Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has a new book out, titled Them: Why We Hate Each Other — And How to Heal. In it, he criticizes someone who is on the same side of the aisle as himself: Sean Hannity. Sasse believes that Hannity is a perfect example of how the media is polarizing the country against each other, by peddling outrage. Hannity, of course, took exception, tweeting a link to an article on his site with the simple statement: “@SenSasse GOES BERSERK.” Sasse replied to this Tweet with his own, which summarized his reasoning for attacking Hannity: https://twitter.com/BenSasse/status/1052360380100616192
Sasse went on to hammer home his point in another tweet inviting Hannity to a debate about the role of the media, from both sides, in dividing the country, saying that “Honest conversation isn’t where the quick-hit $ and ratings are – but it’d be good for America.” Hannity’s response seems rather petty:
Finally, not able to help himself, Hannity tweeted again at Sasse, about a year old incident where Sasse did not have the presence of mind to confront Bill Maher in a one-on-one interview on live television about Maher’s use of a racial slur, indicating that therefore Sasse has absolutely no standing to “lecture” Hannity about his consistent peddling of outrage politics on a near daily basis.
Hannity’s official statement on Sasse’s depiction of him in the book, as given to The Daily Beast, states: “Unfortunately, I went to bat for Ben Sasse, who has proven to be the single biggest disappointment in politics today. He totally conned me like he conned the people of Nebraska.”
Hannity actually had endorsed Sasse for his Senate bid in 2014, but revoked his endorsement and began attacking Sasse in 2017, saying that supporting Sasse had been “one of the biggest mistakes” of his career. It seems that what provoked this was Sasse’s criticism of President Trump saying that perhaps media should have their licenses revoked for doing stories on him that he didn’t like. Sasse rightly called out Trump’s flouting of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and that rubbed Hannity the wrong way. I will leave you to determine who comes across as the true conservative in this scenario. Sasse called out Hannity on Twitter over this, tweeting: “Sorry, Sean — you changed, not me. Some of us still believe in the Constitution.” In his discussion on this event in his new book, Sasse points out that he “suspect[s] Hannity (rightly) would have throatily denounced [Trump’s suggestion] had its source been President Hillary Clinton.”
Before covering Sasse’s critique of Hannity’s approach, I want to start with a quick summary of the article on Hannity’s site that he tweeted out. In it, the focus is on the fact that while attacking Hannity in his book, Sasse has failed to disclose all the times that he went on Hannity’s shows and agreed with Hannity. In fact, the direct quote from the article is “countless interviews and conversations where he vehemently agreed with Hannity’s ‘rage’ when politically convenient for the Nebraska lawmaker.” This, presumably, makes his attacks on Hannity invalid. To support this, there is a two minute audio clip of Sasse “agreeing with the ‘King of Rage’ on countless occasions.” I listened to all two minutes of the extremely poorly edited audio that did not give time frames for any of the clips. I believe that there were eight instances in the clip that the author is using to assert Sasse’s agreement with Hannity’s “rage,” though honestly I may have missed one or two because, again, the editing is substandard. In each clip, Hannity is speaking in a measured rather than an enraged or even aggravated tone. Furthermore, in no case are the topics that are being agreed upon anything especially controversial or worthy of rage.
For example, one exchange had Hannity saying, “Why don’t we just stick with the Constitution?” to which Sasse replied, “We are 100% aligned in being for the Constitution.” This is supposed to be one of “countless” examples of Sasse agreeing with Hannity’s “rage.” I’m inclined to think that if there are “countless” examples of such, the eight chosen for this audio clip supporting such a statement should be reflective of the MOST support for the assertion. Instead, we also have another clip where Hannity is congratulating Sasse for being inducted into the Senate Hall of Fame, where he incorrectly first uses the word “indicted” instead of “inducted,” and Sasse replies by saying that he would not like to be associated with that word at all. Or how about the clip where Hannity states that “we could do a lot better,” and that the Republicans “can stand for those people who are out of work.” Sasse’s response to that is “Exactly.” Maybe the most damning of these clips is the one where Hannity, in a very even voice, says to Sasse: “I’m frustrated as a Conservative. Tell me why I shouldn’t be,” and Sasse responds with, “You should be.” Well, there you go! There’s your smoking gun right there folks! Sasse is in total agreement with Hannity’s “rage,” as long as you consider frustration to be equivalent to rage. Listen for yourself to the clip provided to substantiate this total fake news assertion, that Sasse “vehemently agreed with Hannity’s ‘rage’” and see what you think. I’m absolutely not convinced.
That aside, what about Sasse’s assertions in his book? Is he so off base that Hannity’s tantrum is warranted? Interestingly, a new poll was just released that shows Hannity is the second most politically divisive entertainer on Forbes Top 100 list of entertainers, so perhaps Sasse is onto something. Sasse used a 2017 New York Times article for much of his sourcing on Hannity’s strategy, and in it, Hannity told the reporter directly that his theme for both of his shows to start out is that he’s mad about something, and then he illustrates why he is mad. Sasse summarized this tactic this way: “The storyline is simple: Liberals are evil, you’re a victim, and you should be furious. Hannity tells a lot of angry, isolated people what they want to hear.” He explains that everyone understands this is how the money is made. Outrage-inducing topics drive audience, and audience/ratings is all that matters. As Sasse puts it: “In exchange for wild accusations and exaggerations, they get rich and famous – and we, their viewers and listeners, get a shallower, angrier, less workable America.”
That is exactly what is happening. Glenn Beck also wrote a new book about how America is Addicted to Outrage, and it details what we can do to heal the divisions in our country. He also recently helped produce a special with liberal Hollywood producer, Riaz Patel, in which Patel gathered a small group of average people with different views on gun control for a round table, with the goal to find just one idea that would help make kids safer that both sides could agree to. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. The reason, though, is very telling. While listening to the whole episode is worth your time, I will give you the nutshell here. All of the participants rated their hope of finding some common ground on a scale of one to ten when they entered the room. In the end, the one man, on the Republican side of the debate, who continued to be the holdout and refused, at points, to even listen to the other side, had rated his hope as a one. With absolutely no hope of finding common ground, you will never find it. The only thing that everyone in this round table did agree on is that they all have absolutely no hope of the government being the solution for our problems, and maybe that is one place that we can start to find some unity. Beck talks about the country needing to find our “Unum” again, as in our nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum: From Many, One. We need to find something that everyone can come back together on. As long as we have no hope of finding that, and as long as we have those in the media feeding off our outrage in a vicious loop that makes us see the other side as an enemy that must be destroyed instead of as an opponent we must find some common ground with, the task seems insurmountable. As long as people like Hannity continue to divide us, and then deny that he is doing so, and instead deflect to people like Sasse, who is actually working to heal the divide, we truly may never be able to back up from the cliff we are on.