When conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity wanted to send letters to three New York Times opinion writers last week threatening to sue over defamation, he enlisted the help of a UCSC alum for his expertise.
That former Banana Slug was none other than Charles Harder, the founder of the UCSC College Democrats, who went on to serve as a lawyer for celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney and Sigourney Weaver. Harder got his big break representing Hulk Hogan in a case that brought down the gossip news site Gawker. He further elevated his profile by successfully representing President Donald Trump in the president’s case over a non-disclosure agreement and hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. In defending Trump, Harder served as the legal counterpart to the since-disgraced prosecuting attorney Michael Avenatti, a convicted felon who faces up to 40 years in prison for extortion charges.
Harder, who did not wish to comment for this story, sent the letter on behalf of Hannity on April 27, in response to three Times writers who had criticized Fox News for downplaying the threat of the coronavirus in its coverage. The letter demanded that the Times retract, correct and apologize for several statements. The newspaper responded to Harder by saying the threat was without merit.
“In response to your request for an apology and retraction, our answer is ‘no,’” the Times’ legal counsel wrote.
Erik Wemple, a Washington Post media critic, argued that the Hannity-Harder letter showed a stunning level of hypocrisy on Hannity’s part, given the television personality’s own history of playing fast and loose with the facts.
GT ran a cover story in 2018 on Harder, who is no longer a Democrat. He has declined to explain much about his political beliefs, but he told us that he believed the government should work more like a smartphone app such as Uber, and said he believed that the New York Times was as far to the left ideologically as Fox News was to the right.
Harder once served as managing editor for a now-defunct UCSC student newspaper called the Independent, and he insisted that he still believed in freedom of the press. But he also said he believed the government should loosen libel laws to make it easier to sue news agencies. Conn Hallinan served as UCSC’s print media advisor for many years, including in the days of the Independent, and he told GT for our profile on Harder that frivolous defamation suits already posed serious risks to news publications, particularly small ones.
“If small publications get charged with defamation, it may put them out of business,” Hallinan said at the time. “Anything that encourages these cases is very dangerous to the press.”