How a Former Fox News Director Landed in Jail for Pushing Putin Propaganda
On election night 2016, former Fox News director Jack Hanick was in Moscow — attending a pro-GOP party, where the organizers unveiled a larger-than-life portrait of Donald Trump, with with a piercing blue-eyed gaze, painted on a stark black canvas.
Hanick sat for a video interview at that party, facing the heroic visage of the soon-to-be 45th president — a man who cheated on his third wife with an adult-film star. Hanick used his camera time to criticize an American candidate he insisted had betrayed traditional values: Hillary Clinton.
“Even though Clinton professes to be a Christian,” he said, “all of her policies are actually moving away from those positions.”
The United States was “losing its moral core and fiber,” Hanick continued. By contrast, he praised the moral awakening in the land led by Vladimir Putin. “Russia has been embracing Orthodox Christianity. This has been a major change. Russia is moving toward Christianity; America is moving away from Christianity.”
Today, this self-styled defender of moral fiber is jailed in London, awaiting extradition on charges he violated U.S. law by doing business with a Russian oligarch, Konstantin Malofeyev, sanctioned for his support of separatists in Ukraine. Specifically, Hanick is accused of standing up a Fox News clone in Moscow targeted at Russia’s religious right — and then lying to the FBI about the scope of his work. “Hanick knowingly chose to help Malofeyev spread his destabilizing messages,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, announcing the indictment last week. The charges put Hanick, 71, at risk of 25 years in prison. (He has not yet entered a plea and an attorney for Hanick could not be located.)
How did a high-level director who helped launch the preeningly patriotic Fox News get mixed up with a sanctioned oligarch? In short, Hanick — disillusioned with what he saw as the decay of traditional mores in America — came to see Russia as the keeper of the true, conservative flame. There was also a profit motive, of course. The indictment does not specify the terms of Hanick’s lucrative TV deal, but notes that it included a $5,000-a-month stipend for housing in Moscow.
Hanick moved to the Russian capital in 2013 to help Malofeyev, an arch-conservative in Putin’s inner circle, launch a new network called Tsargrad TV. But as they were ramping up the project in late 2014, Malofeyev — a devout Orthodox Christian conservative who made his fortune in finance — was hit with U.S. sanctions for promoting Russia’s incursions into Ukraine.
The State Department denounced the boyish, bearded oligarch as “one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea” and blasted his close ties to the then-prime-minister of the self-declared, breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. government called Malofeyev a threat to “the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
But according to the federal indictment, Hanick didn’t heed the his government’s orders to halt business dealings with Malofeyev. Instead, Hanick proceeded with the April 2015 launch of the oligarch’s network, seeking, he wrote in an email to Malofeyev, to “implement your vision.”
Hancik did not hide his activities. Tsargrad TV was filmed in an airy studio near the Kremlin, replete with faux columns and a cupola depicting a blue robed Jesus — a look Hanick touted to the Financial Times in October 2015 as “Byzantium meets the 21st century.” (Tsargrad is a Slavic name for Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, regarded as the spiritual home of the Orthodox Church, and historically an object of imperial Russian desire.)
Over the next several years, the federal indictment alleges, Hanick deepened his ties with the oligarch, engaging in subterfuge to hide Malofeyev’s financing of similar conservative TV ventures in Greece and Bulgaria. When questioned by the FBI last year, Hanick allegedly lied that “he had no knowledge of Malofeyev’s backing of the Bulgaria deal until reading about it afterward in the press.”
Jack Hanick was raised Cathlolic in Connecticut and studied anthropology at Harvard. He began his career as a documentary filmmaker, producing a sober exploration of life in Appalachia and a biography of the South African anti-Apartheid leader Desmond Tutu. He even won a New York Emmy for his directing.
But by the mid-1990’s, Hanick had gone corporate, under the tutelage of the Republican campaign-operative-turned-media-mogul Roger Ailes, who was at the time president of CNBC. At that network, Hanick directed Ailes’s talk show, “Straight Forward with Roger Ailes.” (For a taste, watch Ailes interview Cindy Lauper on a set that looks like a garish library.) Hanick also directed “Politics with Chris Matthews” — a precursor to the long-running “Hardball”.
When Rupert Murdoch tapped Ailes to build Fox News, Hanick made the jump as well, helping Ailes launch the right-wing network, coming on board as Staff Director, according to his LinkedIn profile. Hanick would be a fixture at the network for the next 15 years, directing daily news programming, as well as gauzy specials like “The Real Reagan.” On the side, Hanick also directed the syndicated Geraldo Rivera vehicle “Geraldo at Large.” (Despite reports to the contrary, Hanick did not work as a producer for Sean Hannity.) Hanick left the network in 2011; a Fox News spokesperson would not comment about the circumstances of his departure.
By early 2013, Hanick got invited to Moscow — ostensibly to speak at a conference of the Safe Internet League, a Russian group promoting Internet censorship, funded by Malofeyev. But the indictment, citing Hanick’s own “unpublished ‘memoir’ discovered by investigators through the judicially authorized search,” describes the speaking invitation as ruse to get Hanick into the country to talk business.
Hanick recalled that first trip to Moscow in an interview with Russian media, and how he’d received a call from Moscow, “out of the blue.” Hanick found it odd, saying he’d “never thought of going to Russia.” But when he suddenly found himself talking to friendly strangers about a new conservative media project, he felt it was a signal from God, saying: “This is what I call you to do.”
