CNN host Anderson Cooper didn’t spare Sean Hannity for refusing to disclose legal ties to Michael Cohen when reporting about President Trump’s personal attorney.
Hannity reported on last week’s FBI raid on Cohen’s office “as if he had absolutely no connection to the story,” Cooper said Monday night on Anderson Cooper 360.
“No disclosure, no disclaimer, not even a casual mention that, ‘Oh yeah, this guy also represents me in some form or fashion,'” Cooper said.
Hannity has been scathing in his criticism of the raid as well as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
“What that means is that Mueller’s witch-hunt investigation is now a runaway train that is clearly careening off the tracks,” Hannity said of the raid.
Cohen has drawn the spotlight after acknowledging he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence in the days before the 2016 presidential election. His lawyers revealed Hannity’s connection to their client in federal court Monday. Pressed by a judge, the lawyers revealed that Hannity was a client of Cohen but had asked that the information not be revealed.
Hannity downplayed his “brief discussions” with Cohen, saying he never paid legal fees nor was he billed. But he acknowledged that he “assumed those conversations to be confidential.”
“He seems to be saying, ‘I wasn’t really a client of attorney Michael Cohen’s but our conversations were confidential because he is an attorney and I am his client,” Cooper said.
Cooper made reference to the Fox News motto in summing up his view of Hannity’s ethical conundrum.
“Not disclosing a business or legal relationship with someone you reported on … doesn’t sound either fair or balanced,” Cooper said.
Lawyer and pundit Alan Dershowitz, generally a Trump supporter, gently criticized Hannity on his own show.
“You were in a tough position,” Dershowitz acknowledged. “A, you had to talk about Cohen, and, B, you didn’t want the fact that you had spoken with him to be revealed.”
But he told Hannity he should have revealed their legal connection.
Another Fox News pundit, Juan Williams, also took issue, suggesting on The Five that Hannity should have disclosed his connection with Cohen.
“Why, when Sean was on the air strongly an advocate for President Trump, was he not saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a relationship with the lawyer,'” Williams said. “I think that’s a question.”
At least some of Hannity’s Fox colleagues were less critical. Tucker Carlson said Hannity had a right to try and defend his privacy.
“Sean Hannity is a talk show host. He’s not under investigation by anyone,” Carlson said. “Who he hires as a lawyer is nobody’s business.”
Some journalism ethics experts were not so forgiving. Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, told Politico that Hannity’s audience deserved to know what connections he has to the newsmakers on which he comments.
“This is not a small matter,” she said, adding that “an organization needs to have standards for the people who do its reporting or commenting.”
Indira Lakshmanan, journalism ethics chair for the Poynter Institute, said whether a news reporter or opinion journalist, rules are rules.
“If you want to maintain credibility with an audience, and be honest with them, you have to disclose all facts,” she told Politico.