Written by Eric Boehlert
Following Monday night’s presidential debate, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, like many conservative pundits, seemed disappointed that Mitt Romney didn’t attack President Barack Obama over the issue of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11 of this year.
“I thought that would have been a big point of the debate tonight. I think a lot of people did,” said Hannity, who figured using a sensitive national security crisis that claimed the lives of four Americans would have made political sense Monday night. “And really, the president seems to have gotten a pass once again.”
Hannity’s eagerness over the last six weeks to help politicize the Benghazi attack stands in stark contrast to his never-ending crusade during the Bush administration to call out Democrats for allegedly “politicizing” national security by questioning the intelligence failures behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or by demanding answers about the wars Bush led America into. (Note: Legitimate fact-finding into epic intelligence failures like 9/11 and the Iraq War did not “politicize” the war on terror.)
“The thing I’m most angry about in this country right now is liberals that have politicized this, our national security,” Hannity announced on May 18, 2004. The politicization of national security was “unimaginable” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Hannity complained.
It was Hannity who tried to lay down the post-9/11 ground rules: National security was emphatically off-limits to presidential critics.
“Your leaders of your party have politicized our country’s national security and you guys ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Hannity scolded Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe in March, 2004. “We are at war and your party has politicized the war, and your party has said false things about the president. Your party calls the president a liar every day.”
Fast forward to a Democratic administration and Hannity, with his Fox News show, has perhaps done more than any other member of the American media to completely and unequivocally politicize of national security, and specifically Benghazi:
HANNITY: We are witnessing a widespread cover-up based on flat-out lies, all aimed to protect a president who happens to be running for re-election.
Whereas Hannity once bemoaned efforts by partisans to play politics with the war on terror (out of bounds!), Hannity this week bemoaned the fact the Republican presidential candidate declined to play politics with terrorism.
Today, Hannity’s often hysterical allegations about a supposed Benghazi cover up revolve around pure politics and have nothing to do with trying to improve national security or intelligence. Hannity is using false claims about Benghazi to beat Obama over the head rhetorically, and he’s doing for political reasons. Or, Hannity’s doing exactly what he preached against between the years 2001 to 2008.
The wholesale flip-flop from Hannity, and from the whole Fox News team, has been remarkable to watch.
To suggest the Fox host was relentless in his contempt for anyone who “politicized” intelligence or national security during the Bush years is an understatement. From the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to intelligence failures and the creation of the 9/11 commission, everywhere he looked Hannity saw contemptible Democrats trying to undercut Bush and score political points via the war on terror.
Worse, the alleged Democratic cheap shots always arrived at the very moments Bush was “trying to bring the nation together,” according to Hannity. “And that’s sad after 9/11.”
Objecting to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) in June 2002, Hannity complained how “outrageous” it was that the entire intelligence process in the wake of the 9/11 attacks had “already been politicized.” Hannity had deep fears it was “going to be further politicized.”
Interviewing Dr. Henry Kissinger in 2004, Hannity wondered if the former diplomat was as “amazed” at how Democrats had “so politicized our nation’s national security,” and how “all they want to do every day when they wake up in the morning is blame George W. Bush for something.”
And during the presidential campaign that year, Hannity was sure Sen. John Kerry had “politicized our national security.” How did Kerry do that? By criticizing Bush’s handling of the Iraq War. (“Disgraceful,” the talker lamented.)
On and on it went for nearly eight years:
• ”Are Democrats playing a dangerous game by politicizing national security?” [June 3, 2003]
• ”Well, Colonel Oliver North, he’ll be here to tell us why the Democrats want to politicize the war on terror at any cost.” [November 10, 2003]
• ”These guys, these Democrats are politicizing national defense.” [February. 4, 2004]
• “It is despicable that they have politicized our country’s national security.” [March 22, 2004]
• “These guys have so politicized the issue of 9/11 and our security.” [March 31, 2004]
• ”Many of them — I’ll even go a step further — have undermined the president while he’s at war, they’ve called him a liar.” [February 6, 2006]
Even bipartisan, fact-finding missions were denounced by Hannity. In April 2004, he announced that the 9/11 commission, created to address how the government dealt with pre-9/11 terror warnings, had “been politicized.” Days later he doubled down: “I don’t have any faith in this commission. I think it’s become politicized. I think it’s a farce.”
In January 2007, Hannity lamented the fact that “if America were united” and national security “were not politicized,” there was nothing the country couldn’t accomplish. Now, of course, with Barack Obama as president, Hannity views unity as a defeat.
Instead, Hannity’s relentlessness for condemning the politicization of national security has been replaced by his desire to promote the politicization of national security issues. Hannity has attempted to politicize the Benghazi story and make it more damning via misinformation; to attack Obama in a purely partisan way by using the war on terror, attacks on Americans, and national security as the blunt instruments of campaign warfare.
Earlier this month while dreaming up wild Benghazi conspiracies, in which Obama knew instantly all the details of the chaotic assault half-a-world away and then hid the truth from Americans, Hannity was very specific about his big picture focus: partisan politics and what kind of toll the story was taking on Obama. “Where does this go,” he asked his guest Michelle Malkin. “How does this play politically for them?”
This was part of Malkin’s response:
What you’ve got here is a den of lying liars and craft weasels who are all behind the scenes, trying to figure out who to hang out to dry.
Malkin’s name-calling claim echoed allegations of a political cover up Hannity had made days before: “I believe that they purposely lied. And the evidence seems incontrovertible to me.”
But remember, when Bush was president Hannity was aghast when, he claimed, Democrats politicized national security. He also hated it when people called the president a liar.
Crossposted on Smirking Chimp and on County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.
About the AuthorSenior fellow at Media Matters for America, and a former senior writer for Salon, Boehlert’s first book, “Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over for Bush,” was published in May. He can be reached at email@example.com.