Fox’s Sean Hannity at center of bitter campaign competition

Sean Hannity is getting a bruising reminder that this year’s presidential campaign defies traditional political rules.

The Fox News Channel and radio host had a nasty spat with Sen. Ted Cruz this past week, following criticism from both the left and right about his interviews with Donald Trump. Fox also aired the odd spectacle of Hannity sitting onstage with Trump as an audience booed lustily at the mention of Fox colleague Megyn Kelly‘s name.

In an election year when cable news networks are enjoying a bump in viewership, Hannity is a key man for Fox, and his audience is growing more quickly than Kelly’s and Bill O’Reilly‘s. They precede Hannity in Fox’s prime-time lineup.

Fox declined to make Hannity available for an interview for this story.

Hannity’s relationship with Trump became an issue when the liberal website published a story that wondered how Hannity had been able to interview Trump so much without making news, and quoted exchanges that depicted a friendly relationship.

Trump had been a guest on Hannity’s Fox show 32 times before last week’s town hall in Pittsburgh, according to the host’s records.

Hannity has said on his radio show that he does not support one Republican over another.

The attack didn’t seem to surprise Hannity, who noted the website’s ties to Hillary Clinton supporters. The story, however, was picked up and amplified by the conservative, anti-Trump website

During Hannity’s recent Trump interview, he pressed for specifics on how the candidate would help people economically in that part of the country and how his Mideast policies would differ from President Barack Obama‘s.

About Trump’s claims that some delegates were being snatched, Hannity said, “Clearly there are people who want to circumvent and disenfranchise the voters. What do you say to them?”

He asked him to detail Clinton’s weaknesses, and there was an uncomfortable moment where he asked Trump to reveal what unflattering nickname he would try to stick on Clinton like he did with “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

Trump wouldn’t say, but promised Hannity he’d be the first to know.

By Hannity’s count, Cruz had appeared on his television show 34 times since Cruz announced his candidacy. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, still in the race, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is not, had been on the show 20 times, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another dropout, making 19 appearances.

On his radio show, through last week, Cruz had logged more interview time than any other candidate — more than 188 minutes on the air. Trump’s 112 minutes were third behind Rubio.

“I’m just going to remain neutral and give you access to the candidates, because no one else is doing it,” Hannity said. “At the end of the day, if it’s Cruz or Trump who is the nominee, I’m going to support them because it would be a disaster if Hillary Clinton becomes president.”

When Cruz this past week seemingly made a reference to Hannity’s critics in a radio interview, the host flashed annoyance.

After Cruz called a Hannity question about the fight for delegates part of a silly media obsession, Hannity pressed the point.

“The only people asking this are the hard-core Donald Trump supporters,” Cruz said.

“You’ve got to stop,” Hannity replied. “Every time I have you on the air and I ask you a legitimate question, you throw this in my face, and I’m getting sick of it. I’ve had you on the air more than any other candidate.”

The unabashed conservative makes no secret of his views, and he appeals to a like-minded audience.

In last week’s Trump interview, when Hannity asked about the candidate’s private meeting at Trump Tower with Kelly on April 13, the pro-Trump crowd booed at the mention of her name. Kelly has come under constant criticism from Trump since she asked him a question he didn’t like last summer.

Neither man spoke about the audience’s reaction. Trump smiled. Hannity, who was largely off camera, appeared to make a “stop” motion with his arms.

It was an audible manifestation of a delicate problem for Fox.

Kelly, Fox’s brightest new star, has come under relentless criticism from Trump, and many Hannity fans are siding with the GOP front-runner instead of the network long loved by Republican viewers.

Given that Trump seems to feel comfortable on Hannity’s show, the veteran talk show host is an important asset for Fox in a combustible campaign.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

News that Ben Carson only became Republican a year ago isn’t really news

Dr. Ben Carson has been getting hammered in recent days for some of his outlandish comments on the campaign trail. Both the New York TimesCharles Blow and the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson have slammed the GOP presidential candidate for his comments on what he would do if confronted by a mass killer who wanted to shoot him, as well as his invoking Nazi Germany when talking about gun control.

Carson has dismissed such complaints, and on The O’Reilly Factor on Monday night, host Bill O’Reilly defended him, saying, “There’s something about you that really annoys the secular-progressives.”

But it’s not just liberals who are scrutinizing the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, who has remained in the top tier of GOP candidates right behind Donald Trump in most national and statewide polls in the Republican presidential contest.

