “left-wing nut.”
By this time, according to Jenkins, Turner and Hannity had bonded off-air. In 1998 Hannity received an anonymous e-mail linking to an AOL discussion board on which Turner had allegedly confessed to a cocaine problem and alluded to past homosexual trysts. Turner (or someone claiming to be Turner) wrote in an August 4, 1998, Google discussion forum that Hannity called him to clear the air: “Just last week, Sean phoned me at home from his job at FOX News to continue a conversation we’d begun earlier while he was at WABC,” Turner wrote. “Sean advised that one of you sensitive souls sent him an e-mail about ‘revelations I had made’ here on the internet. He told me it was obviously and [sic] attempt to ‘poison the water.’ ” Turner continued, “I told him that I’ve done things I’m not proud of, and had dark times in my life; and those experiences helped shape the way I live today…the right way. He [Hannity] laughed and commented that he knew the feeling.” Turner added that such chats with Hannity were “not unusual,” often occurring while Hannity held his calls during commercial breaks.
But Turner and Hannity’s relationship collapsed in 2000 after the Hudson County Republican Party endorsed Turner’s primary challenger, Theresa De Leon, an accomplished businesswoman and dark-skinned Latina. “I had never judged people on their race, not prior to that point,” Turner recalled in a February 23, 2003, article in the Bergen County Record. “And there I was, on the receiving end–in America–of a decision that I wasn’t good enough because I was a white male.” Turner finished last in the primary, just as Hannity was hitting his stride as a major Fox News personality. When WABC’s screeners began blocking Turner’s calls, he realized he was no longer of use to Hannity.
Co-host Kirsten Powers jumped into the fray for a fraction of the time with Shabazz that Hannity got. But, as we have come to expect from her, her advocacy on behalf of Obama (or any Democrat) took a back seat to cozying up to conservatives. It was her third day subbing for Alan Colmes, every day has been a full-out attack against Obama and, by extension, the Democrats’ chances to win in November. Surely, Powers was politically savvy enough to understand why Shabazz had been invited. But instead of thinking of some way to advocate for her own side (She could have, for example, pointed out that while she rejects Shabazz’ organization, that Obama’s message that we have to work together to solve the serious problems facing the country is an important one they can both agree on, that it’s more important to have a real dialogue about issues such as the war in Iraq, the economy and health care than to dwell on what Obama’s pastor says and whether or not Obama denounced it soundly enough.) Instead, she used her portion of the interview to further fan the flames of divisiveness. “First of all, the Obama campaign says it doesn’t want your endorsement. You were just saying to Sean how Barack Obama wants to move past all this racial divisiveness.” Smiling scornfully, she continued, “I mean, I’ve read some of the stuff that you’ve said about white people and about Jews. Do you think that that’s moving past racial division?”
At the end, she read the following teaser in a chirpy, upbeat voice: “Coming up, Barack Obama is starting to feel the political heat over the fall out of Jeremiah Wright. Wait until you see how the polls have moved since last week!”