Moving to the Right
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
It was a different era, a different administration and a very different Brit Hume.
Thirty-six years ago, as a long-haired reporter for columnist Jack Anderson, Hume was handed information that Spiro Agnew's son had left his wife and moved in with a male hairdresser. Hume tracked down the vice president's son in Baltimore, talked his way in with a made-up tale about reports that Randy Agnew was living in a "hippie crash pad" and confirmed the details. Although Hume expressed strong reservations about the story -- his wife thought it was disgraceful -- he convinced himself that it could be a big deal.
"It's a story I wish I hadn't done," Hume says now. "We had no idea whether what the story implied was true, that the kid was gay and his gayness had anything to do with the rift with his family."
As a senior Fox News executive and anchor who landed the only interview with Vice President Cheney after his hunting accident, Hume has traveled light-years since his early days as a dogged investigator. He has made the transition from newspaper reporter to television star, from outside critic to charter member of the Washington establishment, from garden-variety liberal to committed conservative. He has become an acerbic critic of his chosen profession. And he has endured a family tragedy that changed his outlook on life.
There is a formal bearing about Hume that transcends his suspenders and American flag lapel pin. He speaks deliberately, unhurriedly, making his points with logic rather than passion. On a network filled with flamboyant personalities, he gave his nightly program the bland title "Special Report."
"I was trying to develop a show that wasn't about me," says Hume, 62.
Fred Barnes, an old friend and regular panelist on "Special Report," says Hume has essentially rejected the Beltway social scene.
"He doesn't go to the Kennedy Center," Barnes says. "He doesn't want to have dinner with Cabinet members or hang around with other people in the press. It's not normal for a person at the top of the heap in Washington."
Despite an aura of self-confidence bordering on cockiness, Hume shies away from self-promotion. The day that he scooped the world with Cheney's first account of his accidental shooting of a hunting companion, the former ABC newsman declined an invitation from "Good Morning America," saying he had time only to appear on Fox's morning show.
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.
On April 6, when every network newscast led with the revelation that President Bush had authorized former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to leak classified information about Iraq, Hume began his program with an apology by Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney for a physical altercation with a Capitol police officer a week earlier. Bush and the CIA leak was Hume's third story.