Sean Hannity's Real Estate Portfolio Raises Journalism Ethics Questions

Apr 24, 2018
Originally published on April 24, 2018 10:43 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

For the second week in a row now, Fox News star Sean Hannity finds himself at the center of a journalism ethics debate. A week ago, it was over Hannity's legal and personal connections to President Trump's attorney, who's under criminal investigation. This week, the dust-up is over Hannity's personal real estate empire and whether he should've revealed his financial conflicts of interest. Here's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Last June, Sean Hannity interviewed and praised Ben Carson, the Trump administration's Housing and Urban Development secretary, on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

SEAN HANNITY: Why did you give up being a brain surgeon?

BEN CARSON: (Laughter).

HANNITY: And I know you've done a good job.

NOGUCHI: What Hannity did not divulge to viewers is that his personal investments of tens of millions of dollars in real estate benefited from the agency's loan programs. News of Hannity's investments, first reported by The Guardian newspaper, troubles Kelly McBride, vice president of the Poynter Institute. McBride says it is standard practice to disclose potential conflicts of interest, and many news organizations, including NPR, make these policies publicly available.

KELLY MCBRIDE: It is a good form of accountability and transparency, but Fox does not publish their standards, and I have never seen them.

NOGUCHI: This comes just after revelations that Hannity was a client of Trump attorney Michael Cohen, whose home office and hotel room were raided by the FBI. As McBride notes, Hannity regularly defended both men on air without disclosing that connection.

MCBRIDE: There seem to be so many conflicts of interests - not only his relationship with Trump, but his relationship with Trump's attorney and now his business arrangements that actually involve backing from the federal government.

NOGUCHI: A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on its newsroom's conflict of interest policies. Instead she referred to Hannity's statement on his website, which reads in part, I had no role in or responsibility for any HUD involvement in any of these investments. Fox also points to Hannity's own radio program in March, in which he discusses, in general, his investments with Henssler Financial, a firm that handled his real estate investments.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

HANNITY: I have used them for my financial dealings, all of them - full disclosure. And we've done some business deals together, and so on and so...

NOGUCHI: For McBride, however, Fox's lack of transparency about its own rules contributes to the problem. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "ANTHEM FOR THE EARNEST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.