For the past several weeks, the conservative Fox News network has given a major platform to Bundy. Some of its hosts and guests have portrayed his standoff with authorities over not paying fees to use federal land as a populist fight against an encroaching government. In a two-week stretch this month, Fox News devoted four hours and 40 minutes to Bundy’s story during late afternoon and evening broadcasts, according to progressive watchdog Media Matters.
But Fox News was noticeably silent on Thursday morning as others reacted to Bundy's controversial remarks on race, published Wednesday night by The New York Times. The Times' Adam Nagourney reported that Bundy had wondered during a public press conference if “Negro” people were “better off as slaves."
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren quickly condemned Bundy’s remarks on her blog, but media attention remained focused on how Hannity might respond. That's because Hannity has led the charge in promoting Bundy’s cause and, in recent days, sparred with Jon Stewart on the issue.
The "Daily Show" host ripped Hannity for dropping his typical law-and-order posture-- at least when it comes to undocumented immigrants or Occupy protesters -- in favor of supporting a rancher who has flouted the law for two decades and ignored court decisions ordering him to remove his cattle from land he doesn't own. Bundy had declared a "range war," and armed militia members flocked to the scene.
"Apparently Sean Hannity thinks laws are served buffet-style in that you can pick and choose the ones that you like best,” Stewart said Monday. “The ones that you don't like, you don't have to abide."
Hannity acknowledged the media attention Thursday by welcoming the “liberal media," who were “waiting for my comments breathlessly."
“His comments are beyond repugnant to me,” Hannity said of Bundy's remarks. “They are beyond despicable to me. They are beyond ignorant to me."
While distancing himself from the racist remarks, Hannity still argued that the way federal agents had tried to seize Bundy’s cattle was wrong. The host stressed that he has been, and will continue to be, opposed to "government overreach.”
Hannity said he was angry Thursday because people who "for the right reasons saw this case as government overreach now are like branded because of the ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable comments of Cliven Bundy."
Other conservatives who had praised Bundy similarly tried to distance his remarks from the larger issue.
National Review correspondent Kevin Williamson told Talking Points Memo that Bundy's "racial rhetoric is lamentable and backward," but is still "separate from the fundamental question here, which is the federal government's acting as an absentee landlord for nine-tenths of the state of Nevada."
Hannity said he'll continue to cover what he considers government overreach, and it appears Fox News, more broadly, will do so, too.
On Thursday morning, another Fox News host and a Fox News correspondent each referenced Bundy in stories relating to a land dispute in Texas. They did not, however, mention his controversial remarks.