PLAYBOY: Fox News overall hit a 12-year ratings low in January and recently had a record low in a poll on viewer trust. The perception among many is that Fox News is out of it. Is there anything you’re doing to change that perception?
HANNITY: No. You know, I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’m not one who obsesses over ratings, but I will tell you this. There is a natural ebb and flow due to election years and major events such as Hurricane Katrina or Sandy or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Any issue of that sort will drive ratings up and down. I will tell you that after the election, a lot of people who didn’t want Barack Obama to get a second term threw up their hands in disgust, including myself. I can go back and show you all the years that I’ve been through presidential elections on radio. You see the spike, you see the decline, you see the spike—it’s part of the news cycle. It’s the story of my life.
PLAYBOY: Were you always a conservative?
HANNITY: Kind of, yeah. I don’t know what it was, but as soon as Reagan became president, I was hooked. I listened to talk radio as a kid and was just obsessed with it. Every kid is told “Stop doing this; stop doing that,” but late at night I’d stay up to listen to Barry Farber, Bob Grant and later Gene Burns and David Brudnoy. I’d pick up WBZ and all these other 50,000-watt stations. And you know, it just immersed me in politics. Barry Farber said something like “Look at your globe, and I’m going to tell you about Communist expansionism in Hungary and Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and Poland,” and literally I’d just stand there with the globe, learning about the world.
PLAYBOY: Were you a studious kid?
HANNITY: Frankly, I was a big troublemaker. I don’t know how far I want to go with my honesty here, but I was taken home by the cops in the first grade for hanging on the back of cars in the wintertime. We called it “skitching.” I’d get in trouble for sneaking out of the house late at night to have snowball fights. And I started smoking at a young age. I remember pitching baseball games and smoking a cigarette between innings.
PLAYBOY: Didn’t Catholic school keep you in line?
HANNITY: Nobody could really discipline me. I remember one day at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hempstead, Long Island, the boys hadn’t been good and one of the fifth-grade teachers was pulling their ears and slapping them on the head. She gets to me and I’m like, “You’re not pulling my ear, and you’re not slapping me either.” I stood up for myself pretty early. My father, on the other hand, if he got mad, you knew it. The belt would come flying off. I got my fair share.
PLAYBOY: What did your father teach you about life?
HANNITY: My dad was probably the most decent person I’ve ever known. Very moral guy, deep religious faith. Had the roughest upbringing and background, grew up very poor, Bed-Stuy. He delivered papers to contribute to his family. His mom died in childbirth when he was born, and his father, who was a machinist, didn’t have the ability to take care of him and the rest of the kids. He was shuffled around from family member to family member. But he grew up, signed up for World War II, fought his four years in the Pacific in the Navy and came back. He worked as a waiter on weekend nights and would get home at five in the morning, and we’d go to 12 o’clock mass every week. It was embarrassing because he’d fall asleep! But he never complained about a thing. Never wanted anything. It was a big deal for him to get a Levitt-style house on a 50-by-100-foot lot on Long Island—you know, four kids, one bathroom. I had three older sisters. It was rough. My parents sacrificed to put us through Catholic school. That’s how I grew up.
PLAYBOY: Was it a better time in America back then?
HANNITY: The honest answer is yes. You know, I delivered papers from the time I was eight years old. I was scrubbing pots and pans in a restaurant every Friday, Saturday and Sunday when I was 12. Then I became a cook at 13. I was a busboy, a bartender, a waiter. I did that for many, many years of my life. Made a lot of money.
PLAYBOY: What did money mean to you?
HANNITY: It meant if I wanted a baseball mitt, I could go out and sell newspaper subscriptions as an eight-year-old and get the glove, plus tickets to the Mets game. I always had a wad of cash. My best friend from childhood is John Gomez; we still joke about it. His father made the best barbecue chicken in the world, and I would say, “Here’s money. I want to buy some of your father’s chicken.” And we’d make those deals all the time.
PLAYBOY: Back then, did you ever imagine yourself signing a contract for $100 million, as you did in 2008 for your afternoon radio talk show?
HANNITY: Never in a million years. When I left NYU after a year, I don’t think I’d ever seen a look of greater disappointment in my parents’ eyes. They offered to help me financially, but I knew they didn’t have the money. I didn’t want them going into debt and spending their retirement money on me. I decided I was just going to go out on my own at that point, and I did. I started my adventures in the world.
PLAYBOY: You sowed your wild oats? Details, please.
HANNITY: Based on the Playboy definition, it’s probably the G-rated version. I used to go to all the clubs when I was young and 17 in New York. Then I worked in a couple of places as a bartender. I wasn’t Tom Cruise in Cocktail or anything, but I was pretty fast, and we made great daiquiris and piña coladas. I went through a period when I did okay in terms of dating. I was a skinny little kid, though. That was about it.
PLAYBOY: What’s one Sean Hannity fact that would shock a liberal?
HANNITY: Tough one. Let’s see. Let me think. Okay, I like disco, believe it or not.
HANNITY: When I was a bartender we played it all the time, and I still like it. I used to love Donna Summer. She’s great. I met her before she died. It was a thrill for me. Her story was so fascinating because she began singing in church. She used to look out at the congregation and they’d all be crying. I love passionate people.
PLAYBOY: Any other surprises? Are you a closet Grateful Dead fan?
HANNITY: I like the Grateful Dead. [sings] “Sugar magnolia, blossoms blooming.” Want me to keep going?
PLAYBOY: That’s okay. Have you smoked marijuana?
HANNITY: I'm not answering any questions about that. Period. Nice try.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about the issue itself then.
