Sean Hannity and Michael Cohen Spark a Journalism Ethics Debate

Just under a month ago, Fox News host Sean Hannity was revealed to be a client of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s attorney. After the news broke, Fox News executives were reportedly taken by surprise that Hannity did not disclose his relationship with Cohen; however, shortly after, Fox News declared its “full support” for the host.

According to the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, journalists are advised to “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived,” and “disclose unavoidable conflicts.” When it comes to Hannity, many have questioned whether or not he is a journalist.

In 2016, he told the New York Times that he “never claimed to be a journalist;” however, in a subsequent interview with the New York Times he stated that he is “an advocacy journalist, or an opinion journalist.”

Regardless of Hannity’s own definition of his role at Fox News, Indira Lakshmanan, a journalism ethics expert for the Poynter Institute said, “I don’t think it’s enough to say that Sean Hannity was not a journalist…He describes himself as a journalist when it suits him, and a commentator at other times. If you’re an opinion journalist, you’re still a journalist.”

Others say it does not matter whether or not Hannity fits the definition of a journalist or not.  According to Erik Wemple, the Washington Post’s media critic, “all that matters is what’s circled in the image below:”

Courtesy of the Washington Post

Wemple said, “If the host and his bosses wish to exempt Hannity from the attendant requirements, they should change the logo in the bottom left of the screen. ‘Fox Talk’ might work, or perhaps ‘Trump Time with Sean.’”

But rather than blabbing on about what others have to say on the matter, we’d like to hear from you, our readers, on how news stations should handle potential ethical conflicts of interest such as the recent case with Hannity and Cohen.

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