Terry H. Schwadron
April 24, 2018
In pursuit of the story behind the story, news organizations often come up with pretty interesting stories for which I’m stuck wondering whether they matter.
It’s not that news groups are looking for unsavory dirt, but simply more detail. Yet there can be a sense of piling on.
We know by now, for example, that EPA director Scott Pruitt has a weird sense of what should pass as ethics, what with favorable deals for his rent from a lobbyist’s family, his $42,000 office phone booth, luxury travel arrangements and bloated security spending — all apart from the fact that he is on a tear to ruin the environment, something that President Trump seems to think is worth the price. Yet we continue to see news stories that suggest he has a history of similar self-largess in Oklahoma, or that there is yet more detail about the lobbyist in question.
Now comes more reporting about Sean Hannity, the Fox News most popular right-wing political commentator. He is a worthy news subject, but he’s not in government and he’s not beholden to anyone besides his employer and maybe his fawning viewers.
Hannity popped up in the news recently because his name was announced in court as the third of Michael Cohen’s three clients, which also include Trump and a Republican fund-raiser who both reportedly paid off women for their silence after sexual affairs. Hannity fluttered through several explanations about seeking privacy for his attorney conversations which may be unearthed by FBI raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel, finally settling on the fact that he had consulted briefly with Michael Cohen about a real estate deal. He said he gave Cohen $10, and thanks, and expected protection for his attorney-client privilege.
You can accept that or not, of course, and there have been reportsthat Hannity had hired other Trump attorneys to represent him to try to shut down an Oklahoma critic.
The Guardian news organization decided to find out what the real estate deal and went digging because, well, Sean Hannity is such a self-righteous and obnoxious political shill for Trump and right-leaning causes in general, that anything that smells like sanctimonious BS seems fair game to explore — whether it makes for significant news or not.
In this case, there is something to consider.
Yesterday, The Guardian said it had foundrecords linking Hannity to a group of shell companies that spent at least $90 million on more than 870 homes in seven states over the past decade. The properties range from luxurious mansions to rentals for low-income families. Hannity is the hidden owner behind some of the shell companies and his attorney did not dispute that he owns all of them.
According to The Guardian, dozens of those properties were bought at a discount in 2013, after banks foreclosed on their previous owners for defaulting on mortgages. Nice. So, Count 1 is that a Real Estate Deal is picking up cheap foreclosures, vulture like.
Of course, before and after that time, Hannity sharply criticized former President Barack Obama for the country’s foreclosure rate. In January, 2016, Hannity said there were “millions more Americans suffering under this president” partly because of foreclosures. Count 2 is the hypocrisy of his public statements clashing with private actions.
But the records go further, saying that Hannity obtained some of the propertieswith support from the US Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a fact he did not disclose when praising Ben Carson, the Hud secretary, on his television show last year. The property includes two apartment complexes in Georgia that Hannity bought in 2014 for $22.7 million in the cities of Perry and Brunswick, which have higher poverty rates and lower median incomes than the U.S. average. They were financed with mortgages for $17.9 million that Hannity obtained with help from HUD, which insured the loans under a program created as part of the National Housing Act. The loans, first guaranteed under the Obama administration, were recently increased by $5 million with renewed support from Carson’s department.
Hannity reportedly earns north of $35 million a year from his television and radio shows
In an interview with Carson last summer, Hannity praised privatization efforts for housing and generally criticized government housing programs, all without disclosing his own interests.
The Guardian said Hannity’s shell companies bought through Henssler Financial, a wealth management firm outside Atlanta. Bill Lako, a principal at the firm, has appeared on Hannity’s radio show as an expert on money issues. In all, the Hannity properties include at least 877 residential units, which were bought for a total of just under $89 million. Another seven properties bought by the companies over recent years have subsequently been sold on for more than $4 million, according to public records.
There’s nothing illegal here, nothing even “scandalous,” just plain old, well, interesting given that there is a pattern to Hannity not disclosing business partners while being quite vocal in opposition to anything from the Democratic side of the house.
Fox News issued a statement from Hannity: “It is ironic that I am being attacked for investing my personal money in communities that badly need such investment and in which, I am sure, those attacking me have not invested their money,” Hannity said in a statement released by Fox News. “The fact is, these are investments that I do not individually select, control, or know the details about; except that obviously I believe in putting my money to work in communities that otherwise struggle to receive such support.”
The Guardian never says it is, and those outlets that have taken it up don’t really make more of it than the headline itself. In our heavily divided times, the report feels a bit more unnecessary detail, even intrusion into someone’s personal life, than something necessary to understand our culture. Axiossaid, “These revelations surrounding Hannity’s property holdings highlight the ethical issues between his journalistic work and his personal entanglements with the Trump administration.”
Still, Hannity does not own any responsibility to speak to divided interests when he talks at us, and worse, neither do his employers at Fox News.