Why Sean Hannity Should Have Made His Relationship to Michael Cohen Public

The Fox News host criticized the FBI raid on the attorney

Yesterday it was revealed that Sean Hannity is a former client of Michael Cohen. Getty Images
Headshot of A.J. Katz

At least one media analyst feels Fox News host Sean Hannity should have disclosed his relationship with President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, not only to the public, but to his employer as well.


“The public needs to be able to filter what you’re seeing through the lens of, ‘Why would they say that?’ or ‘How do they know that?’ or ‘What do I need to know in order to understand that relationship?'” said Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcast and online at the Poynter Institute.

Hannity has been the focus of the news cycle over the past 18 hours, and the headlines haven’t been positive. Cable news’s most-watched host and unabashed supporter of President Trump was named as a client of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen during a Monday afternoon hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood.

After the news broke, Hannity, who was in the middle of his daily afternoon radio show, stated that while he has known Cohen for a long time, and considers him a friend, “he has never represented me in any matter, and I have never received an invoice or paid legal fees to him.”

“I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third party,” Hannity added in a statement.

Should Hannity have previously disclosed his connection to Cohen? After all, he condemned the FBI raid on Cohen’s properties during the April 9 broadcast of his Fox News program, and continues to do so.

Hannity’s program does not fall under the “news” category at Fox News, but he has wavered between referring to himself as an “opinion journalist,” an “advocacy journalist,” but also as an “opinion host.” On his programs, he consistently says “journalism is dead.” He has referred to his Fox News show as “real news,” and claims to have broken news on his program.

“Now, I wouldn’t classify Hannity as a journalist,” Tompkins continued. “If he were a journalist, this would be a complete non-starter, and he’d be done.”

During an appearance on Hannity last night, Harvard law professor and frequent guest of the show Alan Dershowitz confronted the host about the failure to disclose the connection, saying, “I really think that you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on this show.”

Earlier in the evening, Juan Williams, the sole progressive co-host on the network’s ensemble program The Five, criticized his colleague, saying “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 asked. “I think that’s a question.”

Tompkins also wondered why Hannity hasn’t come out and publicly said that he has no fear or concern about what’s in those files, and that he’ll allow them to be opened.

Will network management take additional action? That remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, this isn’t a great look for anyone involved; neither Hannity, nor Cohen nor even Fox News.

*Update: Fox News sent the below statement regarding Sean Hannity at 2:44 p.m. ET: 

“While FOX News was unaware of Sean Hannity’s informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court yesterday, we have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support.” – FOX News


@ajkatztv aj.katz@adweek.com A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.