On Monday morning, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity assured his 3.84 million Twitter followers that he would not "be on stage campaigning with the president" despite a Donald Trump campaign press release that listed him as a "special guest" for Monday's rally on the eve of Election Day.
Instead, Hannity wrote that he would be "interviewing President Trump before the rally . . . I am covering final rally for my show. Something I have done in every election in the past."
Less than 12 hours later, Hannity delivered a near-20 minute advertisement for the president riddled with factual inaccuracies and right-wing propaganda, which he billed as his opening monologue, before Trump invited him to join him onstage at the Missouri rally in support of GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley. "I had no idea you were going to invite me up here," Hannity said, before reciting more Trumpian own talking points.
"By the way, all those people in the back are fake news," were almost Hannity's first words onstage at the rally in Missouri. (His own colleagues from Fox News were among the "people in the back.")
The president also brought out Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, doing little to dispel mounting criticisms that the cable network has effectively morphed into state-run TV. "There's a woman on Saturday night who treats us very, very well," Trump said, as her introduction. Pirro lauded the economy and told the rowdy audience to vote Republican.
"Hannity and Pirro spent the night broadcasting from the rally while simultaneously hyping the crowd ahead of Trump's arrival," CNN reported. Hannity's Twitter feed is full of live videos of him taking selfies with people in the audience and signing autographs.
CNN added: "And after Hannity spoke with Trump backstage, Bill Shine, the former Fox News president turned White House communications director, offered him a high-five, according to the White House pool report."
Earlier on Monday, a Fox spokesperson had been quick to echo Hannity's tweet, telling news outlets that the popular anchor would be in Missouri to cover the Trump rally – and that was it.
A Fox News spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon: "FOX News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events. We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed."
The spokesperson did not make it clear whether Hannity or Pirro would face any consequences for breaking the network's rules. In 2010, MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann was suspended without pay for making campaign donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, in violation of NBC News’ ethics policy.
Hannity took to Twitter Tuesday to address his appearance with Trump. "What I said in my tweet yesterday was 100% truthful. When the POTUS invited me on stage to give a few remarks last night, I was surprised, yet honored by the president’s request. This was NOT planned," he wrote.
In a second tweet, Hannity sought to mollify his Fox colleagues about his "fake news" remarks from the stage, saying that he hadn't been describing them.
"It is a given that Fox is partial to the GOP, just as its left-leaning counterparts tend to favor the other side," the Washington Post noted. "But Trump’s overt hostility to the mainstream media serves to highlight his cozy relationship with Fox, prompting criticism that he sees the news channel as state TV."
Salon's Heather Digby Parton has described Fox News under this administration as "Trump's de facto kitchen cabinet and unofficial communications office." As mentioned above, former Fox News executive Bill Shine, ousted from the network last year for his mishandling of sexual harassment scandals, now leads the White House's communications team. There has also been somewhat of a revolving door between the Trump campaign, the Trump White House and the conservative cable network.