'Hannitization' Of America

The Early Show, Sean Hannity
CBS/The Early Show

Sean Hannity admits he once expressed interest in the priesthood.

"You had to express a willingness to think about the priesthood," Hannity says.

And did the young Hannity express a strong commitment to become a priest?

"Once I was there for six months, they said, 'Everybody but you.'"

It is one of the memories Hannity remembers as he walked down the street of his Long Island neighborhood where he grew up. Hannity tells CBS News Correspondent Rita Braver he was a troublemaker. But even Hannity's most memorable escapade, seems kind of tame.

"I was taken home by the police once for … we used to hang on the back of cars in wintertime when there was ice on the ground. And I never got in more trouble in my life," says Hannity. "It wasn't the worst thing I did. It was the worst thing I got caught at."

When he got into a fight, the weapons were usually words.

Hannity notes, "I was born to argue … I don't know why. I mean, from arguing with my teachers and, on occasions, my parents. I think I've mastered the art of argument at a fairly young age."

For three hours a day, five days a week, Hannity relentlessly pushes his conservative agenda on ABC Talk Radio. Braver got the Hannity experience first hand, when she went to watch his radio show and he invited her to be a guest.

Hannity says President Bush has been flawless in the war on terrorism and any doubt should be cleared on the way the president handled Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a kid, Hannity, now 42, stayed up nights listening to conservative talk radio. But it wasn't until the Iran-Contra Hearings of the 1980s that he'd dropped out of college to work as a contractor in California. The listener started calling a local radio talk show to defend his hero: Oliver North.

"I was getting better reaction than the host was," remembers Hannity. "People say, 'I want to talk to that guy that just says what he just said, because I loved what Ollie was doing.'"

Hannity ended up with his own show in Santa Barbara, but he was fired after a few weeks.

"That was the moment where I said, 'This is what I've got to do,' when they took away that microphone … I wasn't good at it. I was terrible. But the fact that they took that opinion away from me, I said, 'I want to do this, I want to pursue this.'"

He talked his way into a job in Huntsville, Alabama, from there Hannity went to Atlanta. Then in 1996, Fox News recruited him.

With Alan Colmes as his liberal foil, Hannity uses the show "Hannity and Colmes" as another platform to launch attacks against Democrats.

On time on the show, he said, "When Reagan was winning the Cold War, John Kerry wanted a nuclear freeze. When he could have voted for the death penalty, for terrorists in '89, he didn't do it.

It was his success on television that led to his getting his national radio show at a salary that's said to be some $10 million dollars over 5 years.

Hannity half-jokingly says radio is a great medium for the conservative point of view because "liberals have just about everything else. I think I offer information here on this program."

He calls his mission, the "Hannitization of America."

It's a pretty simple message: Conservative equals good. Liberal is bad. And he's attracted a legion of adoring fans, who put his two recent books on the bestseller list. Hannity now reaches about 12.5 million listeners every day -- making him the second most popular radio talk show host in America -- behind only Rush Limbaugh.

Hannity has it all as far as radio is concerned. He is one of the most successful radio personalities in history -- let alone in modern time.

Michael Harrison, who runs the trade publication "Talkers Magazine," says if Hannity is a polarizing force, that's part of the American way.

"Ultimately, I think it's very healthy that people can have their anger vented in the media and that people have media spokespeople expressing how they feel inside," says Harrison.

Is Hannity targeting Liberals?

He explains, "There has never been a greater choice for the American people than we have now. Modern liberalism seems to have forgotten the fact that if America hadn't paid the price, blood, sweat and hard work and the financial burden, we wouldn't have freedom in the world.

"I have liberal friends. They are misguided, they are wrong. I disagree with them. I don't want them to vote. I want them to go on vacation in November. They can move in next door. We can play tennis. We can play golf. Our kids can play together. We can go out to dinner -- I know I will probably pay. And, you know, I just don't want them in power."

And what does Al Franken and the fledging liberal Air America Radio network think of the conservative talk radio host?

"I love Hannity, because he's just dumb," responds Franken.

Hannity says of Franken remarks, "I have no respect for him. If it was somebody that I cared about, it would mean something. I've heard his show. It's the worst radio show I've ever heard."

But there are other Hannity critics too. Some say Hannity is bombastic and self-righteous.

"I think anybody that gives their opinion in a confident way everyday is going to be criticized," says Hannity. "I dish it out three, four hours a day. I totally expect it. It doesn't bother me. You can call me every name in the book. I don't really care."

And why should he? His fans are the ones who flock to see him at the annual Concert for America that he hosts. They're the ones who made sure he got to run with the Olympic torch. In fact, some would like to see him run for political office. Hannity says he's not interested in being a public servant.

In the past, he says, he never dreamed to be a media powerhouse.

"I was the last person in my family that any thought would write a best selling book," says Hannity. "I never planned it. My life has been a gift up to this point and I've been blessed beyond my wildest imagination. And wherever this ride takes me is where I'm going."