Sean Hannity sat in one of two matching dark wood chair with green leather seats in the office at the end of the hall on the third floor of 1211 Avenue of the Americas in New York City. The office formed the southeast corner of the building facing the traffic driving north on Sixth Avenue. The digital clock on the desk that faced Sean Hannity read 5:32. It was January, and there was a light snow falling outside the floor to ceiling windows of the corner office. The sun was setting and the car headlights danced on the snowflakes.
Sean Hannity had his right leg crossed over his left leg. His right foot was air tapping, and his back hurt. Hannity rubbed his hands on the armrests and could feel the sweat in his palms. He had been sitting for ten minutes, waiting for a meeting that was called by Roger Ailes. He looked to his right and out the open door of Mr. Ailes’s office; the well-lit office corridor was trafficked with earnest young interns and other administrative staff. No sign of Mr. Ailes.
The door to the left of the Mr. Ailes’s desk opened. Roger Ailes emerged. Sean Hannity did not know that Mr Ailes’s had his own private bathroom installed. Sean stood.
“Been here long?” asked Ailes.
“No. Just arrived,” said Sean. Sean was not certain why he lied. It was a sign of weakness. He knew that. But he felt compelled.
Roger Ailes sat in his large chair. Sean was waiting for Ailes to give him a sign to sit. But Ailes did not do so. So after an awkward moment watching Ailes shuffle some papers around, Sean took his seat.
“You wanted to see me?” asked Sean.
“That is why you are here,” said Ailes without looking up from his papers.
“Is everything OK?” asked Sean.
“We have some interesting information,” said Ailes. “Did you ever hear of the amygdala?” asked Ailes.
“The what?” said Sean.
“They are two almond-size parts of the brain. Deep inside,” said Ailes.
“Ah hah. OK. No, I never heard of them,” said Sean.
“They are interesting little suckers. They respond emotionally to stimuli. When the amygdala is not responding, the brain is not really interested,” said Ailes.
Sean had no idea where this was going. “OK. Cool,” said Sean.
“And the amygdala of people watching you on TV are not responding, Sean. That is a problem, ” said Ailes.
“I don’t get what you are saying,” said Sean.
“We commissioned a study to monitor the amygdala of people viewing our programs. It is very interesting,” said Ailes.
“How do they do that?” said Sean.
“Never mind how they do it. But the results have made us take a second look at our programming,” said Ailes.
“So you are saying that these things did not respond to my show?” asked Sean.
“I am saying that they did not light up to you, Sean. You are not making any emotional connection to our viewers,” said Ailes.
“I have to disagree, Mr. Ailes. I get emails everyday…”
“Fuck the emails,” said Ailes, cutting off Sean. “Emails mean nothing. This study goes much deeper than emails and anecdotal evidence. And it tells us that you are a dud, Sean,” said Ailes.
Sean knew that he had recently re-negotiated his contract, so this could not be some kind of tactic to pay him less money. “But sir, the Nielson ratings show that I am very popular in my time slot,” said Sean.
“We do not rely just on the unreliable Nielsons, anymore, Sean. We are going for the core of what touches our viewers. Let’s take your show with Sarah Palin, for example,” said Ailes.
Sean felt good about talking about his interview with Palin. It won that time slot hands down, one of the most watched shows of the week. Sean smiled.
“Yeah, that was a hit,” said Sean.
“Sarah Palin was a hit. The amygdala lit up like halogen bulbs when Palin was on screen and talking. They went dark when you were o screen talking. I could have had a dog sitting in your chair and we would have had a hit show with Sarah Palin,” said Ailes.
Sean tried not to take offense. “You are overstating it. A bit, don’t you think,” said Sean. “How did O’Reilly do on these tests?” asked Sean.
“O’Reilly lights up the amygdala just fine. Here’s the problem, we think. You are an ass-kisser. You ass kiss everyone you agree with. The viewers know this. There is no drama when it comes to you, Sean. They know what you are going to say. And you say it. You are predictable. In fact, you are ass kissing me right now. You are fundamentally, a bore. And we never would have known this without those little amygdala telling us the truth,” said Ailes.
Sean re-adjusted himself in the chair. “You want me to challenge people more, is that it,” said Sean.
“This is a warning. You better do something. Because I ain’t going to keep paying what I am paying to have you just sit there and be predictable,” said Ailes as he picked up the telephone in response to a ring.
“Yes. OK, I will take it,” said Ailes into the receiver. Ailes covered the mouthpiece of the receiver. “I have to take this, so…”
Sean stood, Ailes returned to his phone call. Sean walked out of the corner office into the brightly lit corridor.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Hannity,” said a young intern with long blond hair as she passed Sean heading for the corner office. Sean nodded, put his hands in his pockets and walked back to his office.