President Donald Trump on Monday will host Fox News primetime host Sean Hannity as a "special guest" at his final rally of the midterm season.
Hannity's involvement was announced in a Trump campaign press release distributed Sunday afternoon. Fox News told CNN that Hannity is not sponsoring the rally or campaigning to "Make America Great Again," and instead the network star would be hosting his "Hannity" program from the rally site and would interview Trump.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh will also be there, the Trump campaign announced, noting that the rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, is Limbaugh's hometown.
Monday's campaign rally plan is another reminder of the notable connections between the conservative cable network and the president's administration, which continue to deepen. While some Trump supporters and Fox News viewers have applauded this symbiotic relationship, it has caused Hannity and others to come under intense scrutiny.
As CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter noted, "Hannity is not a journalist, but he works at a hugely popular network with 'News' in its name alongside staffers who have to follow policies that forbid this type of political involvement." Stelter also pointed out, "MSNBC's Rachel Maddow was never a 'special guest' at a Barack Obama speech. Fox's Bill O'Reilly was never a 'special guest' at a George W. Bush event. So it's quite a sight to see a Trump press release promoting TV and radio stars as his 'special guests.'"
In describing the relationship between Fox News network and the Trump administration, Salon's Heather Digby Parton wrote, "Fox has become Trump's de facto kitchen cabinet and unofficial communications office, creating a tight feedback loop between the far right and the White House."
This point is clear when considering that several Trump staffers have gone on to work at the network, while several ex-Fox News talent have in turn gone to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Arguably the most prominent example is that the White House's communications team is now led by Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive who was ousted from the network in May 2017 after being named in multiple lawsuits for his handling of the network's mounting sexual harassment scandals against on-air talent and Fox News executives.
As Stelter pointed out, Shine set up a similar on-site interview earlier this year at a campaign stop in Las Vegas. "Trump arrived at the arena, walked up to Hannity's stage for a live chat, then began his rally. It was a made for prime time package, and Monday looks similar," Stelter wrote. However, Stelter pointed out that "the Trump campaign isn't making a distinction between interviewing the president and showing up at the rally as a 'special guest.' The campaign's website encourages people to sign up for tickets to the event "w/Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, & Lee Greenwood."
Trump's "willingness to bring them out on the campaign trail highlights once again how little space now exists between the White House and conservative media," professor and columnist Nicole Hemmer told CNN. Hemmer said Hannity's and Limbaugh's appearances are "more a show of solidarity than a celebration of success."
According to Stelter, "Hannity and Limbaugh, the kings of conservative talk radio, have been emphasizing GOP get-out-the-vote efforts on their respective shows. By going on Hannity's show on the eve of the election, Trump is guaranteed one more chance to speak directly to millions of his most loyal supporters. Hannity averages more than 3 million viewers a night."