Most point-a-finger-in-your-face cable-news hosts wouldn't bother defending a competitor. But after CNN's Larry King
took a beating in the press recently for seeming old and out of it, Fox News' Sean Hannity
stood up for him on Hannity & Colmes
. The conservative Hannity also seems to have a soft spot for Howard Stern
(he got the first interview with the shock jock after CBS filed its lawsuit against him) and is no fan of the fine-happy FCC. So the Biz thought it might be an interesting time to check in with Hannity, who cohosts the No. 2-rated show in cable news, and see what's on his mind.
TVGuide.com: So what made you feel compelled to support Larry King?
Sean Hannity: It was sincere. He was under fire for just about everything — his health, he's frail, he's not doing well. You know what? For better or worse, he still has the consistently highest-rated show on that network. When I saw these attacks and I saw there was no response from management at CNN — the first response I saw was after we had said something — [I thought that] Larry's done a lot for this industry. He's really one of the great pioneers of talk TV and talk radio. I just kind of felt it was a little unfair that nobody seemed to go to bat for him.
TVGuide.com: But be honest with me. When your producer tells you that Larry King's guests for the next hour are Carol Channing or Art Linkletter, don't you say to yourself, "I think we're going to do well tonight."
Hannity: I think Art rates very well, so be careful. We've put him on. I never became myopic, and I know that in the different cable wars and radio wars, people want you to focus on one competitor. As far as I'm concerned, we're up against the networks, the other great cable channels out there. We're trying to draw the audience from everywhere. I don't see just one person as a main competitor.... We've developed a unique and special identity. We can do politics. We can do crime. We can do the issues of the day. We try not to be predictable. I can be on the [U.S.] border one day and interviewing Howard Stern the next day, and maybe the president or vice president after that. The eminent-domain stories we've been doing are unique.
TVGuide.com: How do you pick your hot-button issues?
Hannity: I have a direct advantage in that I have three hours on my syndicated radio program every day, so I'm hearing from a lot of people around the country. I constantly monitor my mail and e-mail. If people think I'm not talking about the right topic, they'll start shouting it to me and at least make me aware it's there and that that's where I ought to be.
TVGuide.com: What kind of e-mail did you get after you interviewed Howard Stern?
Hannity: It's interesting. We did a poll on my website, and 80 percent of the people were glad I had him on and thought I should have him on. Twenty percent said they were mad and that they didn't watch that day.
TVGuide.com: Was there was some radio-guy bonding going on there?
Hannity: When I saw his movie [Private Parts] I thought, "That's my life." I started out as a kid at a local radio station in California; I packed my bags and went to Huntsville, Ala., where I didn't know anybody, and worked there for two years. The only difference between his path and my path was he was talking about lesbians and strippers and I was praising Ronald Reagan. There is a common bond there — that experience is very similar.
TVGuide.com: You're popular with Christian conservatives, but you don't fall in line with their views on regulating TV and radio content. You're not comfortable with that or the pressure they're putting on the FCC.
Hannity: Not at all. One of the things that is so great about freedom and liberty is that with it comes responsibility. Especially when it comes to radio — these are words coming out of a speaker. If you don't like what's on the radio, turn the dial. There may be some restrictions in some capacity on broadcast TV. But look at all the options that are out there on cable. We're at the point now where we have the technology and ability to control everything that comes [into our homes]. So why don't you use freedom responsibly and make the decision yourself?
TVGuide.com: Do you talk about that with your radio listeners?
Hannity: Yes. One of the points I've made to critics was that there is an effort through the Fairness Doctrine to silence conservatives. I really believe if the Democrats got back into power, the next day there would be a bill introduced to demand equal time for people on the radio. If you use arguments to silence someone you don't like, such as Howard Stern, well, can't you use the same arguments to silence political opponents? I think there is a great danger there.
TVGuide.com: It's your role on Hannity & Colmes to be a conservative partisan. Has that become more of an intellectual challenge since the war in Iraq hasn't gone so well for President Bush? Do you ever ask yourself, "How am I going to defend this today?"
Hannity: My only role is to be intellectually honest and truthful to my audience. I barely consider myself a Republican. I am a Reagan conservative. If I agree with [the Republicans], I defend them. The reason we've created five million jobs and offset the negative economic impact of Sept. 11 was because the president cut taxes. I thought it was brilliant, I thought it was Reaganesque, and I think we've all benefited. When it comes to the War on Terror, I can't begin to describe how much I admire the president. The fact that he hasn't wavered or given in to poll numbers is one of the things I admire most. But when the president's wrong or any Republican's wrong, you have to be intellectually honest and truthful to your audience and say it. I've been to the border four times. I criticized Republicans and Democrats for creating the largest area of susceptibility we have to terrorism. When it comes to spending, Republicans in particular are spending like drunken sailors. I say that all the time. I disagreed with the president on the Dubai-ports issue. I love the president. I think he's the right man in the right place to deal with this threat we have, which I think is the No. 1 issue of this time. But when we disagree, we disagree.