LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 20: Fox News Channel and radio talk show host Sean Hannity (L) interviews U.S. President Donald Trump before a campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center on September 20, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Fox News host Sean Hannity has repeatedly expressed alarm to confidants about what he hears in private conversations with President Donald Trump, an excerpt from a new book by CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter reveals.
"If you were hearing what I'm hearing, you'd be vaping, too," Hannity allegedly told a friend, according to Stelter's forthcoming "Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth."
Another Hannity associate told Stelter the Fox News host had confided that the president was "batshit crazy" in moments of candor.
Though Hannity is by all appearances still a network juggernaut, Stelter writes about him in the past tense, voiced as if it were common knowledge that the Fox News was no longer with the conservative channel.
"Sean Hannity was the most powerful person at Fox in the Trump age," Stelter writes. "When people asked who was in charge of the channel, he said, 'Me.' And most people at the channel agreed with him."
Stelter thinks of Hannity as "a living connection to Fox News' past." He is the only prime-time host who has survived all 25 years of the network.
"But he definitely wasn't one to dwell on the past," Stelter writes. "Every day was a new war."
Hannity, allegedly known to some at the White House as Trump's "shadow chief of staff," played his part "masterfully" during the Trump era — but it took a toll, according to Stelter.
"Hannity counseled Trump at all hours of the day," the book says. "One of his confidants said the president treated Hannity like Melania, a wife in a sexless marriage."
"Arguably, he treated Hannity better than Melania," it continues. "Hannity's producers marveled at his influence and access. 'It's a powerful thing to be someone's consigliere,' one producer said. 'I hear Trump talk at rallies, and I hear Sean,' a family friend commented."
"Hannity would tell you, off-off-off the record, that Trump is a batshit crazy person," Stelter says, quoting an associate of the Fox News host. Another confirmed: "Hannity has said to me more than once, 'He's crazy.'"
Stelter does not take pity on the host, who reportedly nets $43 million a year. But he notes that Trump's incessant bluster and demands for attention, advice and support — "I barely get a word in," Hannity reportedly told another friend — have apparently taxed Hannity significantly for his choice to stand indefatigably by the president.
Early on in the Trump age, Hannity gained weight and vaped incessantly, which some members of his inner circle blamed on Trump-related stress. "If you were hearing what I'm hearing, you'd be vaping too," Hannity told a colleague. He was sensitive to trolls' comments about the extra weight, especially from his chest up; that's all viewers saw of him most nights, when he was live from his palace. He doubled up on his workouts and slimmed back down.
Hannity swore that no one knew the truth about his relationship with Trump. He lashed out at people, like yours truly, who reported on it. And he certainly didn't disclose his role in Trumpworld the way a media ethicist would recommend. But once in a while the curtain slipped and his own colleagues pointed out the extraordinary position he held. As the coronavirus crisis deepened in March, Geraldo Rivera said to Hannity on the air, "I want you to tell the president, when you talk to him tonight, that Geraldo says 'Mr. President, for the good of the nation, stop shaking hands.'"
Stelter shows Hannity's human side, citing colleagues who described him as "a big-hearted family guy."
"He paid bonuses to his staff out of his own deep pockets. He ordered meals and care packages to the homes of colleagues who lost loved ones. He even offered to hire a private investigator when an acquaintance died in a mysterious crash," Stelter writes.
He adds, "A member of Sean's production crew, a Democrat, told me, 'I want to fucking hate him so bad. But he's so nice to me.'"
Though Stelter says he believed this claim, it was difficult to square with Hannity's coarse, and at times arguably cruel primetime personality.
It was also hard to square with the Hannity he knows personally. For context, Stelter describes running into Hannity at a Dec. 2019 holiday party at the Lambs Club, an upscale Manhattan restaurant:
Hannity greeted me by putting both his hands on my shoulders and exclaiming: 'Humpty!' His nickname for me was Humpty Dumpty. I asked if he ever felt bad about the name-calling. 'No,' he said. He took his hands off my shoulders and moved toward the bar.