Howard Kurtz’s profile of Brit Hume today touches on a number of my favorite media issues. Here’s a passage I found interesting:
Cheney’s choice of Hume was widely mocked, although most journalists acknowledged that the interview, while polite, was thorough. Hume, like his network, has clearly become a lightning rod in a polarized media environment. Hume is almost evangelical in his belief that he is fair and balanced while most of the media are not, an argument challenged by several studies showing that his program leans to the right.*
Hume is no partisan brawler in the mold of some of Fox’s high-decibel hosts. By virtue of his investigative background, his understated style and his management role, he represents a hybrid strain: conservatives who believe in news, not bloviation, but news that passes through a different lens, filtered through a different set of assumptions.
* Later Kurtz cites one of these studies but is apparently incorrect about its conclusions
I don’t know if Jim Brady talked to Kurtz before making the ill-fated decision to hire Ben Domenech to write a conservative blog for Washingtonpost.com, but he should have. This “hybrid strain” is exactly the kind of person Brady should have hired instead. At least Kurtz appears to be aware of the existence of “conservatives who believe in news.”
Which brings me to my second point. A few weeks ago, in the wake of the Domenech dust-up, Kurtz wrote a column about media hiring bias. After blogger David Mastio pointed out that mainstream newspapers had plenty of alums from liberal publications like The American Prospect but none from conservative ones like National Review, Kurtz was skeptical: “How many people from National Review, Weekly Standard or American Spectator have applied for reporting jobs at the NYT or WP?”
We obviously don’t have those data, but as Nathan Goulding reported at the time, we do know about conservatives who have fled the mainstream media because they felt like outsiders at liberal organizations. Our own Cliff May is one. Now, Kurtz reports, we know that Brit Hume is another:
After moving up to the White House beat in 1989, Hume occasionally got into arguments with anchor Peter Jennings over how stories should be handled.
“He and Peter had some clashes over coverage of the White House,” says Charlie Gibson, who worked closely with Hume before becoming a co-host of “Good Morning America.” “I saw Brit make arguments to Peter when he felt Peter was taking a position that was left of center, or wrong.”
Hume says he came to feel “out of step with ABC News’s natural tendencies.” He recalls challenging an assignment about how the first President Bush “isn’t doing anything” by saying: “Has it ever occurred to you that this guy’s a Republican and Republicans don’t believe that government is the solution to all the country’s problems?” […]
Hume drew some flak at ABC by writing pieces for the conservative American Spectator, although he had also written for the more liberal New Republic, where Barnes was an editor. Feeling increasingly out of place, Hume was intrigued in 1996 when he heard that Rupert Murdoch was launching a cable network.
Hume had met Murdoch at a Spectator dinner at the Brasserie (and wound up giving him a ride) and knew Roger Ailes, the president of the new network, from his role in the 1988 Bush presidential campaign. Months after Kim Hume signed on with Fox as the D.C. bureau chief, her husband gave up his ABC career to join the fledgling network.
So maybe it isn’t that conservatives “put themselves on a punditry path,” as Kurtz wrote at the time. Maybe they just don’t feel like they fit in at liberal news organizations like the New York Times and ABC News.
Finally, with the exception of the fact error noted above, I thought this was a fair and interesting profile of a guy conservative journalists should be studying and emulating. Brit Hume hosts the best half-hour of news on television (I say “half-hour” because I could take or leave the chattering all-stars), and I hope the retirement rumor is just that.