CNN host Anderson Cooper led a charge of pundits and ethics experts ripping Fox News personality Sean Hannity for failing to disclose legal ties to Michael Cohen when reporting about President Trump's personal attorney.
Hannity reported on last week's FBI raid on Cohen's office "as if he had absolutely no connection to the story," Cooper said Monday night on Anderson Cooper 360.
“No disclosure, no disclaimer, not even a casual mention that, ‘Oh yeah, this guy also represents me in some form or fashion,'" Cooper said.
Hannity has been scathing in his criticism of the raid as well as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
"What that means is that Mueller's witch-hunt investigation is now a runaway train that is clearly careening off the tracks," Hannity said of the raid.
Cohen has drawn the spotlight after acknowledging he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence in the days before the 2016 presidential election. His lawyers revealed Hannity's connection to their client in federal court Monday. Pressed by a judge, the lawyers revealed that Hannity was a client of Cohen but had asked that the information not be revealed.
Hannity downplayed his "brief discussions" with Cohen, saying he never paid legal fees nor was he billed. But he acknowledged that he "assumed those conversations to be confidential."
“He seems to be saying, ‘I wasn’t really a client of attorney Michael Cohen’s, but our conversations were confidential because he is an attorney and I am his client,” Cooper said.
Cooper made reference to the Fox News motto in summing up his view of Hannity's ethical conundrum.
"Not disclosing a business or legal relationship with someone you reported on ... doesn't sound either fair or balanced," Cooper said.
Fox News issued a statement saying it was not aware of Hannity's "informal relationship with Michael Cohen" and was surprised by the revelation in court.
"We have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support," the statement said. Lawyer and pundit Alan Dershowitz, generally a Trump supporter, gently criticized Hannity on his own show.
"You were in a tough position," Dershowitz acknowledged. "A, you had to talk about Cohen, and, B, you didn’t want the fact that you had spoken with him to be revealed.”
But he told Hannity he should have revealed their legal connection.
Another Fox News pundit, Juan Williams, also took issue, suggesting on The Five that Hannity should have disclosed his connection with Cohen.
"Why, when Sean was on the air strongly an advocate for President Trump, was he not saying, 'Hey, I've got a relationship with the lawyer,'" Williams said. "I think that's a question."
At least some of Hannity's Fox colleagues were less critical. Tucker Carlson said Hannity had a right to try and defend his privacy.
“Sean Hannity is a talk show host. He’s not under investigation by anyone," Carlson said. "Who he hires as a lawyer is nobody’s business.”
The situation did not go unnoticed on Capitol Hill. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., tweeted that Hannity should be fired. "His word could never again be trusted given the fact that he consciously did not reveal this relationship," Connolly said.
Some journalism ethics experts also took issue with Hannity.
Nancy Whitmore, a Butler University professor who teaches media ethics, stressed that journalists basically work for the public. They are expected to pursue the truth regardless of whether they are an investigative reporter or conservative political commentator, she said.
"The fact that Hannity has not been transparent about the relationship is problematic regardless of whether he is a paying client or not," she said. "It signals to the audience that he has something to hide."
Indira Lakshmanan, journalism ethics chair for the Poynter Institute, said whether a news reporter or opinion journalist, rules are rules.
"This seems basic, something you learn in journalism school, at your high school newspaper or your very first job," she said. But she acknowledged that most of his viewers won't much care.
"People who believe in a certain commentator, Hannity or anybody else, believe in that person pretty much whatever ties they have," she said. "That commentator is supporting their world view."