HANNITY: I don’t think there should be jail terms. I believe in decriminalization. I do have a problem…how do I say this? Thomas Paine, in 1776’s Common Sense, said something to the effect that if the impulses of conscience were uniform and irresistibly obeyed, there would be no need for any other lawmaker. That not being the case, Paine goes on to describe the need for the formation of government predicated on the idea that government is going to protect you from people who would otherwise want to take your stuff and treat you unfairly. I prefer that people make good decisions. I like to drink beer on a hot summer day, but I don’t overindulge. I like a good glass of wine when I go out to dinner with my friends. If I have more than two drinks I take a cab or have somebody else drive home. My biggest fear about opening the door to legalization is that I’ve always believed, in spite of some disagreement, that marijuana is a gateway drug. According to everything I read, marijuana is more potent than it has ever been, and I believe that for a lot of people there is at least a minimal psychological, addictive component.
PLAYBOY: How do you sleep at night?
HANNITY: Very funny.
PLAYBOY: Seriously. How do you sleep at night?
HANNITY: I don’t sleep a lot, but I sleep like a baby.
PLAYBOY: Are you an Ambien guy?
HANNITY: No, no. I just stay up until I literally pass out cold.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever find yourself worrying in the middle of the night?
HANNITY: No, I’m not a worrier. I have faith. The way I look at it, I’m not in control of every aspect of my life. I believe God exists. I believe God is real, and I really just put my faith in him. When you look at the majesty of creation, it’s so deep and so profound, from the smallest of things to the concept of universes. It’s beyond human imagination. I have deep faith.
PLAYBOY: Given the molestation scandals, do you still have faith in the church itself? Can the church survive in the modern age without making major institutional changes? Women cannot be priests, and priests cannot marry.
HANNITY: The church will survive, regardless. You don’t have to be a Catholic if you don’t agree with their point of view. Personally, the greatest disappointment is the cover-up of the sexual abuse cases at the highest levels. It’s inexcusable to me, and I had a very hard time dealing with it. That said, these are human beings, and human beings are flawed. There’s good and evil in the world, and that’s just indisputable. I would hope they deal with it head-on, address it and make amends to the extent that they can.
PLAYBOY: What would you like to see from the new pope?
HANNITY: I don’t know. I think priests should be allowed to marry, because the apostles were married, all but one, if my theology is correct. And priests were allowed to marry, I think, for the first 1,200 years of the church.
PLAYBOY: How do you separate your views as a Catholic from your opinions about, say, abortion?
HANNITY: I’m against abortion. I make exceptions for rape, incest, the mother’s life. You know, as far as opinions versus fairness, it’s all me. For better or worse, I’m pretty opinionated. Our society has this idea that you shouldn’t feel guilty about anything, and maybe Playboy perpetuates this. I think the conscience is the human ability to discern and decipher right from wrong. Guilt is your own inner voice telling you when you’re doing something right or doing something wrong. But in my personal life, the more I listen to that silent voice of conscience, the happier I usually am, because that voice is telling me, exhorting me internally, to do the right thing.
PLAYBOY: What does your inner voice say about gay marriage?
HANNITY: Over the years I have evolved into more of a libertarian when it comes to people’s personal lives. I really don’t care what people do privately. That doesn’t mean I think society needs to change its definition of marriage. I don’t. I’m okay with the way things are. But I don’t think most Americans are tolerant and accepting. I think most people don’t care.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any gay friends?
HANNITY: Do I know people who are gay that I’m friendly with? Yes. Absolutely.
PLAYBOY: Can you imagine voting for a gay, lesbian or transgender president?
HANNITY: I don’t want to know anything about anybody’s sex life when I’m voting for them. I want to know they can balance the budget, that they’re going to stay out of my life and ensure more freedom. Do they understand good versus evil? Do they understand that we’ve got to have a strong national defense? That’s all I’m looking for. I don’t really give a flying rip what people do privately. It’s none of my business. Maybe it’s the traditional way I was brought up. If somebody breaks into my house, it’s my job to go downstairs and take care of it. You can call me Bamm-Bamm or Barney Rubble if you want, but that’s who I am.
PLAYBOY: Is the country as divided as it appears in Hannity’s America?
HANNITY: America is definitely polarized. In politics I think we have two very distinct competing visions for the country right now. One of the great dangers of the democracy we have is that the media are biased; the other danger is apathy. There are too many people who care too much about Honey Boo Boo and the Kardashians or whomever. I’ve met Kim, and she’s nice, but honestly there’s too much of a celebrity culture. I wish people cared more about the budget being balanced, about national defense, security, rise of radical Islamists, immigration—things that I think are really going to matter and impact everybody’s lives.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about some of those. Your critics called you a water carrier for the GOP last year when you embraced a “pathway to citizenship” after Republicans failed to win over Latino voters.
HANNITY: It’s a position that’s been evolving since I made my trips to the border. I’ve traveled to Mexico, from San Diego to the Rio Grande and everywhere in between, and I’ve been out with Border Patrol agents on helicopter, horseback, all-terrain vehicles and boats. I’ve watched gang members being arrested. I’ve seen tunnels dug from Mexico into San Diego up through an office building, sophisticated efforts at human trafficking. I’ve been to the warehouses where they confiscated drugs aimed at American kids. I see the financial impact on our educational system, our health care system, our criminal justice system in border states and the burdens they have to bear as a result of illegal immigration not being solved. We’ve got to fix it. I think you control the border first and then create a pathway for the people who are here. Do background checks, send those with criminal records home, have people pay whatever penalties and taxes are necessary. But yeah, we need a better solution.