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Should Sean Hannity have disclosed his Michael Cohen connection?

Fox News host Sean Hannity has been a steadfast champion of President Trump and a fierce critic of the Russia investigation. The revelation that Hannity is also a client of Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has triggered a wave of criticism over his lack of disclosure. William Brangham gets analysis from Margaret Sullivan from The Washington Post.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The revelation in court yesterday that Sean Hannity is also a client of President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen has triggered a wave of criticism about the FOX News host.

    William Brangham reports.

  • William Brangham:

    Anyone who's seen Sean Hannity's show knows exactly where he stands. The longtime FOX News host has been a steadfast champion of President Trump and his agenda, and a fierce critic of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

    For example, here's how, last week, Hannity reported the news that federal prosecutors had raided the offices of Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer.

  • Sean Hannity:

    All right, tonight we have an explosive new chapter in Mueller's partisan witch-hunt. Now, we have entered a dangerous new phase, and there's no turning back from this. It's been clear, as I have been warning, Mueller is out to get the president, and it appears at any cost.

    Here's what happened. Upon referral from special counselor Robert Mueller, the FBI has raided the office, the home, and the hotel room of Michael Cohen, the personal attorney of the president of the United States.

    This is now officially an all-hands-on-deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States.

  • William Brangham:

    What Hannity didn't say, and what we only learned yesterday, was that he, too, was allegedly a client of Michael Cohen's, and some of the material seized from Cohen's office might relate to Hannity.

    So, should FOX News viewers have been told of this connection?

    I'm joined now by Margaret Sullivan, media critic for The Washington Post.

    Welcome.

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    There is a lot we still don't understand about this relationship, but what do you think about that? Should FOX News viewers have been told about this relationship?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Yes, absolutely.

    And FOX News brass should have been told about it, too, which apparently they weren't. But the viewers deserve to know that the person who was being talked about on Hannity's show was actually Hannity's own lawyer, to some extent at least, maybe not in a full-fledged, on-a-retainer way, but someone with whom he said he shared an attorney-client privilege.

  • William Brangham:

    But why does it matter? Why do you need to know that?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    It's a conflict of interest. You want to know that someone is dealing straight. They're not doing it because it's a favor or because they're indebted or there's something that we don't know about.

  • William Brangham:

    FOX News, last on Hannity's show, he had Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz on.

    And Dershowitz just interjected and criticized Hannity, much the way you are, saying he should have disclosed this.

    Hannity later in the broadcast addressed the Cohen issue more fully. Here's what he had to say.

  • Sean Hannity:

    Let me set the record straight. Here is the truth.

    Michael Cohen never represented me in any legal matter. I never retained his services. I never received an invoice. I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees. I did have occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen, he's a great attorney, about legal questions I had or I was looking for input and perspective.

    My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.

    And to be absolutely clear, they never involved any matter, any — sorry to disappoint so many — matter between me, a third party, a third group at all. And my questions, exclusively almost, focused on real estate.

  • William Brangham:

    So what do you make of that?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Well, that part of it, that last part seems to be trying to get out the message that this wasn't part of what Michael Cohen does, which is to arrange payoffs to women who are making complaints about sexual misconduct.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • William Brangham:

    Because those are the other two clients of Cohen.

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Those are the other two. He's done that for both President Trump and for the GOP fund-raiser who was the second client.

  • William Brangham:

    This fund-raiser.

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    And Hannity turns out to be the mystery third client. So, he wanted to be clear, if we can believe him, and it sounds somewhat believable, that that's not what this was about. So that's what he was saying there.

  • William Brangham:

    FOX News issued a statement today that said, in essence, we did find out about this, like the rest of the world did, but we have talked with Sean about it, and we think this was an informal relationship and we're ready to move on.

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Yes, it's not surprising that FOX is not going to do what I think they should do, which is to take some disciplinary action, to apologize to viewers, and possibly to suspend or something more.

    At a lot of news organizations, this kind of deceit would be considered a possible fireable offense. But here at FOX News, which has such a strong agenda, it's just brushed over.

  • William Brangham:

    We are talking about the ethics as they pertain to journalism, but Hannity goes to great lengths to say, sometimes, I'm not really a journalist. I'm an opinion guy.

    Sometimes, he says he's a journalist. But do these guidelines still apply to someone like Sean Hannity?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    They do.

    I think that whether he calls himself a journalist or not, you know, and sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't, he still is someone, a major media figure, with the top-rated or has been the top-rated cable news show, who is affecting the way people perceive what's going on in our world, and, you know, clearly a strong ally of President Trump, perhaps probably his strongest media ally.

    So I think, because of all that, if FOX is going to call itself what it does, FOX News, then he works for a news organization, and I think should be subject to reasonable ethical guidelines.

  • William Brangham:

    This is FOX News that we're talking about, though. They have many, many good, talented journalists there, but there is also a decidedly conservative bent to the organization. So, do you expect different from them?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    I'm not surprised that FOX News has not done anything.

    When I think about the other kinds of things that they have done in these situations, you know, the longtime sort of stonewalling about Roger Ailes' sexual misconduct and that of Bill O'Reilly, you know, they kind of wait as long as they can until it affects the bottom line.

    I don't think here that — at this point, it doesn't seem like that's going to happen, and so they're wiling to say, well, we really don't care and there's no problem here.

  • William Brangham:

    "The Atlantic" today put out a report today indicating that another lawyer, Jay Sekulow, might have also done some work for Sean Hannity with regards to a radio station in Oklahoma.

    Again, we're not 100 percent sure on the reporting on this yet, but what do you make of that, if true?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Well, what I make of it is that, if true, it seems to suggest that this is a very close circle that includes President Trump, his attorneys, and the people he works most closely with and depends most closely on in the media, that it's kind of not a separated — separation and an adversarial or independent kind of setup.

    It's all very tight-knit, we're all on the same team.

  • William Brangham:

    There's a lot still to be figured out about all of this.

    Margaret Sullivan, thank you very much.

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Thank you.

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