Wake up and smell the coffee pods: The "Hannity" ad boycott means nothing

Sean Hannity demonstrates Fox News' success in shifting toward the extreme right. That means he there to stay

By Melanie McFarland

Published November 16, 2017 6:59PM (EST)

Sean Hannity (Getty/Nicholas Kamm)
Sean Hannity (Getty/Nicholas Kamm)

It has been a mind-plaiting week for critical thinkers who are in the habit of trying to understand Fox News Channel. The folks engaged in the quixotic battle to get Sean Hannity off the air must be experiencing that in addition to feeling winded, or adjusting their high-blood pressure medication.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the nonsense involving Hannity, accused child molester and Alabama’s Republican candidate for the United State Senate Roy Moore, and popular hotel guest room coffee dispenser Keurig — first off, congratulations! This means you are engaging in self-care, and we love that. Good for you! If you intend to keep that up, stop reading now.

Because what I’m about to say will harsh whatever mellow you may have carved out in this insane world: No amount of “Hannity” battling will get him off of Fox’s airwaves.

I can picture a number of you shaking your heads in distress. “How can you make such an anti-#resistance statement?" you cry. "We must keep fighting.” You're right. Team Reason needs voices of sanity and reason to continue contradicting the ravings of that neck-free menace. Just know that despite your efforts, Fox can probably get along just fine if “Hannity” loses advertisers, as long as Hannity doesn’t drive away his Keurig-crushing audience. Based on his faithful's support of Roy Moore, it would take quite a bit for that to happen.

Here’s a summary of the situation. Last Friday, Hannity invited Moore on his radio program to answer the accusations of Leigh Corfman, a woman interviewed by The Washington Post who alleges he initiated sexual contact with her in 1979. At the time Corfman was 14 years old and Moore was 32, which, as Lorelai Gilmore might point out, makes him more than old enough to be her father.

Basically, Hannity granted Moore, a grown man who more probably than not fantasized about Marcia and Jan while “The Brady Bunch” was still in production, an uncontested forum to contradict Corfman and the claims of others who came forward. “What do you want to tell people — and I'll just give you the microphone — about how they should view the Washington Post, these people making these charges and your denial,” Hannity generously offered at one point. “How should people see it?”

Understandably, folks who aren’t fans of grown men fondling females on the younger side of Tiger Beat's target readership were alarmed at the Fox host’s support of Moore. Media Matters and other organizations mounted an effort to pressure advertisers to pull their support from Fox’s “Hannity,” and it was quite successful. When Keurig declared its ad-spending withdrawal on Twitter, Hannity’s horde reacted by posting films of angry people destroying the Keurigs they had already purchased by tossing them off balconies, hitting them with golf clubs or throwing them into pools.

Observers might marvel at how nice it must be to have the disposable income to afford to golf, have an in-ground pool or one’s own balcony and a premium coffeemaker.

But when Keurig’s CEO circulated an internal memo apologizing to his company’s employees about the public kerfuffle, the right-wing host, a Fox employee, accepted this mea culpa even though it wasn’t directed toward him. Keurig has not confirmed that it will resume advertising with the show. Others, including Realtor.com, said it will continue running ads on Fox’s most popular shows.

Anyway, following the company’s “Sorry-Not-Sorry,” Hannity defended Keurig, calling it the victim of “a group with a radical agenda,” before leaping across the line of scrimmage to give Moore 24 hours to “immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation” for what, as of Tuesday, became “[Moore’s] inconsistencies.”

Presumably, nobody in their right mind is twisting their knickers over this about face, because we know the score: Hannity only sticks with winners, as is the way of his leader Donald Trump. Moore doesn’t seem to be winning in the court of public opinion, thus the Great Worm’s half-turn. Plus, speaking of inconsistencies, this change of tune allows Hannity to continue berating liberal Hollywood’s sexual harassers, including Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton (of course!) without being a demonstrable hypocrite by defending Moore.

These days, Hannity is more or less the mug of Fox News’s brand, although, like the network’s previous standard bearer Bill O’Reilly before him, Hannity is a propagandist as opposed to a journalist. Which is silly to point out because Fox viewers honestly don’t care. To them he’s the General Lee in the war for their minds, Fox’s sane-appearing alternative to Alex Jones. And as soon as the bottom drops out of Jones' supplement dust empire, he'll be wandering the media wastelands with Michael Savage, and Hannity probably will still be with us.

Seriously, go back to your ear plugs and “la-la-la-la-la!” land of self-care.

Still here? Yep, it is depressing to realize that at this point in Fox’s lifespan it is replenishing its audience ranks by catering to "alt-right" loons, as opposed to adopting a sensible conservative viewpoint, and know that I laughed as I typed that. Such a slant would cement Fox as part of the establishment, and isn’t the establishment the enemy?

Fox still has a reasonable conservative voice in Shepard Smith, who is doing his level best to hold back the "alt-right" wave washing over his network, and who still clings to the notion that he’s practicing some version of actual journalism. To wit: his break with the rest of Fox News' efforts to legitimize the Uranium One conspiracy by — gasp! — citing facts, and few things anger Fox viewers as mightily as data that does not support their worldview. To them, news is a team sport.

Smith is one guy with a midday timeslot. Fox News makes its real money at night, which still makes the channel the greatest revenue generator for its parent company 21st Century Fox.

The company’s co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch recently confirmed in a call to investors, cited by CNBC, that news and sports comprise more than half of the company’s advertising revenues because both kinds of programming are more likely to be viewed live than entertainment programming. It beat earnings expectations in its recent fourth-quarter fiscal report — months after O’Reilly’s very public ouster — and only slightly missed projected revenues.

Still, for Fox News’ parent company, that translates to a two percent revenue increase during that quarter, which ended in June, to the tune $6.75 billion. A main engine of that growth is Fox News.

Months before this, a post-election Fox News had to respond in earnest to murmurs that it was losing its audience not merely to the rising competitive threats posted by Breitbart and an expanded Sinclair Broadcast Group, but to the Grim Reaper. Fox has the oldest viewership in cable news, with a median viewer age of 66. The median age of CNN’s primetime audience is 59, while MSNBC’s has ticked upward to 64.

That number is an improvement over data reported a year ago, which placed the typical Fox viewer around 68. And it means that Fox’s swerve to serve hardcore Trumpers via Hannity and conspiracy-loving nativists with Tucker Carlson seems to be working.

In October, Fox hit the milestone of being the most-watched cable news network for 190 consecutive months — 15 years and 10 months. It’s the second most-watched cable network in primetime behind ESPN, and the most watched basic-cable network in total days. And “Hannity” became October’s most-watched cable news show — up 15 percent in total viewers and 27 percent in the 25-54 demo.

In second place? “Tucker Carlson.” In October’s total viewers race, Fox programs held eight of the top 10 cable news slots; only “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” (eighth place) and “The Rachel Maddow Show” (third place) cracked the ranks. Maddow, by the way, held only to the number one cable news slot during the third quarter of 2017. Even then, “Hannity” still managed to eke out the top slot in the channel’s 25-54 demographic for his network.

Hannity is maddening, truly, and his popularity and influence should aggravate anyone who values honesty and facts and fears the necrotizing effects his campaign of misinformation has on American democracy. But his high viewership ensures the current advertiser exodus is likely to only be temporary; other companies will step in, and former customers will likely follow Realtor.com’s lead and return.

The current departure is largely symbolic, understand. Unlike Hannity’s viewers, his show’s sponsors and his employer have no intention of tossing away an asset they’ve already paid for many times over.

Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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