hannity-head

It’s very fair to say that there is little love lost between Fox News and CNN, and so it isn’t surprising at all that when CNN’s Dylan Byers saw an opening to attack Fox News commenter Sean Hannity, he went all in.

If you criticize Hannity, or the Trump administration, there is a fair chance he will call you a “jackass” on Twitter. The chances of being called a “jackass” by Hannity are significantly higher late at night. Of the 21 people Hannity called a “jackass” in the last year, nearly half were told off between 9 p.m and 2 a.m.

Hannity, Trump’s biggest backer on television, has said this is entertainment for him: “I am a counterpuncher,” he told one Twitter user who asked why he was so antagonistic. “I do not start fights but I finish them. This is pure entertainment for me. If people take cheap shots I hit back.”

Still, Hannity’s version of entertainment can go too far. Last year, after ending one of his many spirited on-air arguments with liberal contributor Juan Williams, Hannity pulled out a gun and pointed it directly at Williams, according to three sources with knowledge of the incident. He even turned on the laser sight, causing a red dot to bob around on Williams’ body. (Hannity was just showing off, the sources said, but the unforeseen off-camera antic clearly disturbed Williams and others on set.)

For the record: Hannity’s colleagues brought the Williams incident to the attention of Fox News executives, though it’s not clear whether anything came of it. The sources said it went to Bill Shine, the network’s co-president and longtime Fox News executive, who is Hannity’s longtime friend and a former producer. A Fox News spokesperson said the incident was referred to the legal and human resources departments.

“Sean Hannity has been trained in firearm safety since he was 11 years old and has a license to carry a gun in five states, including New York,” Fox News said in a statement to CNNMoney. “The situation was thoroughly investigated and it was found that no one was put in any danger.” (The spokesperson said the incident took place in October 2016.)

The Fox News spokesperson also provided the following statements from Hannity and Williams.

“While discussing the issue of firearms, I showed my good friend Juan Williams my unloaded firearm in a professional and safe manner for educational purposes only,” Hannity’s statement read. “Every precautionary procedure that I have been trained in since the age of 11 was followed. I’ve had a conceal carry permit in five states for all of my adult life. Any other interpretation of this is outright false reporting.”

“This incident is being sensationalized — everything was under total control throughout and I never felt like I was put in harm’s way,” Williams’ statement read. “It was clear that Sean put my safety and security above all else and we continue to be great friends.”

If it feels like Hannity is spoiling for a fight, perhaps that’s because he is. Off camera, he has become an avid student of Mixed Martial Arts. He has a brown belt in Karate. He even has a personal sensei (martial arts teacher) who travels with him. Last year, Hannity and his sensei paid a visit to UFC champion Chuck Liddell to learn some new techniques. The visit was featured as a segment on Hannity’s show, which provides some insight into his passion for the hobby.

Both Hannity and Williams have denied the event took place as portrayed by Byers in responses both in the article, and on social media.

Hannity’s denials on Twitter were direct, forceful, and unequivocal. He states that he never pointed a handgun at Williams, or anyone else.

Williams’s statements are more nuanced.

William’s statement wasn’t a direct refutation of the Byers assertion from “the three sources with knowledge of the incident” that Hannity pointed a firearm directly at him and activated the laser sight. I’ve since made an attempt to contact Mr. Williams, and asked him specifically the following questions.

At any time did Sean Hannity point a firearm at you, and point the laser sight at any part of your body?

Or did Hannity merely show you his firearm, pointed in a safe direction that some may have misconstrued as being pointed at you because of their angle and distance away?

I chose the specific phrasing I did in those questions in order to get the most direct and critical responses possible, should he decide to respond.

If Sean Hannity pointed a firearm at Juan Williams at any point, this would be very irresponsible gun handling that I would find severe fault with, regardless if it was “unloaded” or not. Mr. Williams would likely feel the same way. Based on his reactions so far, he doesn’t appear to have felt threatened.

If Mr. Williams issues an unequivocal denial that this took place as described, then Byers and CNN take another major blow to their credibility, on a network already known for being the epicenter of politically-motivated “fake news.”

CNN Newsroom-HandsUpDontShoot-Dec13-b

I strongly suspect that both Hannity and Williams are telling the truth, however, and here’s why.

The credibility of Byer’s piece hangs on one critical phrase.

Last year, after ending one of his many spirited on-air arguments with liberal contributor Juan Williams, Hannity pulled out a gun and pointed it directly at Williams, according to three sources with knowledge of the incident.

According to three sources with knowledge of the incident?

You’ll note Byers does not use the words “witnesses” or “eyewitnesses.” This could be—and most likely was—an interoffice rumor mill version of the childhood game “telephone,” where someone on set saw some “something,” told a version of the truth to another person, who embellished it, who told it to someone else in a slightly different version, etc.

Byers does not appear to have a single eyewitness to the alleged gun-pointing, not one.

Byers’s veracity takes another hit when he talks about Hannity being a brown belt in Karate.

Hannity never took Karate. Byers said he was a brown belt. It looks like Byers is incapable of doing basic fact-checking, and is merely reporting rumors to smear Hannity, which is readily apparent by the overall tone of Byers’s hit piece.

The event described by both Williams and Hannity sounds like nothing more or less than one colleague showing another his unloaded self-defense firearm in a safe manner, which gun ignorant staff turned into a game of “telephone” that got more exaggerated every time it was retold. It was investigated by Fox News, who presumably contacted Williams and Hannity, and determined that the story as reported by the rumor mill was a non-issue.

I don’t know any of the three men (Byers, Hannity, Williams) and don’t watch their shows. I have no skin in this game. I do, however, care about gun safety and the truth, whatever that may be.

If Sean Hannity pointed a gun at Juan Williams, I’d burn him down as the worst kind of irresponsible and dangerous gun owner, the kind that put people in body bags by pointing an “unloaded” gun at someone and pulling the trigger.

There’s no evidence of that in Byers’s article of that at all, however.

It appears three people heard something through the rumor mill, and Byers and CNN were so desperate to smear Hannity that they ran with an unverified story. That Byers was dead wrong on Hannity being a Karate brown belt when he’s never practiced that martial art at all tells me that Byers is lazy, vindictive, and sloppy as a journalist.

If CNN wants to keep earning their reputation as a purveyor of “fake news,” they’re certainly on the right track. I hope Dylan Byers has a long career there. If this is an example of the quality of his work, he’ll never be hired in this business by anyone else.

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