On a conservative website called the The American Mirror, blogger Kyle Olson breathlessly reports that Carson never affiliated with the Republican Party until he changed his voter registration in Palm Beach County on October 31, 2014. He goes on to writes that Carson was previously affiliated with the Independence Party of Florida, and prior to moving to Florida, he had been registered as an independent in Maryland since 2001 and had not voted in any primaries through the next 10 years.

However, Carson has never been shy about admitting that, though he was once a Republican, he left the party decades ago before registering again with the GOP  last October in Palm Beach County, where he currently lives.

“It’s truly a pragmatic move because I have to run in one party or another. If you run as an independent, you only risk splitting the electorate,” Carson told The Washington Times in an interview last fall before he made the change. “I clearly would not be welcome in the Democratic Party, and so that only leaves one party.”

Carson says he grew up as a Democrat but switched his party affiliation to Republican in the 1980s after listening to Ronald Reagan. However, he left the party and switched to being an independent about 15-20 years ago after getting a “sour taste” watching Republicans go after Bill Clinton regarding the Monica Lewinsky affair. “I just saw so much hypocrisy in both parties,” he told the Times.

The story was picked up and ran online by conservative news sites like, WorldNetDaily and the DailyCaller.

Unmasked, Stephen Colbert debuts tonight hosting ‘Late Show’

Stephen Colbert is about to turn a corner in his career: onto Broadway at 54th Street.

Having split from cheeky Comedy Central a few blocks away, he will now hold court at old-guard CBS. He will inherit the theater, time slot and series title (though with an added “The”) owned for 22 years by David Letterman.

Little wonder that Colbert’s disciples — his erstwhile Colbert Nation — wait anxiously to see what “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” will be like: How beholden will it be to late-night talk-show conventions stretching back six decades? Will it abandon Colbert’s signature political edge? Can it build on the uniqueness of “The Colbert Report,” a sui generis concoction Colbert tailored to his skills and passions?

If the early guest lineups offer any clue, he’ll offer a rich blend of talk: Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush and Vice President Joe Biden will appear the first week, along with entrepreneurs Elon Musk (SpaceX and Tesla Motors) and Travis Kalanick (Uber), plus a show-biz mix including George Clooney, Amy Schumer and Toby Keith.

His online spoof of Donald Trump that was posted in June suggests he’s poised to lampoon the 2016 presidential race.

Does he have any marching orders for when he steps onstage at 11:35 EDT on Tuesday?

“No one has asked me to do anything,” he says at a reporter’s intimation that CBS aims to plug him into a preexisting late-night hole. “They have said, ‘Do what you do, but give us more.'”

More is certainly on tap. Colbert will air for an hour five nights a week, more than double the Monday-through-Thursday half-hour output he maintained for nine years before exiting Comedy Central last December (and retiring his on-air character, aka The Character).

“Before, I had four acts,” he says. “Now I will have seven acts … and a band (led by versatile Louisiana-bred musician Jon Batiste). But it’s not about the pieces. It’s about what you do with the pieces.”

Colbert, 51, comes to “The Late Show” after establishing himself in the guise of a messianic blowhard who spoofed Bill O’Reilly and his Fox News Channel show “The O’Reilly Factor,” with maybe a touch of Rush Limbaugh thrown in.

On “The Colbert Report” he played the host as a jerk, but endearingly “someone who wasn’t AWARE that he was a jerk; a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot. I wasn’t sure that I could get all four of those rotations on the ball. But it worked out.”

His was a game of three-dimensional chess, especially with the interviews, which became his favorite part of the show (“the written pieces are invention, the interviews are discovery”). But they were also exhausting.

“Talking with a guest, I had to run everything through the CPU up here” — he points to the computer in his noggin — “to grind out a version of myself, instantly, while keeping my intention as a satirist evident inside the Trojan horse of my character’s role as a pundit who trades on divisiveness.” Whew.

Despite (or, more likely, because of) this Rube Goldbergian process, Colbert’s interviews were not just funny, but as incisive as anyone’s on TV. With his native observations and inquiries shining through the prism of his on-screen persona, he emerged as a stealth truth-teller. His doltish pronouncements, when decoded for their satirical intent, shrewdly analyzed politics, public affairs and the media as, without ever breaking character, he logged a marathon of performance art unmatched in TV history.

In short, on “The Colbert Report” he proved he could do the impossible. But now …

“Can I do the POSSIBLE?!” he cuts in with a chortle.

