Surprising reasons Hannity did nothing wrong in defending Cohen

 

The Fixer

By now you know that President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, “The Fixer,” supposedly had only three clients. One was, according to testimony, radio and TV’s self-proclaimed “advocacy journalist” Sean Hannity. Hannity has spent hours upon hours defending Cohen and his actions to his angry septuagenarian audience.

Look me in the eyes, boys.

Cohen’s in hot water because he allegedly paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her mouth shut after supposedly screwing then private citizen Donald Trump a few years ago. And what guy, arteries loaded with Viagra, wouldn’t have screwed her?  Be honest now.

Believe me.I've had better.

Anyway, the story is the money didn’t come from billionaire Trump, but from Cohen, using his own money to take care of the problem for his “bestest BFF.” The money may have come from a loan against his house. What attorney wouldn’t tell his wife to hold off on that kitchen remodel for 10 years so they could pay off a porn star to help a friend cheating on his wife?  Everyone knows compassion like this is taught in the first year of law school.

The reason the $130,000 of hush money is a problem is because of federal election laws and it may have been an illegal campaign contribution.

Of course when the story of Hannity being part of Cohen’s exclusive Holy Trinity of clients broke, the on-air talent and staffs at CNN and MSNBC ran to the nearest Walgreens to get Depends since they were all peeing themselves with excitement. “Hannity broke the law by his non-disclosures” was the battle narrative. The same reasoning is being seen in social media.

I can’t believe I’m going to defend Sean Hannity, but here goes.  He didn’t do anything wrong.

Here’s why.

Over-the-air or “broadcast” radio and television stations are required by the Federal Communication Commission (F.C.C.) to clearly identify all commercial sponsorships. It’s part of the requirements of their license.

So let’s say I need some work done on my car and I go to my local mechanic Michael and say, “Fix my car for free and I’ll mention what a great business you have on my radio and TV shows.” Then I go on the air and say, “What a great guy Michael is over at Cohen’s Car Care.” Consideration given, time dedicated. That’s a commercial, and if it’s not identified as such it’s considered “plugola,” something the F.C.C. finds unpleasant.

Was Hannity’s daily defense of Cohen really a commercial for Cohen’s seemingly pro bono law practice? Having just three clients, in my opinion, no.

Hannity’s nightly TV show is on the Fox News channel, which is distributed through cable and satellite services, not federally licensed “broadcast” stations. The F.C.C. has no commercial identification requirements for these services. Its regulatory power is over the publicly owned broadcast spectrum or “broadcast” television. Hannity’s in the clear.

Now let’s move on to radio.

Since his show is broadcast on F.C.C. licensed radio stations there must be some felonious crime here that requires 30 years of hard time in Attica, right? A large and sweaty cellmate should be waiting and may find Hannity’s boyish good looks sexy, right?

Follow closely here.

Ultimately, it’s the licensee’s responsibility for what is broadcast over its radio stations. It’s not Hannity’s obligation nor the company that distributes his program, Premiere Networks. So he can go and spew anything he likes, illegal or not, because it’s the holder of that broadcast license that’s responsible. And believe me, no licensee is checking the content of any syndicated show they broadcast.

So for example, if someday Hannity flips out and starts dropping the “f-bomb” on his show, the F.C.C. can punish the affiliate stations, but not him. Remember, the CBS television network could not be held responsible when Janet Jackson’s nipple was broadcast during the Super Bowl. The F.C.C. fined the CBS owned “broadcast” television stations, which showed the offensive milky. The fine was eventually overturned in a 2011 appeals court ruling. The F.C.C. had no jurisdiction over the network or the producer of the halftime show, cable’s MTV.

Even if his defenses of Cohen were really a unidentified commercial for Cohen’s practice, and it was proven, Hannity could not be held responsible by the F.C.C. His affiliate radio stations could be fined. The licensed affiliates would be guilty since they are responsible for what they broadcast. Hannity’s clear again.

For the astute people, I know what you’re thinking, “Hannity’s an employee of Premiere Networks, which is owned by iHeart Media, which owns many of his affiliate stations. Here’s the connection we’ve been looking for.”

Are you sure? You may be missing a very important “legal” distinction here.

Is Sean Hannity an employee of Premiere Network and by association iHeart Media or is Hannity his own separate company providing services to Premiere Networks through a contractual business arrangement?

Making the kind of money he does – tens of millions a year – he probably would want to own and have control his radio show, instead of being an employee like you or me.  Ownership is where the money and power is in America.

Tax benefits are also a reason for an arrangement like this.  For example, if Hannity is an LLC or any type of a so-called pass through company, any profits from the business are passed through and taxed on the business owner’s personal returns at ordinary income tax rates. Under President Trump’s new tax laws a person can be taxed at the highest rate of 37%, but then as a pass through company taking a 20% deduction. This would lower the tax rate to 29.6%. 7.4% of a reported $30 million dollars a year is a lot of money saved, if this is indeed the case.

For a distribution company, a third degree of separation is then added for protection against F.C.C. regulations.

Hannity may have received free legal advice from Michael “The Fixer” Cohen, but he did nothing wrong by defending him on radio and television.

So sorry CNN and MSNBC.  You soiled yourselves for no good reason.

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