EXCLUSIVE: Hannity Goes ‘Underground’ to Decide If He Will Return to Fox News, Source Says

Amid ongoing turmoil at Fox News, an internal battle appears to be brewing between top executives and one of the last remaining vestiges of the lineup that made the network a powerhouse in cable news — Sean Hannity.

Hannity has gone “underground” and is actively considering whether or not he will return to Fox News on Tuesday, a source close to Hannity told Independent Journal Review. It’s a stunning development at the network, which has seemingly remained in a constant state of turmoil since the ouster of the late Roger Ailes.

Speculation ran wild earlier this week when the network announced Hannity would be taking a mid-week vacation amid controversy over the host’s promotion of unverified reports suggesting a link between murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich and his alleged contact with WikiLeaks. Hannity is currently facing threats of advertiser boycotts from liberal groups like Media Matters. Multiple companies have since pulled ads from “Hannity.”

In response to the rumors, a Fox News spokesperson said Hannity would “be back on Tuesday” after his Memorial Day weekend vacation, and people who “suggest otherwise are going to look foolish.”

But the well-placed source said Hannity has since retreated to isolation — even temporarily “swearing off” social media — while he makes a decision regarding his future at Fox News. Hannity’s last tweet was posted on Thursday afternoon.

“He has stopped answering his phone, and communicating even with his close friends,” the source added.

Todd Williamson/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter

When we asked Fox News if Hannity’s future at the network was uncertain on their end, a Fox News spokesperson provided the following statement to IJR:

“Hannity has the unequivocal support of Fox News.”

The spokesperson referred us to 21st Century Fox for additional inquiries about corporate leadership.

The source, who possesses intimate knowledge of the internal dealings at Fox News, said Hannity feels like the network failed to sufficiently support him after he came under attack. The source also alleged there may be an active campaign to force him out of the network — led by none other than James Murdoch.

James Murdoch is the son of Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch. He currently serves as the CEO of 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News. The source described Murdoch as being “disgusted” with many of the political views espoused by Hannity and other conservative Fox News hosts. Multiple other sources at Fox News agreed with the representation.

21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic)

While such claims might sound like the plot line of a media-themed drama, James Murdoch’s desire to overhaul Fox News has been well documented. The Hollywood Reporter’s Michael Wolff, citing his own sources, reported in April:

These sources say James Murdoch’s longtime annoyance if not disgust with Fox News became cold fury after the Times’ April 1 story — even though several of the O’Reilly settlements had happened when James was CEO of the parent company. This was a similar reaction to what had followed the harassment suit by former anchor Gretchen Carlson against Fox News chief Roger Ailes in July. Every time Fox controversies spilled over into the wider world, James took it personally. “It was somehow against him,” says one person close to the Murdochs.

Fox News is a business he should not be in, he had told people before, despite its major contribution to 21st Century Fox’s bottom line — 20 percent of its profits came from Fox News last year, the biggest-earning division in the company. Presumably, he meant the in-your-face world of conservative cable news with its mega personalities. Indeed, James regarded many of the people at Fox News as thuggish Neanderthals and said he was embarrassed to be in the same company with them.

It’s also no secret that Hannity was extremely displeased with the departure of Fox News co-president Bill Shine. In response to a report on Shine’s impending ouster, Hannity tweeted that the executive’s exit would be the “total end of FNC as we know it.” Some members of Hannity’s staff, the source added, are now worried the network may have “pushed him too far.”

IJR’s source echoed the Hollywood Reporter’s sources, claiming that James Murdoch “is literally obsessed with getting rid of everyone associated with the old Fox and turning Fox into a respectable news network like CNN.” In pursuit of that ultimate goal, Murdoch is looking for a way to replace the recently departed Bill Shine with CBS News President David Rhodes, the source claimed. Rhodes was a vice president at Fox News at 2008 before heading up CBS News.

CBS News President David Rhodes (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Another source, a Fox News staffer, also told IJR that Rhodes, an “old pal” of James Murdoch, is a contender to replace Shine. However, Rhodes is under contract with CBS News until 2019, which could be tough hurdle to clear.

When asked if there is any evidence that Fox News was attempting to force Hannity off the air, the source claimed one ad sales manager was overheard saying, “Hannity is a dead man walking after the Sky News deal,” referring to Fox News’s bid to purchase the U.K.-based channel.

21st Century Fox did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a new statement from a Fox News spokesperson.

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