When Fox News host and syndicated radio talker Sean Hannity looks back on his career, he is the first to admit he’s benefited from a lot of big breaks. But perhaps none was as big as the one he received courtesy of the Excellency in Broadcasting Network and the Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies — in other words, from talk-radio giant Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh tapped Hannity as his guest host, handing him the biggest audience on the airwaves.
Even today, Hannity speaks of Limbaugh in nearly reverential tones, identifying Rush and Ronald Reagan as having the greatest impact on conservatism over the past quarter of a century. But he tells Newsmax that he’ll never forget how close his first stint at filling in behind Rush’s golden EIB microphone came to disaster.
“The first time I filled in for Rush I was doing my opening monologue. And he really does have a gold microphone. And it fell down. It went boom! Thud!”
Hannity picked up the microphone and went on with the show, but Rush got wind of the mishap.
“Rush comes back from [his day off]: ‘Did Sean Hannity break my microphone?’ Because he had heard the story,” Hannity explains.
Apparently Rush was pleased, however. He kept inviting Hannity back.
“He's been nothing but a really good friend to me,” the Fox host reflects. “I've been very blessed to meet people that have helped me a lot.”
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He once met a pastor, however, whose enthusiasm for him was a bit more subdued. A few years after he left his earlier profession as a general contractor doing home renovations, Hannity was working at his first major radio gig. It was there in Huntsville, Ala., that he met Jill Rhodes, a columnist for the local newspaper.
“She was really talented — gifted, but I really just fell in love with the little picture in her column,” he recalls.
As she would later tell People magazine: “I looked at his face and I said, ‘That is the man I’m going to marry.”
After they met at a 1992 mayoral debate that Hannity had set up, they were inseparable for the next three months. But then Hannity accepted an offer to do a talk-radio show in Atlanta.
Ah, but what about Jill?
Unable to envision life without her, he asked her to move with him. She agreed, but said there would have to be a ring first.
Hannity was more than happy to empty his wallet to marry the gal of his dreams. But there was a complication.
“Everyone that she worked with at her newspaper warned her not to marry me,” Hannity recalls. “‘You mean that guy on the radio?’ Because it was Huntsville, Alabama, and I'm Sean, the New York talk-radio [guy].”
Even their pastor told them it was a bad idea -- although that advice probably had something to do with a little run-in Hannity had with the man of the cloth.
During a pre-marital counseling session, Hannity’s passion for politics got the better of him. He voiced his opinion that the pastor’s denomination had grown too permissive. Jill looked on as the two men got into a debate.
“He said, ‘You're crazy to be marrying this guy,’ because I started arguing about how the church has become too liberal. And I think she left that meeting in tears.”
Those tears, of course, have long since given way to the joy of a happy marriage and two beautiful children.
Hannity, unaccustomed to losing a debate, notes the same pastor performed wedding ceremonies for many of their friends.
“Eighteen years later," he adds, "we're the only ones still married.”
Hannity does have one regret, sort of. As he looks at the direction President Barack Obama has been taking the country, he says perhaps only half in jest: “Maybe I shouldn't have started the Stop Hillary Express.”
Hannity predicts President Obama will never be able to duplicate the shift to the center that his old nemesis, former President Bill Clinton, was able to execute after the GOP took over the House in 1994.
Hannity contends that President Obama lacks the ideological flexibility that is needed to make a genuine shift to the center, leading him on occasion to reconsider his staunch opposition to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid for the presidency.
Of course, it’s difficult to name a president more fixated on a single news personality than President Obama has been on Sean Hannity.
Historically, it’s usually been the other way around, with newsmen such as Dan Rather or Sam Donaldson continually badgering a president at news conferences.
When a voter suggested to the president at a town hall meeting in February 2009 that Obama and Hannity should have a beer together to discuss their differences, the president replied: “I will take that under advisement. Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high, but I'm always good for a beer."
Hannity, who is always good for a verbal rumble over politics, has invited Obama several times to appear on his show. Obama has given interviews to Fox News — just not to Hannity.
Given their combative history, Newsmax asked Hannity to evaluate Obama’s leadership style.
“Can I say Jimmy Carter on steroids?” Hannity replied, not missing a beat. “He's worse than Jimmy Carter. Look, let me put it as bluntly as I can: Barack Obama is a disaster as president. A failure, weak, timid . . . and unfortunately,” Hannity added, “I think he hides his rigid ideology.”
But lest anyone think Hannity is down in the dumps over America’s future, far from it. He credits the grass-roots conservative movement as one source of his perpetual optimism.
“The tea party inspires me because they have contributed to putting the country on the right course and making the country better, and I'm appreciative of their effort,” he told Newsmax. “I'm glad their voices are out there. I love their passion and their commitment. People that would go to town-hall meetings and confront politicians.”
He added that the tea party faithful he’s encountered “bleed red, white, and blue.”
“And they get up in the morning, and they work, and they shovel coffee down their throats, and they feed and dress their kids, and they take them to school, and they race off to work, and it's 14 hours,” he told Newsmax.
“And they pay all of their taxes and they obey all of the laws . . . And I think that's where America's greatness lies.”
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