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Fox News's Bill Hemmer melds middle-of-the-road persona with conservative guest list

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010

NEW YORK

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Bill Hemmer, a middle-of-the-road guy from the middle of the country, sees himself as the straightest of straight arrows when it comes to news.

"The opinion-makers on our channel have enormous talent," he says in his Fox News office in midtown. "I deal in facts. I deal in evidence. And opinion, frankly, is not my comfort zone. Opinion news is something I'm not good at. It is in the DNA of certain individuals. I'm not one of them."

As the co-anchor of "America's Newsroom," Hemmer is supposed to kick off the straight-news stretch of Fox's daytime schedule at 9 a.m. But the bookings on the two-hour program, and sometimes the story selection, tilt markedly to the right.

The first solo guest on every show but one, from June 1 through July 2, was a Republican or conservative -- including Karl Rove (twice), Steve Forbes (twice), House GOP leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, economist Art Laffer and officials from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Conservative commentators, such as John Fund and Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal and Byron York and Chris Stirewalt of the Washington Examiner, appeared by themselves. Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican who is a leading opponent of illegal immigration, was on three times. By contrast, a relative handful of Democratic lawmakers were given solo spots, while Democratic strategists were generally paired in debates with Republican counterparts.

"If the booking leans one way, it's the responsibility and duty of me as the host, the presenter, the interviewer, to make sure the topic is evenly treated," Hemmer says.

Asked about Rove, a Fox contributor who was interviewed after major primaries, Hemmer says of the most recent appearance: "I would argue that was a segment shot right down the middle. I wanted to know his opinion, based on his eight years at the White House. Karl Rove is the type of guest that not just our audience, but any audience, wants to hear from." Referring to the Clinton White House press secretary, he added, "If Mike McCurry was available to us, I would put him on TV tomorrow."

Despite the guest lineup, Hemmer, 45, takes a generally balanced approach, a style he honed in his native Cincinnati and during 10 years at CNN. After joining Fox as a daytime anchor in 2005, he was paired in the morning with rising star Megyn Kelly; when Kelly got her own 1 p.m. show in February, Martha MacCallum became Hemmer's co-host.

To Hemmer, who recently signed a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract that has not yet been announced, the secret of the morning show's success is the pacing. "At 9 we put the gas in the tank, floor that accelerator and drive toward the news of the day," he says. "A viewer needs to understand a story in a short period of time, otherwise they will zone out or they will change the station. Complexities are difficult to sell."

With his infectious grin and golly-gee demeanor, Hemmer exudes boyish enthusiasm both on and off the air. He is quick to sing the praises of his network, his colleagues, Chairman Roger Ailes (a fellow Ohioan), even the Sixth Avenue lobby for its mix of visitors. Has he ever said anything on the air that he regrets? "Knock wood, I think I've been lucky to, as my mother would say, be careful before you speak," says Hemmer, his eyes occasionally wandering to his four television monitors in what he admits is a Pavlovian response.

As for his other assets, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Patricia Sheridan once asked him: "Do you think being a good-looking guy helped move your career along?" (Hemmer didn't deny it.)


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