The untold truth of Sean Hannity

Sean Hannity transformed himself from school-skipping college dropout to high-powered political authority with his specific brand of political commentary. Until Rachel Maddow narrowly beat out his ratings in April 2018, he was was the most-watched nightly cable news host, amassing more than 3 million viewers monthly.

Conservatives love Hannity for his advocacy of the blue collar and middle class. Liberals watch as if he's a unicorn — a man so filled with brazen allegiance to seemingly false conservative viewpoints that he can't be real. Yet, he is. The cable news host has a loose definition of the truth and regularly spouts dubious info and statistics to support his claims. Then again, he never said he was a journalist — until he did. Sometimes he's a close adviser to the president, and other times he's not. The popular pundit is so polarizing he caused an army of fans to smash their expensive coffee makers after Keurig pulled its advertising from his show.

No matter how elusive the Fox News host's true values may be, there is one thing undeniably Hannity: controversy. Here's the truth about the sometimes-journalist, always-talk show host who some say might just be President Trump's unofficial chief of staff.

He dropped out of college because he couldn't afford it

Sean Hannity may have risen up through the ranks of Fox News, but it wasn't because of his education. The self-proclaimed opinion journalist was a very poor student — both in behavior and budget. Hannity attended Catholic school at Sacred Heart Seminary, where he reportedly clashed with the nuns. As a teenager, he frequently cut class to smoke. "I just wasn't that interested in school. It bored me to tears," he admitted to The New York Times.

Hannity didn't fare much better in the world of higher education. He never finished college, where he was studying political science, and attended three different universities — NYU, Adelphi, and University of California-Santa Barbara — before dropping out. The TV host admitted that he quit college because he "ran out of [money]" after paying for three years of classes out of pocket. He claims to have had very good grades at all three schools, but moved to Rhode Island with his sister, Teddy Grisham, to launch a wallpaper and design business instead of continuing his studies. 

That doesn't mean he never got a degree. In 2005, Hannity received an honorary degree from Liberty University, the evangelical Christian college that gave Donald Trump an honorary doctorate of law in 2017. 

His father was physically abusive, but he says he 'deserved it'

Sean Hannity is rarely painted as a sympathetic character, but before his brazen support of political conspiracy theories and humble brags about his membership with the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, the talk show host was a troubled kid. Hannity has said he was regularly abused by his father for misbehaving.

In an interview with The New York Times, Hannity claimed his father would rip off his belt and "[kick] the [expletive] out of me" for misbehaving. However, he also said he isn't "as good as" as his dad in "many ways." This is a horrifying, heartbreaking picture to many, including Hannity's fellow guests on a Fox News segment where he discussed the abuse at length.

Fox legal analyst Mercedes Colwin, columnist Mike Bako, and psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig spent the segment arguing that corporal punishment isn't effective. Hannity went as far as aggressively smacking his belt against the desk to demonstrate how his father would beat him. He also claimed he "deserved it" when his father punched him in the face for talking back.

Homophobic remarks got him booted from his first job

Hannity applied for a volunteer position at UC-Santa Barbara's KCSB radio station in 1989. He landed the gig and got his own show where he began to develop his patented pundit persona, entertaining conspiracy theories and questioning the mainstream media. 

According to The Washington PostHannity's program fielded more complaints than any other KCSB radio show in no small part due to a segment he aired about AIDS conspiracy theories. In particular, Hannity claimed the mainstream media lied when it said AIDS could not be contracted through saliva and tears, and he offered some disturbing assertions about homosexuality, including his insistence that those who believed homosexuality was normal were brainwashed.

After being taken off the air, Hannity threatened to sue the school on grounds of discrimination over his conservative viewpoints. The ACLU took his case, and the college offered to give Hannity back his slot. Hannity then demanded twice the airtime along with a public apology. The college declined.

Perhaps ironically, Hannity later slammed the ACLU (a typically left-leaning organization) during his time with FOX News. He teased a liberal guest for being a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" and claimed the organization doesn't defend free speech.

He became one of the richest celebs on the planet

Despite the fact that Hannity portrays himself as a voice for the working class, he's actually one of the richest celebrities on the planet. According to Forbes, he rakes in an estimated $36 million per year as the 77th highest paid celeb — but this wasn't always the case.

