Thank You Sean Hannity (and Russell Brand)

Sometimes good things come out of unpleasant experiences. When I participated in a “debate” on a Fox News program hosted by Sean Hannity last month, I certainly was not expecting the reaction it would get but in retrospect, I am very glad I went on and need to thank Mr. Hannity for the opportunity.

Speaking with even a bit of sympathy for Palestinians on Fox News usually is not welcome. I knew that going in of course but figured it was worth appearing if only to reach a few viewers. I also knew that unlike on some other networks, the interview would be particularly hostile so how I conducted myself would be very important. I’ve sat through plenty of interviews where I was immediately put on the defensive but this was a bit different. This was a circus.
Once the segment began it became clear to me that Mr. Hannity and his producers were trying to pull the old “Good Arab/Bad Arab” routine. This is a common gimmick on Fox News and the way it works is that they have two guests on for a “debate,” both ostensibly of Middle Eastern background. One, in this case Zuhdi Jasser, is there to agree with everything the host says, embrace Israel, the United States and all their policies, and criticize Arabs, Muslims and their culture, religion and politics. This is the “Good Arab,” the kind Fox News likes and wants its viewers to like. The other, in this case myself, is there to represent something closer to what most Arabs actually think and feel. This is the “Bad Arab,” which Fox News does not like and wants its viewers to despise.
But for the Good Arab/Bad Arab routine to really work, the “Bad Arab” has to fit a certain stereotype. They must come off as emotive, barbaric, hot-blooded, violent and generally unfit to engage in civilized Western discourse. Of course this is not who I am, and though I, like anyone, can be provoked when insulted, I was doubly determined not to allow that to happen and fall into the “Bad Arab” trap. If Sean Hannity wanted a circus, there was little I could do at that point to stop him, but I could certainly make sure he alone would come off as the clown. And so it was. The badgering, berating, loud-mouthed, emotive interlocutor unfit to engage in civilized discourse was part of the show in the end, but it was Sean Hannity.

It was not fun to sit through but my hope was that in the end, reasonable and objective observers watching the segment would realize how inappropriate Hannity’s behavior was, how unbecoming it was of anyone doing “journalism” and that the “Bad Arab” wasn’t so bad after all and was making important, reasonable points that were being silenced. Of course how successful this would be really depended on how many reasonable and objective observers watched Fox News. Or did it? Apparently in the age of social media and the internet, it does not. Numerous blogs picked up the segment criticizing Hannity’s behavior but after a day or so it was largely forgotten and fewer objective eyeballs were exposed to it.

Enter Russell Brand.

The English celebrity/commentator put together a twelve minute YouTube video picking apart Hannity, showing how ridiculous his behavior and line of questioning was, and talked about legitimate Palestinian grievances.

Fox News dominates the ratings among cable news competitors. The night I was on Hannity’s show, July 24th, Hannity brought in 1.9 million viewers. Russell Brand’s YouTube video has been viewed nearly 3 million times.
The amount of exposure and sympathy this created for the narrative Mr. Hannity was attempting to silence was remarkable and the number of messages I received from people around the world who had seemingly heard little about this issue before were huge, far outweighing the few hate messages I got from Hannity’s loyal ilk. Below, I’ve included excerpts from some of these messages which, due to the situation in Gaza, I have not had the time to respond to individually but ultimately will.

Many emails focused on criticism of Fox News and Sean Hannity’s style of coverage…

“Wanted to congratulate you both on keeping your cool as well as being brave enough to enter Fox space.”

“We thought it was such a disgrace, that ridiculous presenter shouting and pointing.” (Brazil)

“ I would have enjoyed listening to an in-depth perspective of the situation from your viewpoint but obviously this wasn’t allowed to happen. It is no wonder that people do not understand the conflict when even the news anchors have no interest in the story and are only out to make reasonable explanations sound radical for the prime time news.”

