Sean Hannity's Act of Neo-Contrition

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So last night, Fox News host Sean Hannity did something many will call shocking, some will call phony and insincere, and I'll call, at the very least, uncharacteristic of his network and those it speaks for: he apologized.

At the end of his show, which as usual featured an hour of unrestrained Obama-bashing and GOP cheerleading, Hannity copped to something he in many ways had no choice but to cop to -- at least if he wanted FNC to be able to maintain the illusion that it's a legitimate news network. He admitted that Jon Stewart was right when, two nights ago, the host of The Daily Show pointed out that Hannity and Company had run video of a September Tea Bagger rally on Capitol Hill during a story about last week's Tea Bagger rally. The difference? Maybe 40 or 50 thousand people. Stewart's point was that it looked as if Hannity had used the old footage of the much bigger crowd to try to hype the numbers at the more recent protest; what made The Daily Show staff apparently think that Hannity's deception was deliberate -- aside from the fact that it would take a 6-year-old with Down Syndrome to mix up file footage with brand new video -- were the startlingly obvious differences in the images themselves: leaves still on the trees in the September clip, people in late-summer short sleeves versus mid-fall coats and scarves, etc.

Regardless, Hannity now says he's sorry:

"Although it pains me to say this, Jon Stewart, Comedy Central, he was right. Now on his program last night, he mentioned that we had played some inccorect video on this program last week while talking about the Republican health care rally on Capitol Hill. He was correct, we screwed up. we aired some video of a rally in September along with a video from the actual event. It was an inadvertent mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. So, Mr. Stewart, you were right. We apologize. But by the way, we wanna thank you and all your writers for watching."

You've almost gotta admire Hannity for managing to come off as both contrite and a smarmy little prick to the end. More on that in a minute, though.

If you're asking yourself right now whether Sean Hannity really is sorry that his show ran a bad piece of video -- one that regardless of intent would've mislead the viewer into thinking that last week's Frootloopalooza was on the scale of September's -- you're obviously not familiar with the Fox News Channel or right-wing punditry in general these days. True, Hannity made the somewhat surprising and magnanimous gesture of admitting to an error and crediting the right's mortal enemies at The Daily Show for busting him on it. Contrast that with Rush Limbaugh's response a few weeks ago when confronted with the news that he'd just spent an entire radio show angrily railing against Barack Obama for writing a college thesis decrying the Constitution, when in reality the paper in question had never even existed -- the article he got the story from was nothing more than satire. Limbaugh didn't give a crap that he'd just made what any well-adjusted person would consider a monumental ass out of himself; "I don't care if these quotes are made up, I know Obama thinks it," was his jaw-droppingly defiant response. So yeah, the fact that simply admitting you fucked up is such a big deal isn't so much a nod to, say, Fox News's reputation for honesty and respectability as it is proof of how far we've lowered the bar when it comes to what we expect from the right's obstinate mouthpieces.

Once again, Hannity pretty much had to man up because he may not have a responsibility to the truth but, unlike Limbaugh, he has a responsibility to the illusion. He couldn't not concede that the video his show aired was essentially a lie because no matter how much we all know that it's bullshit, Fox still goes to great lengths to bill itself as an unbiased news network. There are some things that are beyond the pale, even for a nominal news outlet that slants drastically in one direction: You can't run one piece of video and say it's something else.

Did Sean Hannity's show really make an "inadvertent mistake?" Probably not. Like I said, something like that is a very hard mistake to make. Is Hannity really sorry for the screw-up? No, of course not; he's sorry he got caught, and his less-than-humble admission that he'd been busted -- right down to getting in that last little barb in his retraction, the one that's the trademark faux-genteel "fuck you" of all official Fox responses to critics -- is the tip of the cards that lets Fox acolytes know that while he's conceding this battle to the enemy, it's being done with a wink and crossed-fingers.

Because in the end, Fox News still wins the war.