Fox News stars Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Brian Kilmeade were right to try using what influence they had to stop the Jan. 6 incursion into the U.S. Capitol. And, despite conservative complaints, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was right to publicize their efforts.
Serving as vice chairwoman of the special House committee investigating the Capitol riot, Cheney released texts from all three Fox stars, as well as from Donald Trump Jr. The texts, sent as the Jan. 6 riot unfolded, urged White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to persuade President Donald Trump to publicly, unequivocally call off the Capitol invaders. Meadows had provided those messages, along with thousands of others, to the committee.
Large swaths of the establishment media and the Twitterverse blasted the Fox stars. Ingraham and Hannity both responded with fury that the texts had been released. The news hosts said their privacy had been violated.
The Left’s criticism of the two took various forms, most prevalent of which were accusations that Hannity and Ingraham had been hypocritical or somehow violated journalistic ethics by sending the texts in the first place.
To the first charge, the Fox stars should say they are proud, not embarrassed, to have such texts released. The texts prove that when they both said that night that they condemned the riots, they actually meant it.
As for the idea that it is a breach of journalistic ethics ever to send private messages urging politicians to take certain actions, that’s absurd. Yes, there should in ordinary circumstances be some wall of separation between journalists — even opinion journalists, although to a lesser extent — and the politicians they cover. That wall, however, is not absolute. The dictates of human decency amid a national crisis like the one of Jan. 6 are stronger than the semi-prohibition against giving “private” advice to media subjects.
Saving lives takes precedence over “objectivity.” This is as true for Hannity and Ingraham as it is for anyone else. The Capitol was under assault by people clubbing and gassing the Capitol police, yelling for the execution of Vice President Mike Pence, and bearing zip ties with which to capture and bind potential hostages. If the news stars thought their urgings could help convince a recalcitrant president to call off a dangerous mob professing fealty to him, good for them. It was their duty as decent human beings.
On the other hand, their own protestations about the release of their text messages are entirely misplaced. These top journalists well know that written communications, including electronic ones, are not private when they are sent to high government officials pertaining to their official duties. The notes are official government documents which, unless they qualify for a narrow band of legal privileges, belong entirely to the public. As journalists, they regularly and rightly seek and publicize such messages.
Whether this should be the case is a matter for political philosophers, but as a legal matter, there is not a single reason they should expect their messages to be immune from publicity. Meadows himself turned them over among a trove of clearly nonprivileged documents. The messages obviously would be made public at some point by the committee. Why should Cheney avoid publicizing them now?
Cheney’s point was good and necessary. She was reminding everyone, after a year of Trump fans trying to downplay the seriousness of the Capitol incursion, that the threat to lawmakers in real time was serious. If the president — any president, any time — refused for 187 minutes to do what he could to stem such a tide, even as his biggest allies in the media pleaded with him and his staff to take action, then something was wrong.
Ingraham, Hannity, and all their conservative supporters should stop caterwauling about the release of the messages and instead make good on their worthwhile instincts in those immediate moments of crisis. They can protect the institutions of the republic by supporting Cheney’s efforts to figure out how things went so wrong and how, therefore, to fix them.