NEW YORK -- Sean Hannity is the most-watched personality on cable news. But a conversation with him quickly reminds you that his roots are in radio, which he still does three hours a day. Like an old-school top 40 disc jockey, the conservative host can play the hits ("Russia Collusion Hoax," "Trump Derangement Syndrome," "The Deep State") on repeat, with unflagging enthusiasm.
Hannity has been at Fox News since it first launched in 1996. But it's only recently that he's become the network's biggest star, outlasting its first breakout host, Bill O'Reilly, and delivering 55% more viewers than Megyn Kelly had in the high-profile 9 p.m. Eastern time slot when she left in 2017. He has largely kept his distance from the company's internal scandals, although he was named last week in a sexual harassment lawsuit alleging that he offered staffers cash to take out a "beautiful" guest. (When I asked about the suit, Hannity pointed me to Fox News, which said the claims were "false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit.")
Hannity has come to rule Fox during the Trump administration, and he's earned a reputation for being the president's chief media defender and reportedly an informal adviser as well. Hannity's unfettered advocacy for the president is memorialized in a new book out Tuesday, ominously titled "Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink." Signed copies of the manifesto for a second Trump term are being offered by the reelection campaign as a fundraising incentive for donations over $75. A representative for publisher Simon & Schuster said the Republican National Committee purchased the books through retailers.
The tome argues that a victory for Joe Biden and the Democrats in November would "move the country wholesale into socialism and authoritarianism." Hannity makes a cogent argument for Trump's economic policies before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A chapter defending the president's handling of the public health crisis resulting in more than 150,000 fatalities from the virus is a far tougher sell. Hannity, 58, talked about the book and his place in the media landscape in a phone conversation last week.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: The book presents a very clear ideological contrast between Republicans and Democrats in the presidential election. It represents the kind of campaign that some of Trump's advisors want him to run, and which he's reportedly resisted. Are you trying to send a message with this book?
A: (Laughs) No. Even though I'm on the air four hours a day, I wanted to go in depth so people had a full understanding at what is at stake 97 days from now. 1/8The book contains3/8 a history of radicalism, what makes the country great, the Democrats' 2020 agenda, and then it's followed up purposely by chapter four, which is socialism and the history of its failure. You're talking about the biggest choice election in our lifetime. ... I never thought Joe Biden would go this far radical left. I'd argue it's out of weakness that Joe Biden had to embrace Bolshevik Bernie's (Sanders) economic agenda, and even plagiarize it -- which he has a history of -- and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's insane new green deal. He's pledging trillions of dollars to this.
Q: As former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has said many times on your show, voters are not going to really be able to process any of that until President Trump has the coronavirus under control. You have a chapter in this book that presents the president's response to the health crisis as a success.
Q: Every poll says the public does not agree with that view by a large margin.