Being the host of a show confers certain advantages in debate; for one thing, if you don’t like what your opponent is saying, you can always get the show’s engineers to turn off his or her microphone.
Sean Hannity, the right-wing co-host of Fox News Channel‘s Hannity & Colmes, is well aware of this power, and has used it or threatened to use it several times. On October 20, 1999, Hannity interviewed African-American football legend Mercury Morris. When the conversation turned heated, Hannity warned: “All right, if we have to, we’ll turn your mike down. That’s the next step.” When Morris continued with his argument, Hannity decreed: “All right, turn his mike down. We’ll go to A.C. Green and we’ll put him back in a second here because he’s not going to shut up.”
A few weeks later (11/15/99), Hannity admonished Julius Bailey, another African-American guest, apparently referring to Morris’ silencing: “If I have to, Mr. Bailey, I’ll turn down your microphone. I’ve done it before, by the way.”
The next year (3/10/00), Hannity exercised the power of the volume knob against two guests at once: gay rights activist Peter Teague and anti-gay crusader Rev. Lou Sheldon (both of whom are white). “All right, turn down their mikes a second,” the host told his engineers. “Hold on, hold on. Turn down their mikes, because nobody’s hearing anything…. Look, audio, if we can turn down their mikes, turn it down.”
Even a U.S. congressmember was not immune. “Congressman, I’m going to get this out one way or the other,” Hannity told Rep. Joe Hoeffel (4/25/00), a Pennsylvania Democrat. “If you interrupt me, I’m going to turn your mike down. So I’m going to make it very simple for us both.”
“Well, you can turn my mike down if you want,” replied Hoeffel (who is white), “but you’re not going to threaten me into being quiet.”
“Well, if you interrupt me this time, I’ll turn your mike down,” Hannity retorted.
When gay rights activist Peter Teague made a return appearance (5/18/00), Hannity again threatened to cut him off: “Mr. Teague, you’re going to play ball with us or we’re going to have to turn your mike down.” To Ron Daniels, an African-American, Hannity warned (3/20/02), “Ron, if I have to, I’ll turn your mike down. Are you going to answer a direct question? It’s very simple.” Arab-American activist Hussein Ibish was told (4/1/02), “If I have to turn your microphone down–if you interrupt me one more time, I’m going to turn your mike down.”
While most of the guests on Hannity & Colmes are presumably straight white men–as with television news in general–the guests who faced loss of microphone included three black men, one Arab-American and one gay activist (the latter on two separate occasions). We could find only two instances of guests from the show’s heterosexual, Euro-American majority in jeopardy of losing speaking privileges.
We could find no explanation for why Hannity would assert control over who gets to speak so much more often with guests who are gay or people of color. Nor did we find any instances where Alan Colmes, his centrist debating partner, threatened to turn the volume down on anyone.