Fox News host Sean Hannity is a believer. He believes in God, country and the once and future Bush dynasty. In his opinion, global warming is a crock, kids today are oversexed and President Obama’s radical agenda is destroying our nation. Despite any upticks the stock market may experience, the economy is not improving, Hannity says (“It’s a bubble!”). And no, allowing same-sex marriage, taxing the rich and giving government handouts will not save America.
Hannity—the man and the brand—holds to the far right even as fellow conservatives like Rush Limbaugh bitterly proclaim that liberalism has won in America. As long as debate rages over illegal immigration, government spending, gun control, abortion, political correctness, the Kardashians, you name it, Hannity will wag a finger and stand his ground.
Hannity was born on December 30, 1961, the grandson of four Irish immigrants, and grew up with three older sisters in Franklin Square on New York’s Long Island. He was a Catholic school bad boy, he says, and dropped out of two universities (NYU and Adelphi) after realizing his opinions had a place on radio. From the start, he was controversial. In 1989 Hannity was fired from his first radio job at a college station in Santa Barbara for casting doubts about the AIDS epidemic. He publicized his dismissal in radio trade ads, promoting himself as “the most talked about college radio host in America.” Fox News head Roger Ailes heard Hannity on the air in Atlanta a few years later and paired him opposite liberal political commentator Alan Colmes. The resulting live TV show, Hannity & Colmes, ran for 12 years on Fox News before Hannity went solo in the same time slot. In many ways, radio remains Hannity’s first love, and he broadcasts The Sean Hannity Show, syndicated on more than 500 stations, most days from Long Island, where he lives with his wife of 20 years, Jill, and their two young children.
Contributing Editor David Hochman spent time with Hannity at Fox News headquarters in New York City. He says Hannity was jovial and charming even as the debate got lively. “The ultimate question everyone has about Hannity,” Hochman says, “is, Does he really believe what he says, or is it all just an act? After spending hours with the guy and really getting into his head, I can say with utmost confidence, what you see with Hannity is what you get.”
HANNITY: Fire away. Ask me anything you want.
PLAYBOY: Excellent, so——
HANNITY: You might not get an answer, but you can try.
PLAYBOY: Let’s start with an easy one. What is it precisely about liberals that bothers you so much?
HANNITY: Liberalism is failing the country. This to me is fundamental. It’s a philosophical difference. Do I have friends who are liberal? Yeah. Do I like to debate liberal guests on my show? Absolutely. But look what’s happening in Cyprus, in Greece, in Spain, in Ireland and other places. These countries are going down the road America is now choosing to go down, which is socialism, in my view. Very high taxes. Promises that the government will take care of every need an individual has. These promises ultimately can’t be fulfilled. You can’t manage the cost of it all. The president tried to sell Obamacare at $900 billion. Now the latest estimate is $2.8 trillion, and a recent report by the Government Accountability Office says over the long term it could add $6.2 trillion to our debt. That is what I would describe as unsustainable.
The other thing is energy. There is an answer to America’s problems right now. We are so stupid we don’t tap into our own energy resources. We have more oil than Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia combined. We have oil shale; we’ve got fracking available. We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. The Democratic Socialist Party in America is so beholden to environmentalists, we don’t even tap into our own resources. It’s just another example of how this president can’t meet the promises he made to the people.
PLAYBOY: Obama’s supporters would say he’s done quite a bit. He passed health care reform. He passed the stimulus. He passed Wall Street reform. He eliminated Osama bin Laden. He turned around the U.S. auto industry.
HANNITY: Do you know GM still owes the taxpayers $50 billion that we’ll never get back?
PLAYBOY: He recapitalized banks. He began to end the war in Afghanistan. He ended the war in Iraq. He boosted fuel-efficiency standards and advocated for alternative energy.
HANNITY: Whoa. With what? Solyndra? Obama squandered half a billion dollars in stimulus money, and the company went bankrupt. We were paying money that went to build electric cars in Finland. I can give you the whole long laundry list, a lot of wasted government dollars. How many net new jobs did we create under Obama?
PLAYBOY: Depending on which source you believe, it’s anywhere from 325,000 to 1.2 million.
