Bret Baier, the Successor to Brit Hume on Fox's 'Special Report'

Baier, the new anchor of Fox's
Baier, the new anchor of Fox's "Special Report," says he's an independent. (By Leah L. Jones For The Washington Post)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bret Baier, who took over Fox's Washington newscast last night, dutifully declares that he will gradually put his own "stamp" on the program.

Yet in praising the decade-old show that Brit Hume built from scratch -- with its heavy focus on politics and punditry -- Baier doesn't sound like a man with an agenda. "Why change the thing that has worked so well?" he asks.

The 38-year-old reporter alters one very important thing with his presence in the "Special Report" anchor chair. Hume was a proud conservative who saw himself as providing a balanced counterweight to the media's liberal slant. Baier says he is an independent who does not bring an ideological approach to his work.

Still, he says, "this campaign has at times been an easy ride for the Obama team. If that were to continue, people would be disappointed. Fox doesn't have to be in a mode of attack, but it has to be in a mode of covering stories that perhaps other news organizations are not going to do. . . . There's an argument to be made that Fox could do even better in this environment."

Baier declines to say why he believes other outlets will shy away from such stories, but adds: "I hope the media will cover the Obama administration with as much aggressiveness as they covered the Bush administration."

Baier was the front-runner from the moment Hume announced that he would give up his show, as well as his post as the network's Washington managing editor, at the end of 2008. Hume endorsed the Brit-to-Bret switch.

"He's a very serious guy, and a good reporter," Hume says. "I picked that up almost from the first time I saw him. Bret was a guy who did very good [taped] packages. He wrote them well. And he completely got what we were talking about with fair-and-balanced news."

On last night's program, Baier told viewers he is "dedicated to keeping the same high standards that Brit set for this show." He even kept the tradition of using a funny kicker, changing only Hume's defiant sign-off -- promising news "fair, balanced and unafraid" -- to the more neutral "your source for news, tonight and every night."

A veteran of local television, Baier was covering politics for the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C., when he sent an audition tape to Fox in 1998. He was quickly tapped to be the fledgling network's Atlanta bureau chief, working out of his apartment. "There was apprehension," he says. "I really didn't know what Fox News Channel was."

Baier was constantly on the road, covering 14 hurricanes and stories such as the Elian Gonzalez melodrama, which included six trips to the young boy's native Cuba, and the 2000 election recount. On Sept. 11, 2001, he drove from Georgia to Virginia to cover the attack on the Pentagon, and never returned to Atlanta. He was stationed at the Pentagon for five years, making 13 trips to Iraq and 11 to Afghanistan.

Baier exudes earnestness as he talks about his move to the White House beat two years ago: "To stand in that Oval Office as the president is meeting foreign leaders, and ask the president a question that can not only be the news of the day but of the week or month, is a privilege."

He is popular at the White House. "I've always said about Bret: How does he pack so much information into a package?" says presidential press secretary Dana Perino. "He's a reporter who's worked his way up the old-fashioned way. He isn't snarky or rude. . . . He also pursues stories that others won't necessarily have time to do, and he knows many different subjects, from the economy to Middle East peace to Guantanamo Bay."

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