Kudos to Fox News for pulling Sean Hannity's program from its coverage of the Cincinnati Tea Party, even if it was at the last minute.
Hannity was scheduled to broadcast his show from the Cincinnati Tea Party rally on April 15. But, Hannity and his broadcast were yanked back to New York when Fox News found out the Tea Party was charging admission to the rally, The New York Times blogged.
According to its Web site, the Cincinnati Tea Party was founded in Feb. 2009 by a group of conservative Cincinnatians as a grassroots, nonpartisan organization.
Media Bistro blogged that tickets to the Hannity-headlined rally were expected to go for anywhere from $5 to $100. Prices were based on how close the seats would be to Hannity, Media Matters reported: “CTP offered 'premium reserved seating by the Hannity show' for $20; VIP seats, which included a 'Floor ticket to event and dinner at the UC restaurant overlooking the arena!' for $100; and general admission seating for $5. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on April 13 that the $20 premium seats give you 'a chance to be on TV'."
Media Matters wrote April 14 that Society of Professional Journalists’ president Kevin Smith said there's no question that charging for attending Hannity's news coverage is wrong:
"Unequivocally, from our standpoint, this is wrong. For a news organization to charge people for access, then take that money and roll it over to a political action group that they cover quite a bit… It has gotten to the point where you cannot delineate between Fox News and the Tea Party movement - it is incestuous. There is a clear conflict of interest here.”
On April 16, the featured story on FoxNews.com was about, yes, the Tea Party.
Even so, The Baltimore Sun TV critic, David Zurawik reported on his blog that "FOX News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity’s television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event," Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News, said in a statement emailed to the Sun Thursday. "When senior executives in New York were made aware of this, we changed our plans for tonight’s show."
Hannity was listed as the headliner of the rally, The Los Angeles Times wrote April 15, and the expected attendance was 13,000.
Poynter Institute scholar Bob Steele told Media Matters, "Does Sean Hannity consider himself a journalist? Does Fox News consider his program journalism? If either or both of those answers are yes, there is a serious problem with what he is doing with this event and the financial piece."
The Cincinnati Tea Party defended itself in a press release posted on its Web site stating that tea party members don’t profit from events and the tickets were sold to “offset the cost of the event.” The Baltimore Sun, Zurawik wrote, "The university official who booked the hall told me in an email response to my earlier post that the Tea Party paid for the rent and was essentially giving Hannity a free ride on use of the hall for his cablecast."
Media Matters reported that the Cincinnati Tea Party said Hannity wasn’t to be compensated for his appearance, but that tea party staff “coordinated with his staff to plan the logistics of the event."
The Huffington Post reported that last week News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch said Fox News shouldn’t be supporting any movement.
Media Matters analyzed Fox News’s promotion of Tea Party events on April 8. Media Matters also reported that Hannity promoted the Cincinnati tea party appearance 18 times since March 5. Hannity often directed viewers to his Web site on which was linked the ticket office.
On April 15, 2009, Fox News broadcast four shows from tea party sites, The New York Times reported. A "New York Times-CBS News poll found that 63 percent of self-described Tea Party supporters gain most of their television news from Fox, compared to 23 percent of all Americans.”
Zurawik blogged on The Baltimore Sun Web site, "Let's hope Hannity, who was going for the media hustler's hat trick in Cincinnati by also including a book signing at the canceled Tea Party event, learned something about the line between shameless huckstering and being a responsible cable-caster. Let's hope he also knows now that his show does not exist solely to promote his political agenda."
As a commentary show, maybe Hannity's show has a right to exist, in part, to promote his political agenda - but FoxNews admirably showed that it has limits when it canceled Hannity's show airing from a rally that offered problematic conflicts of interest.
In response to Zurawik, James Poniewozick wrote on Time's blog that it is significant --not in a good way--that FoxNews said no to Hannity's broadcast. "Attention, Tea Party: You do not make money off Fox News! Fox News makes money off you," Poniewozick wrote.
We are asking FOX News for comment and will update with any response.