Critic's Notebook: Sean Hannity Returns to Talk About Not Talking About the Seth Rich Conspiracy Theory

Sean Hannity returned to his Fox News show Tuesday night after a vacation that was certainly well deserved. After all, mustering up all that outrage and righteous indignation is bound to prove exhausting after a while.

Viewers should be forgiven if they became alarmed upon tuning into the show. Numerous graphics announced "Breaking News" and "Fox News Alert," and you began to fear that perhaps Kim Jong-un had finally succeeded in launching a missile. Hannity referred to it as a "Breaking News Night," although his definition of "breaking news" apparently applies only to him.

The news he was breaking turned out to be the "war on freedom of speech" being perpetrated by the "Deep State." The term, which sounds like the title of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, has become a favorite of right-wing pundits who use it as a cudgel against anyone who dares to disagree with their agenda.

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Hannity has been in the hot seat recently for his loathsomely irresponsible conspiracy-mongering regarding the killing of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer. According to Hannity, Rich was not killed in an attempted robbery, as the police believe, but rather because he was supposedly the source of the email leaks that bedeviled the Clinton campaign. It's a story so scurrilous that even Fox News ultimately disavowed it, and Hannity grudgingly agreed to stop talking about it after Rich's grieving family publicly lambasted him.

Except, of course, that Hannity didn't stop talking about it. During his opening monologue, for which he was accompanied by a graphic reading "Liberal Fascism," Hannity said that he was "honestly glad to accommodate" the family's request because he sympathized with their grief. But he also promised that he "will not stop investigating" and "will not stop asking questions" about the matter. So it's only a matter of time before another lunatic, like the one who showed up with a loaded weapon after Pizzagate, becomes inspired to deliver vigilante-style justice. Hannity added that he was "making progress," and promised that there would be "a lot more coming, sooner than later." It's amazing how he finds the time to host his show with all that dogged investigative reporting he's doing on the side.

Read more: Sean Hannity Backs Off Seth Rich Story "For Now" Out of Respect for His Family

Hannity played the wounded victim throughout the evening, moaning about being called a "liar" and "conspiracy theorist" and decrying the "character assassination" that had left him "smeared." Describing it as a "campaign to silence me," he promised his viewers: "This is not hyperbole." He then went on to describe what was happening to him as a "kill shot," which, I don't know, sounds like hyperbole to me.

Assuming such a martyred posture that it's surprising he didn't display signs of stigmata, Hannity compared himself to such persecuted heroes as Laura Schlessinger, Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (although, tellingly, not Bill O'Reilly). He thanked those viewers and advertisers who stood by him, saying that their devotion was "extremely humbling" although the effects apparently haven't kicked in yet.

Watching Hannity argue that he was the only one preventing America from suffering the lies of the "propaganda media," it made you think, "if only conservatives had somewhere to express themselves."

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Among Hannity's guests was Newt Gingrich, a clearly objective figure whose wife has just been nominated for U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. Because, really, when you think of the Holy See, you think of Calista Gingrich. Gingrich was there to plug his new book, Understanding Trump, a tome that should probably include Rorschach tests. Newt talked about the "death behavior" of the left, for whom "Trump represents the end of the world." He also predicted that future historians will look back on this as "one of the funniest periods in American history," which might be true if by the future he means the Planet of the Apes.

A big theme of this "Breaking News Night" was the leaks emanating from the upper reaches of government, with Hannity helpfully exhibiting a lengthy list several times during the broadcast. He also repeatedly showed a clip of Department of Homeland Security head John Kelly describing the leaks on Meet the Press as "borderline" treason. To further the argument, he brought on several reporters from Circa News, that distinguished news organization owned by the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair's newly hired chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, was perhaps the least charming of the Trump surrogates during the campaign, and that's saying something.

Hannity's swagger seemed to dissipate by the end of the show. "Hopefully - it's not my choice, but I want to be here - we'll be back tomorrow night," he announced. Gee, is it time for another vacation already?

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