From the Local News To a Higher Calling

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 11, 2007

When the three top Democratic presidential candidates talked about faith last week at a forum moderated by CNN's Soledad O'Brien, David Brody recalls being "flabbergasted."

"For the next hour I sat in my seat in awe," the television correspondent wrote on his blog. "There was conservative Christian 'red meat' everywhere. . . . I mean, I was waiting for Soledad O'Brien to pull a 'Mission Impossible' move, take off her face mask and reveal . . . James Dobson!"

Brody occupies an unusual niche. He is a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network who has forged good relations with Democrats. He is a wisecracking blogger who is part of Pat Robertson's religious empire. And he was raised as a Jew, although he now believes in Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.

Brody is, in short, a Christian journalist with chutzpah.

While his reports appear not just on a daily CBN newscast but on Robertson's "700 Club," Brody says, "I bury my head and do my job. I'm talking to Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, people on both sides of the aisle. I'm kind of in my own world. . . .

"The perception by Democratic candidates -- and it's not the reality -- is that it's just a conservative religious audience," Brody says at the network's modern Washington bureau on M Street NW. "My fervent desire is to explain to them that there's a treasure-trove of people out there waiting to hear from them. They can't pigeonhole CBN."

Still, Brody admits he faces a tougher sell with Democrats than with Republicans. While he has interviewed John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback -- and is scheduled to meet with Rudy Giuliani in two weeks -- he has yet to score a sit-down with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards.

But Brody has won converts. Obama spokesman Bill Burton calls him "absolutely fair. He makes a real effort to ensure that all sides of a debate are heard. I would say he's a welcome addition to a media community that can be too caught up in the spin of the day."

Brody, who is more finely attuned to religious issues than the average campaign reporter, has scored some scoops by working his GOP sources. Two weeks ago, he posted online 13-year-old videos of Romney -- slipped to him by a rival campaign, Brody says -- in which the former Massachusetts governor sounded far more liberal than he does today. Brody also reported that fliers calling for Giuliani's defeat if the Republicans nominate him were distributed at a meeting of the conservative Free Congress Foundation.

And how many reporters, other than Brody, asked the Republican contenders if they support abstinence-only education programs targeted for extinction by congressional Democrats? "We've challenged candidates to speak on some of these issues that maybe the mainstream media won't touch," Brody says.

His Brody File blog drew 75,000 visits last month, nearly quadruple the number in February. And he isn't shy about spewing opinions. Brody questioned whether "religious bias" was involved when some House members pressed former Justice Department official Monica Goodling about hiring lawyers from her alma mater, Regent University, which was founded by Robertson. "Let's be real here," Brody wrote. "Do you really think if Monica Goodling went to let's say, Vassar or Virginia Tech . . . that she would have been subjected to those comments?"

Brody, 42, is a sharp-elbowed New Yorker who knocked around the business for two decades before landing an on-air job. He started out with two local radio stations -- all-news WINS and sports station WFAN. Determined to break into television, Brody moved to Colorado Springs for a low-level job, eventually rising to producer, and in 1997 became weekend news producer for a Denver station.

He returned to the Colorado Springs station as news director, but was fired after not leveling with his boss about a staffer who called in sick to attend an industry convention. "You learn from your mistakes," he says.

Brody moved to Washington in 1998 and became WUSA-TV's executive sports producer, traveling with the Redskins and to the Super Bowl and Final Four. But he was later dropped when Channel 9's sports unit was downsized. This, says Brody, triggered a midlife crisis, especially since his wife, Lisette, was pregnant with their third child.

"I was really getting tired of the whole local news bit -- leading with dead-babies-in-the-dumpster stories, doing the Christmas retail shopping story. It was just getting monotonous."

At that point, says Brody, "God provided." He became a reporter for the radio station run by Dobson's Focus on the Family, and in 2003 was hired by Virginia Beach-based CBN.

Brody says he feels comfortable at the Christian operation, in part because, at his wife's urging, he embraced Jesus two decades ago. He considers himself a Jewish believer in Christ and "I know some people would say that's crazy," Brody says. The Rockville family prays at the nondenominational McLean Bible Church.

By appearing on the "700 Club," Brody reaches about 1 million viewers on the ABC Family Channel and on satellite, but is also associated with a televangelist who frequently stirs controversy. Robertson has said on the program that there will be a "mass killing" in the United States later this year that could claim millions of lives. He suggested that Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli prime minister, suffered a stroke as punishment for uprooting Israeli settlements. In 2004 Robertson said God told him President Bush would be reelected in a blowout.

Brody says he likes Robertson, based on the handful of times they have met, but views his reports as separate from the rest of the program. And he delights in positive feedback from liberal readers, such as when he praised the performance of most Democratic candidates at last weekend's New Hampshire debate.

"We don't play a gotcha game, and the Democrats know that," Brody says. "There's absolutely no agenda."

London Calling

Rome Hartman is moving from Katie to Katty.

The former executive producer of the "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric," who was dumped in March amid sagging ratings, will announce today that he is joining the BBC to launch a new broadcast aimed at American viewers.

"The British are coming, and they've decided to hire a Yank," Hartman says.

Washington anchor Katty Kay already reaches about 1 million American viewers with the half-hour newscast "BBC World" -- about 80 percent of them on PBS stations and the rest on the cable channel BBC America. Kay may anchor the new 7 p.m. broadcast, which will be offered on BBC's global channel and on BBC America, available in 55 million U.S. homes. Executives have not decided whether the longer program will replace Kay's current show.

"It's BBC's effort to become a player in the American market," Hartman says. "At a time when more Americans are hungry for smart, sophisticated and thorough coverage of the world, it's a great opportunity to feed that hunger."

The plan is for the new broadcast, which debuts this fall and will also air worldwide, to focus more heavily on American news. But like Kay's current newscast, the longer program will be heavy on foreign coverage.

"CBS and the other networks have very talented correspondents overseas," says Hartman. "But there's no way any American broadcast network can or will cover the world the way BBC does. They just don't have the capacity. It's a frustration for people at every network."

A Question of Obsession

MSNBC anchor Alex Witt, after hours of virtually nonstop Paris Hilton coverage Friday: "Are people taking this seriously?"

Harvey Levin of gossip site "Well, you are. I haven't seen much else on MSNBC today, or anyplace else."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company