“There are plenty of people with common sense and intelligence enough, whether or not they understand the politics, who can clearly see the badgering that exposes how desperate he is to not let rational information dare be spoken or heard.”

“It saddens me that this is the state of the news programs in America.”

“I know what the local news shows have said, but knew there were always two sides to every conflict and felt I was not getting the whole story. I was hoping to learn more when I turned on that Hannity show. Unfortunately I did not get to hear what you had to say due to his wanting to hear himself rant and not air civil discourse”

“Never before have I been privy to a more embarrassing display of propaganda.”

“Your treatment on this programme was terrible and the host’s bullying will be counter productive in the minds of reasonable people.”

“While I usually avoid Fox News, I saw your recent ‘interview’ with Sean Hannity.”

“I just wanted to say how embarrassing Sean Hannity is and how gracefully you conducted yourself.”

“I do believe that this ‘journalist’ showed significant bias in driving his own views and was very closed-minded to any possible opposing views or facts.”

One email addressed directly to Hannity was shared as well…

 “Whether you agree with their points of view or not, as a professional interviewer you are supposed to allow your audience a balanced view, so that they can make up their own minds about the subject being debated. Clearly you had no intention of doing this and simply wished your own single minded views to be heard.”

Some emails expressed support with Palestinians and their struggle…

 “I cannot claim to understand the complexity of the situation in Gaza. I can only imagine the grief and anger that exist there.”

“Praying and marching and posting for Gaza.”

“I called my Senator yesterday… many people seem to support more bombing Gaza and that I was probably one of a few callers to the Senator stating the bombing of Gaza should stop. The Senator’s receptionist said, ‘No, I assure you many people are calling that are against the bombing.’”

“I believe that the struggle of the Palestinian people is ‘mis-’ and under-represented. There must be a better venue to present the Palestinian perspective.”

“I was terribly sorry that, once again, it is impossible to have a rational conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in our country. And in particular, that it is near-impossible to criticize Israel.”

Many appreciated my reluctance to take Hannity’s “Bad Arab” bait…

 “You acquitted yourself with dignity and strength and grace though it would have been nice if he had let you speak!” (Los Angeles)

“I applaud you for ‘going the distance,’ for confronting his tactics and for sustaining your integrity in the face of such an insulting and shameful tirade.”

“I found the debate with Sean Hannity to actually be very informative. It is telling to the viewers, as you quite rightly said during the ridiculous badgering by Sean Hannity, exactly what he was trying to accomplish. It is such a shame that somebody with the power to influence people’s opinions is so obtuse.” (United Kingdom)

“I appreciate your dignity under fire in that interview on FOX with Sean Hannity. Thank you for demonstrating your integrity.”

“I wished to hear you speak on behalf of those you intended to defend, but you were clearly prevented from doing so by a pathetic and unfair barrage of propaganda.”

“I feel you have done a lot in showing how difficult it can be for a minority to voice opinions in a propagandist environment.”

Some of my favorites came from Ireland…

“The fact that this man can claim Irish heritage is embarrassing – if he was in anyway educated he would realise that we, the people of Ireland, suffered at the hands of our oppressors for centuries. He may also discover that the very reason he’s American and not Irish is because his ancestors were driven out of this country but I guess they were lucky, they were able to get out unlike the people trapped and imprisoned in the Gaza Ghetto.”

“I wanted to let you know that I thought you handled yourself very well the other night when confronted with Hannity’s badgering and downright rudeness. As the descendant of Irish people who fled Ireland from the oppression of the British HE of ALL people should have a bit more savvy.”

So, I suppose, thanks are in order. Thank you Sean Hannity for giving me an opportunity to prove to countless viewers that the only way the legitimate concerns of Palestinians can be argued against are through silencing and intimidation. Thank you Russell Brand for amplifying this message across the social media waves and helping reach fair-minded people world-wide. Thanks to those who wrote in to let me know what they were thinking. Onward.