Hannity didn't come from money, and he gained his riches through an intense work ethic. He held down jobs for most of his life, from bartending at the age of 17 to the first paid radio gig he landed in 1990. According to The Washington Post, Hannity was paid just $19,000 a year to host an afternoon show on WVNN. Over the next couple of years, Hannity conducted plenty of controversial interviews. He was even scolded for bringing a prostitute on air. He also flagrantly insulted lesbians (a statement he proudly cited in his official station biography.) Eventually, he became the top-rated radio host in the northern Alabama area.

A pastor told Hannity his wife was 'crazy' for marrying him

Hannity's marriage to Jill Rhodes is an anomaly in the world of celebrity relationships. While most Hollywood marriages don't even last an entire movie PR cycle, this high-profile couple has been married since 1993. They met when Rhodes was a newspaper reporter, but Hannity's controversial political views almost ruined their relationship before it even got started.

Most religious couples meet with a priest or pastor before getting married. Here, the minister helps them discover if they're truly compatible in the long term. For Hannity's minister, the answer was a resounding no. During one of these prenuptial meetings, Hannity got into a heated argument with the minister after declaring that the church had become too liberal. Rhodes left in tears, but not before the minister reportedly told her she was "crazy to be marrying this guy."

Hannity and his wife have since had two children: a son Patrick, who was born in 1999, and a daughter Merri Kelly, born in 2002. Despite their happy union, the couple is notoriously private and rarely caught together on camera. 

He 'basically has a desk' at the White House

Since the 2016 election, Hannity has carved a name for himself as Trump's fiercest advocate on television, defending everything from the president's illegal travel ban to his ill-advised tweet storms. He even panders to the president's base by peppering his segments with far-right conspiracy theories.

By now, it's no secret that Trump gets a whole lot of his news from Fox. The Los Angeles Times even caught the commander in chief tweeting about segments right after they aired on Fox & Friends. Still, his relationship with Hannity may be even more influential. According to reports from the Daily Beast, The Washington Post and The New York Times, the president has regular phone conversations with the Fox News host and picks Hannity's brain on everything from policy and White House staff to potential tweets. (Hannity later called the NYT piece fake news.)  But according to the Chicago Tribune, White House advocates have dubbed Hannity the unofficial chief of staff because of his influence and close connection with the president. One presidential adviser allegedly claimed that Hannity "basically has a desk in the place."

He's no stranger to 'weird and creepy' scandals

Fox News has come under fire for a slew of sexual harassment scandals. From Bill O'Reilly being fired after a series of allegations came to light, to the unnamed executive who exposed himself and cost the network $2.5 million — it feels like an epidemic at the network. If Sean Hannity hasn't made this egregious misstep, he's certainly treading dangerous territory by association.

In 2017, conservative pundit Debbie Schlussel, who appeared on Hannity's show in the early aughts, claimed the TV host repeatedly invited her back to his hotel room. Schlussel claimed Hannity barely let her talk while on the show and threatened to turn off her microphone if she didn't "obey [her] host." She says when she declined to join him in his hotel room, he allegedly called her up on the phone, screaming. Hannity told the New York Daily News those claims were "100% false and a complete fabrication." He threatened to sue Schlussel, calling her a "serial harasser." Schlussel later clarified her side of the story: "I never thought I was sexually harassed by Sean Hannity, I thought he was weird and creepy not someone I liked."

He's embroiled in Michael Cohen's criminal investigation

Sean Hannity is so close with President Trump that they don't just share political values — they share legal counsel, and as a result, political scandals. 

In April 2018, FBI agents raided the home, office, and hotel room of Trump's private lawyer, Michael Cohen, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Later in court, Cohen was forced to admit that his third, secret client (alongside Trump and Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy) was Sean Hannity. He was allegedly met with a courtroom filled with audible gasps and flagrant laughter.

Cohen has made a name for himself by mitigating sex scandals and facilitating hush money payments to porn stars and Playboy models — not a good look for Hannity, who initially claimed he never retained or paid Cohen for anything. Hannity later claimed he may have tossed Cohen "10 bucks" to establish attorney-client privilege (which typically does not include business matters) and only spoke to Cohen about real estate.