HANNITY: At the end of last year, we had 8.3 million fewer Americans in the labor force than we had before he took office. We have people on unemployment who have been there so long we no longer count them. When you look at real unemployment in the country, fewer Americans were working at the end of Obama’s first four years than actually were working when he started. Next question.
PLAYBOY: It’s generally agreed that the Republican Party is a mess. It’s divided, there’s no real leadership or clear direction, and last year’s election was an enormous blow to the right.
HANNITY: First of all, I’m a registered Conservative. I’m not a Republican, though people often mistake me for one. Listen, it’s going to shake out fine. You know, after any election, whenever there’s a loss, there are always people predicting doom and gloom and disaster. There’s a certain purging process people go through. Democrats have been through it. The contractions, the hand-wringing—it’s natural. It’s part of the process.
PLAYBOY: Can the GOP save itself?
HANNITY: It can, and it’ll do it by focusing on some very simple ideals. The Republicans have no message discipline. Obama has incredible message discipline. His message right now is “Republicans want to poison the air and water. Republicans want kids with autism and Down syndrome and the elderly to fend for themselves.” He’s brilliant at fear-mongering, at demagoguery. He is always on the attack, always politicizing everything. Meanwhile, he keeps spending and borrowing us into a trillion dollars in debt.
The Republicans should be the party that wants balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility. It should be the party that believes you don’t spend more than you take in. We’re not going to borrow 46 cents of every dollar to run the government. Social Security and Medicare are headed for bankruptcy. The Republicans should be the party of energy independence and of getting the country on its feet. Instead, we’ve spent all this money, and we have nothing to show for it. We’re robbing our kids blind, because it’s their money we’re taking, and they’re going to spend their lifetimes paying it back.
PLAYBOY: What about the massive budget deficit this administration inherited?
HANNITY: No president has ever given us a trillion-dollar deficit, and certainly no president has given us $6 trillion in debt in four years the way Obama has. Not even close. He inherited a $10 trillion debt, not $16.5 trillion.
Look, we can fulfill the promises that we made to the Greatest Generation right now. We’ve got to reform entitlements, and we need a better plan for health care. I don’t know why people put so much faith in government—the same government that said we’re going to have Social Security benefits waiting for us and then raided the lockbox. The lockbox is empty! They’ve squandered the money. So I don’t have a lot of faith in government or bureaucrats. I like the concept of limited government and greater freedom. With greater freedom comes greater responsibility to the American people. We’re not going to get there by spending ourselves into oblivion.
PLAYBOY: If nothing else, the debt-ceiling fight in Congress has shown the world how completely dysfunctional and divided our government is.
HANNITY: Absolutely. The system is dysfunctional. It doesn’t work. And the president has a big role in that. Obama is in a constant state of combativeness. I mean, he won fair and square, but I would have hoped that after the election we would have seen him say, “John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, we’ve got to get together because this is a mess. The country hates us.” And he’s not doing that. I think everything he does is to get Pelosi back as Speaker for 2014.
PLAYBOY: Would we be living in a golden age now if Mitt Romney had won the presidency instead?
HANNITY: No, but I think you would have had somebody with the experience and the background and, frankly, not as driven by ideology as this president is. Obama’s an ideologue. Now, this being Playboy, you probably won’t agree with me on this, but I think the president is pretty radical in his views. For instance, the disengagement almost bordering on stupidity of giving [Egyptian president] Mohamed Morsi 1.5 billion taxpayer dollars—the guy’s a 9/11 Truther, a guy who refers to the Israelis as apes and pigs, a guy who was part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama is not managing the country well. We’re talking about liberal socialism, high debt, high deficits. Twenty million more Americans are on food stamps. One in six Americans is in poverty. There’s $17 trillion in debt. Obama said $9 trillion in debt. These are the issues that are going to affect the country for years to come.
PLAYBOY: Let’s move on. Fox News’s ratings are down, and your show in particular has taken a hit this year.
HANNITY: No, actually, our ratings are back up.
PLAYBOY: Your ratings were down 35 percent in February.
HANNITY: Well, from the year before, which was an election year.
PLAYBOY: Rachel Maddow has beaten you in your time slot.
HANNITY: Never! Not once!
PLAYBOY: She has in the key 25- to 54-year-old demographic.
HANNITY: But overall, we’re at double her ratings. You’ve got to be careful how you make these comparisons.