Our recent report on diversity on evening cable news produced an unexpected finding that raised eyebrows here at Media Matters: According to our results, Fox News' Hannity was the third most ethnically diverse show, sandwiched closely between MSNBC's Politics Nation with Al Sharpton and CNN's Erin Burnett Outfront. But a closer look at the figures shows that this apparent diversity was largely due to the impact of a single Hannity episode devoted to black conservatives who oppose President Obama.
Hannity's guests for April of this year were 30 percent non-white, in stark contrast to the rest of Fox's evening programming, which is dominated by white guests: Special Report with Bret Baier (7 percent of guests were non-white), The O'Reilly Factor (11 percent), and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren (9 percent).
Hannity's apparent greater diversity, though, can largely be attributed to the April 8 episode where host Sean Hannity aired, in his own words, a "very special studio audience edition of Hannity" that was comprised entirely of "a very distinguished group of African-American conservatives."
In all, 22 of Hannity's 58 non-white guests during the month of April were featured on this single show. That represents 38 percent of Hannity's non-white guests and 50 percent of Hannity's African-American guests.
To put into perspective just how truly unusual this April 8 episode was for Hannity, we can look at numbers for a typical show. Excluding the April 8 outlier, the average Hannity show hosted approximately 7 white guests and just a single non-white guest. That puts the numbers much closer to those of the other Fox programs studied.
Removing the April 8 show from the data demonstrates a stark drop in diversity on Hannity. White guests rise from 70 percent to 79 percent while African-American guests fall 10 points from 23 percent to 13 percent. Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Middle-Eastern guests all remain an incredibly small portion of total guests.
Hannity drops down from the top three most ethnically diverse shows across cable evening news as well, with the program now fully 20 percentage points less diverse than MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, the most diverse show studied in our report.
Likewise, Hannity loses its spot as the only Fox show that hosted more non-white guests than white male guests.
The April 8 episode is ultimately illustrative of conservative attitudes toward the politics of race in America. The show aired just a little more than a week after Dr. Ben Carson (who was the opening guest for a one-on-one interview with Hannity), neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, put his foot in his mouth with a "nasty, petty, and ill-informed" comment likening marriage equality for same-sex couples to "NAMBLA" and "people who believe in bestiality." Just about a month prior to that, Carson had been the latest poster-child for conservative ideology, held up high by right-wing media outlets and Fox News after his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.
As criticism mounted from the Johns Hopkins medical community, Fox News jumped to Carson's defense. America Live host Megyn Kelly said, "Did he do something so far afield from what Justice Sotomayor, a Barack Obama appointee on the bench, did in open court this week?" (a question that is a complete misrepresentation of what Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in court). And Hannity himself argued on his radio program that Caron's comments were merely "not politically correct."
Opening the April 8 show, Hannity framed the issue for his audience:
If you are African-American and you are conservative, in this country right now, you are vilified, you are demonized, you are besmirched, your character is assassinated because sadly it is episodes like this that lead me to believe there is no freedom of speech for black conservatives right now in America. This has to change.
And how does Hannity give African-Americans a voice on a national platform? After spending the first week of April hosting largely white guests, he put on a single broadcast featuring numerous black conservatives to talk about race, which betrays the fact that non-white guests have as much to add as their white counterparts to discussions of any topic. Once Hannity had moved on to other issues, his guest lineups slid back to the same overwhelmingly white majority we see nearly across the board on evening cable news.