Hanick was soon a frequent flier to Moscow, the indictment alleges, to meet with Malofeyev and plot the rise of Tsargrad TV. But even before the network launch, Hanick began asserting himself in Russian public life. The Putin government was engaged at the time in a crackdown on free speech. It had locked up the band Pussy Riot for performing a protest concert in a Moscow cathedral, and passed a law making “offending religious feelings” punishable by up to three years in prison. The Duma also passed legislation banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” — effectively outlawing the promotion of LGBTQ equality.
Appearing at a June 2013 conference on “Traditional Values and the Future of European Nations,” cosponsored by the Duma and Malofeyev’s religious foundation, Hanick praised the Russians, insisting that history would record that “when it came time to stand up for traditional values, this was the place. God called on this country to fulfill that role.”
Hanick was drawn to Malofeyev’s worldview. The oligarch promoted Russia as a bulwark against liberal excess: “Just as Christians in the West in Ronald Reagan’s time helped us against the evil of communism, we now have to return our debt to Christians who are suffering under totalitarianism in the West,” the oligarch said in a 2014 interview with Slate. “This so-called liberalism, tolerance, and freedom, these are just words, but behind them you can see the totalitarianism.”
Hanick told a Russian reporter that he blamed the separation of church and state in the U.S. for “serious problems, including a general decline in morals” with religious matters squeezed out of the public sphere. He praised the influence of the Orthodox Church on modern Russian politics — and its ability to put issues “on the agenda.” Hanick added that the “Orthodox Church has not changed for 1,000 years.” At first he saw that as a drawback, he added, but had changed his view: “I see that it is power… the force that will allow Russia to occupy an important position in the world in maintaining moral values.”
Witting or not, Hanick was standing astride dangerous and powerful currents of geopolitics. The Kremlin had promoted a return to the Orthodox Church, banned in Soviet times, as a way to build political power by awakening Russia’s own Bible Belt. Simultaneously, Putin’s Russia was cultivating ties with populist right-wing conservatives in the West — painting Russia as an ally in the culture wars, with values aligned with the agenda shorthanded in America as God, Guns and Gays. (That effort infamously led Russians to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, but also involved outreach to prominent U.S. religious conservatives.)
Malofeyev and Hanick launched Tsargrad in 2015. “In many ways Tsargrad is similar to what Fox News has done,” Maloveyev told the Financial Times. “We started from the idea that there are many people who adhere to traditional values and they absolutely need a voice.” He insisted the network made Russian state TV look tame: “We’ve always stuck to our Orthodox, patriotic, imperialist positions. The mainstream hasn’t.”
But Tsargrad was xenophobic and played to antisemitism. The editor in chief was Aleksandr Dugin — a gaunt, bearded ultranationalist sometimes dubbed “Putin’s Rasputin,” who was also later hit with U.S. sanctions — and the network’s journalists reportedly detoured into frequent diatribes against migrants and wealthy western financiers, denouncing George Soros and the Rothchilds for an alleged plot for global domination. According to Hanick, the programming was a hit. In 2015 he touted that the network’s “evening news program broadcasts to 65 million homes in Russia across eight time zones.”
Hanick “played a leadership role at the network,” the indictment alleges, and was described in emails variously as the network’s “Board Chairman,” “General Producer,” and “General Advisor.” The indictment alleges Hanick’s compensation was “overseen by Malofeyev.”
Even as Tsargrad was getting up-and-running, Hanick was working to set up a similar Malofeyev-financed operation in Greece, according to the indictment, and then later in Bulgaria. There, Hanick allegedly leveraged an intermediary to obscure the oligarch’s investment. “Hanick was privately working on Malofeyev’s behalf,” the indictment alleges.
During the time he was allegedly in Malofeyev’s pay, Hanick promoted Russia’s interests in an op-ed with the New York Observer defending the Russian annexation of Crimea. “Russians had accepted Kiev’s rule of Crimea since 1954 as a trusted brother might watch a family property,” he wrote. “But when that brother no longer is a part of the family, Russia wanted Crimea back. Crimea also wanted Russia back.” Hanick voiced the Russian perspective that sanctions were “aggression by the West to keep Russia in its place” and warned they “are driving Russia away from the West and toward China.”
In 2016, Hanick converted to the Russian Orthodox religion. His baptism was attended by Malofeyev, and made the Russian papers. And Hanick was quickly becoming a shaker in the global rightist movement. In 2017, he appeared at the World Congress of Families in Budapest, welcomed in a keynote by Hungary’s nativist president, Viktor Orban.
Hanick gave a presentation that railed against the decline of the patriarch on family TV, beginning with the the Brady Bunch, denouncing its “blended family” in which the father “has power over only half of the children.” In Hanick’s telling, Mike Brady marked the beginning of a slippery slope to Modern Family, which he railed against because it “idealizes same-sex marriage.”
“This is war,” he warned the attendees: “But it is not a war to be waged in the physical world.”
As an information warrior, Hanick has been living largely abroad. But he’s not been in hiding. As recently as 2019, he gave a speech to the Harvard Club of the Palm Beaches, about “a new revolution occurring in Russia, transforming Russian society” and why Americans should no longer view “modern Russia through the lens of the cold war Soviet Union.”
Hanick was interviewed by the FBI in February 2021, allegedly lying to federal agents. He was arrested in early February of this year — just weeks before Putin launched his balky blitz of Ukraine. The current status of Tsargrad TV is unclear. The network was blocked from YouTube in 2020 over sanctions concerns. It’s website is not working, but it still appears active on Facebook and the Russian social media site VK.
Read the full Hanick indictment below: