Is it ethical for ‘news’ personalities to participate in campaign rallies?

By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links

After first denying he would participate or “appear on stage” with Donald Trump at a Missouri campaign rally, Fox News personality Sean Hannity did just the opposite — so is it ethical for television hosts to participate in partisan activities?

  • Although there is no secret of Hannity’s politics, he does work for an organization that has the word “news” in its title.
  • Hannity’s show, like many others on cable networks, is also full of commentary — so it’s no secret that it’s not an unbiased source of information.
  • That said, “Hannity” does include “Fox News Alerts” regularly during its show.
  • “Fox News Alerts” are sometimes derided as being “overused” — and are often used to label coverage that is more commentary than news or news that isn’t breaking.
  • There is some distinction between a “host” and “anchor” in the TV industry — though the exact definition and application of the titles are debatable.
  • There can also be further debate over whether “hosts” are considered “journalists.”
  • CNN’s Brian Stelter has even gone as far to say “Sean Hannity is not a journalist.”
  • Many media organizations also have policies that prohibit editorial staffers from making contributions to political campaigns. Fox News has such policies in place, though it’s not always clear how consistently they are applied to different employees.
  • Proponents of allowing some personalities, especially those who are known to have certain political views, argue that the personalities’ views are already well know and that their shows are not meant to be journalism — but rather offer commentary or analysis of the news.
  • Hannity and Fox News are not alone in similar controversies — left leaning Keith Olbermann, whose show also evolved to contain a substantial amount of commentary and analysis, came under fire for political donations during his tenure at MSNBC.
  • It’s also worth noting the distinction between an “analyst” or “contributor” — these personalities are typically paid to appear on news programs but under a “freelancer” type arrangement. Often these people are tied to partisan organizations and are also exempt from most rules regarding bias and donations.
  • In most cases, the label “analyst” or “contributor” is often an oxymoron for “paid commentator.”
  • That said, these people are typically selected and paid in order to present their political views — or expertise in a particular area.