Hannity's relationship with Cohen blurs the lines of media ethics, and many consider it a hit to Fox News' self-proclaimed reputation as "Fair & Balanced." Earlier in 2017, the network dropped its famous slogan, which wasn't really shocking considering its full support of Hannity's lack of disclosure. 

He built an empire on foreclosed properties

In a 2016 episode of Hannity, the Fox News host slammed Barack Obama for the U.S. foreclosure rate, which he claimed was at an all-time high during his presidency. Later in the episode, he claimed millions of Americans were suffering because of those foreclosures. On the surface, Hannity was grieving with American families who had lost their homes, but behind-the-scenes, he was using the foreclosures to build a secret real estate empire worth more than $90 million.

According to a behemoth report by The Guardian, Hannity was linked to a group of shell companies that purchased more than 870 homes — ranging from mansions to low-income rentals — over the last decade. Some of these homes were bought at a discount after their previous owners defaulted on their mortgages. According to The Guardian, "Hannity is the hidden owner behind some of the shell companies" and "also amassed part of his property collection with support from the US Department for Housing and Urban Development (Hud), a fact he did not disclose when praising Ben Carson, the Hud secretary, on his television show" in 2017.

He slams welfare but has benefited from government assistance

Hannity has long criticized welfare recipients. In 2013, he egged on a guest who called for an African American welfare recipient to be sterilized after fathering 22 children. He also accused an aspiring musician who received food stamps and government health benefits of "basically stealing from other people." The truth is, Hannity isn't opposed to all government benefits, especially not the ones he can use for his gain.

Some of the properties that were purchased by shell companies linked to Hannity had mortgages that were secured and insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Under the National Housing Act, real estate investors are able to obtain mortgages for a down payment as low as 3.5 percent, a paltry sum considering traditional lenders typically require 20 percent upfront. Because these mortgages are considered higher risk, a buyer must purchase insurance. Since Hannity's loans are insured by HUD, his colossal investments are technically insured, in part, by taxpayer money. If a multi-millionaire receiving government aid to get a cheaper mortgage doesn't sit well with you, you're not alone. In a statement, Hannity slammed naysayers and claimed he had nothing to do with HUD's involvement and was investing in communities that desperately needed help.

He purchased discount properties from a convicted fraudster

Hannity was able to secure amazing deals for some of the properties he purchased under the veil of various LLCs. This included pint-sized down payments from HUD and deeply discounted properties purchased from a convicted fraudster who allegedly rigged foreclosure auctions. The rabbit hole of Hannity's secret real estate empire runs almost as deep as the conspiracy theories he regularly promotes on his eponymous show.

Hannity reportedly purchased at least 11 properties through convicted real estate fraudster Jeffrey Wayne Brock. According to the Daily Beast, Brock would pay accomplices to not bid competitively against him in foreclosure auctions in order to acquire homes for just over the minimum bid. He was sent to federal prison for his real estate scheme. Hannity denies that he invested in Brock's properties, and he likely didn't have any knowledge about Brock. In a statement, the TV host admitted that he doesn't "individually select, control or know details about" his real estate investments. Either way, he still arguably benefited from Brock's crooked scheme.

He allegedly pulled a gun at a liberal guest commentator

Sean Hannity fiercely defends the Second Amendment and is a proud member of the National Rifle Association. His love-affair with guns began at age 11 when his father allowed him to take his first shooting lesson. The TV host currently holds a concealed carry permit in five different states.

Despite the fact that he sung the NRA's praises for teaching gun safety to the American public, Hannity may not actually take its advice to heart. According to CNN, Hannity was off camera when he pulled a gun on a guest commentator. During the segment, the host allegedly pointed the firearm directly at Juan Williams, who had a visible red dot on his body from the gun's laser sight. The incident was so disturbing that witnesses reportedly brought it to the attention of Fox News executives.

Hannity claimed CNN's reporting was "outright false" and Williams also called the story "sensationalized — everything was under control," reported the Los Angeles TimesAccording to Hannity, he showed his "good friend" the "unloaded firearm in a professional and safe manner for educational purposes only." Fox News investigated and found "that no one was put in any danger."