He has no doubt that, yes, he can. And to demonstrate, he’s been introducing the Stephen Colbert he will be with his online comedy segments, targeted features like a GQ cover story, and a growing drumbeat of other publicity. (Item: For a limited period, drivers using Waze, a navigation app, can choose Colbert’s voice to speak their driving instructions.)

Along the way, he’s learned this brand of possible is easier than he imagined.

“So far I’ve pre-taped at least half-a-dozen interviews as myself,” he says. All the while, The Character “sat on my shoulder, saying, ‘Let ME do it! I can make everything a joke!’ And I would go, ‘No, no, I want to see what it’s like to do it WITHOUT you.’

“I liked those interviews, they were very enjoyable,” he reports. “And I’m not tired when it’s over. I feel great. That’s the most startling thing to me!”

Still, he senses the reporter is unconvinced that he can stick to his guns once he lands in the late-night arena.

“I’ve been in late night for a DECADE,” he counters. Hello: “The Colbert Report” began at 11:30 p.m. But now, he jokes, he’ll have five extra minutes to prepare. “Five more minutes! We’ll REALLY have our (stuff) in a pile!”

As he resumes his nightly appearances after nine months’ absence, he makes no demarcation between what he did before and what lies ahead.

“I don’t like saying ‘the old show.’ That show’s not over for me,” he declares, noting that his whole creative team remains with him. “I will not do this show through the mouth of someone who is always afraid and angry and wants you to join him in those feelings — that’s all that will be different.”

Even so, will he be as funny when stripped of his dim-witted proxy? Can he convey the big ideas he used to put across so forcefully through artful misdirection? That’s what his fans fret about.

They may have forgotten that Stephen Colbert is a gifted improv artist — Second City is on his resume — so The Character, his know-nothing mouthpiece, was just one of countless roles in his repertoire, including the role of himself. No wonder Colbert says he now feels liberated: “I wanted the ability to use more of me that I could never show you on ‘The Colbert Report.’

“Whether people will miss The Character too much, I can’t say,” he concedes. But the real guy was far from unexposed all those years. “I promise you,” he vows reassuringly, “you saw me the entire time.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Mitch Perry Report for 7.8.15 — Could Francisco Sanchez become the Willie Horton of 2016?

The furor over Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants shows no sign of diminishing as ESPN decided to pull its charity golf tournament from his Southern California course yesterday.

It’s been a very rough week for the celebrity/businessman/GOP presidential candidate, with major corporations like Macy’s, NBC and Univision cutting ties with him in the wake of his disparaging comments last month, when he said, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” adding, “and some, I assume, are good people.'”

But Trump is doubling down on those comments and using the tragic shooting death of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle last week by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had a string of felonies and deportations but was freed in April despite a detainer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials by the city’s sheriff.

Much is being made of San Francisco’s ’s sanctuary city policy from 2013, which prohibits the release of undocumented immigrants to ICE unless they have committed violent felonies. According to reports, though Lopez-Sanchez had been deported several times, none of his felonies were violent ones, and thus remained in line with San Francisco policy.

The issue has caught fire on conservative talk radio and other jurisdictions that have said for years that we shouldn’t move on immigration policy until our border with Mexico is strengthened. Immigration reform was already an issue going into this campaign, and Trump’s incendiary comments have blown it up.

But Lopez-Sanchez has put it into a whole new category, and the anger may be bipartisan. In an interview on CNN yesterday, Hillary Clinton said, “I think the city made a mistake” by not handing Lopez-Sanchez over to ICE, and said he should have been deported.

Bill O’Reilly on Monday night blasted San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city and the federal government’s unwillingness to confront it for being so means that “the mayor and city supervisors of San Francisco are directly responsible for the murder of Kate Steinle, and the Obama administration is complicit.”

It will be interesting to see if this story dies out in another week, or goes deeper. With Trump’s ascension, I suspect it will be around for some time to come as an issue.

In other news..

Marco Rubio gave a much-hyped domestic speech in Chicago yesterday. Although he blasted Hillary Clinton as being the purveyor of “yesterday,” Democrats countered that the speech was pure “retro Rubio.”

Twelve days ago, Bob Buckhorn went on a public affairs show in Tallahassee to talk about — well, what do you think might have come up?

More establishment organizations are coming out and filing legal briefs with the Florida Supreme Court against the Solar Power proposed constitutional amendment. But the League of Cities brief may be challenged by some of its members.

And Alan Grayson was hit with a second ethics complaint in two days yesterday in Washington. Another fellow Florida Democrat called his actions “an embarrassment,” but the firebrand liberal’s supporters say nothing has happened to dissuade them from supporting him if and when he enters the Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate.