From Isla Vista to Trump’s Ear

How Santa Barbara Propelled Sean Hannity to Fame and Fortune in Just 28 Short Years

Sean Hannity at KCSB in 1989
Christopher Gardner

NO SMOKING LOOFAH: Geographically, Santa Barbara juts out more aggressively westward than any place along California’s infamous Left Coast. Even so, S.B. still manages to be the Center of the Universe. It’s uncanny. The most recent case involves Sean Hannity, the turgidly tumescent stuffed suit who now hovers as heir apparent to the Fox News throne forcibly vacated by news commentator Bill O’Reilly in the wake of his escalating sexual harassment scandals.

Most of us have long forgotten ​— ​or perhaps never knew ​— ​that Hannity got his start as a 27-year-old right-wing radio shock jock in the politically correct, lefty-wanker badlands of Isla Vista. For about a year ​— ​in 1989 ​— ​Hannity produced an incendiary and offensive talk show for KCSB called The Pursuit of Happiness. The marriage between Hannity and KCSB was, to say the least, never a happy one. The powers that be at the station yanked Hannity’s show after he and one of his guests ​— ​a so-called AIDS expert ​— ​blamed the AIDS epidemic then devouring America on the so-called fact that gay people were disgusting, ate fecal matter, and engaged in disgusting practices. When another KCSB talk show host called in to object, Hannity pointed out she was a lesbian mother. His guest suggested her child was conceived with a turkey baster. Hannity said he felt sorry for her son. It went like that.

It’s no stretch to say that this act of censorship by KCSB helped Hannity immeasurably. Hannity cried foul. The local ACLU took up his cause, a fact he conspicuously omits in the retelling of his political victimization. According to Stuart Holden, the attorney who represented Hannity, the case was a “slam dunk.” Holden noted the termination letter the station issued was “less than artful.” Station mangers did themselves no favors, commenting at the time that they would have considered their action censorship if a government agency did what they did. As Holden made clear, that’s exactly what they, in fact, were; KCSB, after all, was an extension of the UC system, which in turn was an extension of the State of California.

The controversy helped propel Hannity to the national stage as a truth-telling, right-wing Cassandra, forever bemoaning cultural depravity of the left and all the other “liberal fascists” tearing American down. Were it not for KCSB pulling Hannity’s plug, he might have wound up just another loud-mouthed cranky conservative looking for vulnerable ears to bend. But Hannity shrewdly seized upon his exile from KCSB’s airwaves. He billed himself as “the most talked about college radio host in America.” The rest, as they say, is history. Today ​— ​if the New York Times is to be believed ​— ​Hannity ranks as one of 20 luminaries outside the insular orbit of the White House who regularly converse with President Donald Trump, providing him support, advice, and loyal friendship. From the swamps of Isla Vista to the president’s ear ​— ​that’s quite a journey. That doesn’t qualify as six degrees of separation; it’s barely even one.

Santa Barbara Independent article from June 22, 1989 on Sean Hannity being kicked off the air at KCSB

Hannity took vehement issue with the New York Times, angrily denying that he is Trump’s fawning lapdog ​— ​or any kind of lapdog ​— ​as was described in the cover-page article in last Sunday’s Times. Hannity’s protests of journalistic integrity have been obscured, however, by his more urgent denials that he ever engaged in anything remotely resembling sexual harassment. For the record, his accuser ​— ​a kooky, right-wing Islamophobe named Debbie Schlussel ​— ​has shifted her account. Although she insists Hannity twice invited her to his hotel room sometime in the early 2000s ​— ​and then retaliated against her professionally when she declined ​— ​such behavior was merely “weird and creepy,” she said, and did not rise to the level of sexual harassment.

I don’t pretend to know what Hannity did or did not do. Just because so many alpha males at Fox News have been implicated in predatory behavior does not mean Hannity did, too. Unlike O’Reilly ​— ​whose alleged victims were paid $13 million to make complaints go away ​— ​there are no civil filings nor cash settlements with Hannity. With O’Reilly, there is the famous tape-recorded phone conversation with one of his producers, Andrea Mackris, in which he orgasmically describes how he’d like to get in the shower with her and rub various parts of her body with his loofah. O’Reilly got himself so lathered up that he referred to the imaginary loofah as a “falafel.” Shortly after, he brought himself to audible climax. For Hannity, there is no “smoking falafel” tape. He has, for the record, emphatically denied any of the allegations and is threatening to sue.

Hannity, as always the ever-aggrieved victim of political correctitude, seeks to portray the allegations against him as part of the “liberal fascist” plot to bring down the Fox News empire and him with it. Given the actual facts of this case, that dog just won’t hunt. That’s because there’s nothing the least bit politically correct or remotely liberal about Schlussel. For example, when American Special Forces assassinated Osama bin Laden, her posted comment was, “One down, 1.8 billion to go,” the latter figure being to the number of Muslims in the world. When it was announced former president Jimmy Carter had been diagnosed with cancer, she quipped, “A cancer has cancer,” adding, “Oops, I mean, Jimmy Carter has cancer. Same diff.” Likewise, Schlussel insisted then-president Barack Obama was Muslim because his middle name is Hussein.

If such facts don’t fit Hannity’s preconceived narrative, it won’t be the first time. Every time a new Hannity book comes out, his old attorney Stuart Holden checks the index. To the extent the ACLU is mentioned at all, it’s always scathingly negative. Never does Hannity acknowledge that the organization ​— ​paragon of liberal fascism that it is ​— ​came to his defense. In fact, Holden and the ACLU got Hannity his radio show back at KCSB. He chose not to take it.


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