Washington Post TV columnist
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 12:00 PM
Washington Post Style columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Shales was online Tuesday, Jan. 5, at Noon ET to discuss television, its cultural impact and his columns.
Today: Among other things -- and batten down the hatches -- Shales will discuss Brit Hume, and his (VIDEO) spiritual advice for Tiger Woods.
Shales, The Washington Post's chief television critic for 30 years, is the author of several books, including "On the Air," "Legends" and "Live From New York." His column, "Shales on TV," appears in the paper every Tuesday.
Tom Shales: Hello and welcome to the first Shales Chat of the new decade. I have a funny feeling that we are going to have a very chatty hour. Onward---
Northern Virginia: There was a time when someone would be fired for saying what Brit Hume said. Why doesn't that happen anymore? It shows a depth of ignorance and intolerance that is simply unacceptable. If I were his boss, I'd say, sorry, you're out. And don't let the door hit you on your sanctimonious, self-impressed behind.
I think in Brit Hume's world, there is "real religion" (meaning Brit Hume's religion) and every other supposed religious belief -- Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism -- is somehow illegitimate or "trendy" or fake. If he believes that in private, I feel sorry for him. Once he spouts it off, I don't see the difference between this and a racial or sexual slur.
If this happened because he is losing his faculties due to early dementia, as I think your column delicately implied, then his bosses have the unfortunate task of making the call, just as anybody has to when this comes up with an employee. Hate speech doesn't belong on the air.
Tom Shales: I never like to call for anyone to be dismissed. Especially in these days when jobs are so fragile. I think a public apology from Hume to viewers of all faiths would be a sufficient form of reprimand for his own reprimand of Tiger Woods and Buddhism (!). If you don't know the story already, it's kinda hard to explain briefly, but much of today's chat will be all about it.......
washingtonpost.com: Brit Hume's off message: Have faith, Tiger Woods, as long as it's Christianity (Post, Jan. 5)
Arlington, Va.: Why on earth does one of the most powerful newspapers in the world have an announcement about the death of Tila Tequila's GF on the front page stream. While I don't wish ill upon anyone, have we really reached a point in fake/reality TV-created stardom that the death of their significant other actually is worthy of such a statement?
Tom Shales: An early respite from Hume-Woods-Buddha messages! And the answer to this reader from Arlington is: i am happily not responsible. Not my department. But happy to pass along your displeasure. You might direct your ire toward are capable ombudsperson - I don't mean to take out your anger on Om, just direct your complaint in that direction and you may get satisfaction......
Arlington, Va.: I watched the Hume comment and was really wondering why Bill Kristol, not of the Christian faith, didn't open his mouth and tout the benefits of Judaism.
Tom Shales: Well, yeah, as long as Hume had started the game of My Faith's Better than Your Faith -- or launching a recruitment campaign. I suppose Catholics could advertise the wafer-and-wine refreshments - some Protestants too. Oh now don't get mad. I am just being irreverent, not disrespectful. I think Hume was being disrespectful. And impolite. And trampling around in an area that it's best to stay clear of. Oh and as Jerry Seinfeld and his dentist might remind us: Jews have the best jokes.......
7th and Penn: I wonder if someone went on FOX and told people to convert to Islam what would the reaction be??
Tom Shales: Or what if Hume had said a mean thing about that particular religion? Oh boy, look out then. Those would be considered fighting words. He'd be jihad material.
Cincinnati, Ohio: I'm so happy that neither Woods nor Hume is Catholic, I'm saying a Hail Mary right now.
Tom Shales: You might want to make that two or three ... ?
Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Tom -- Happy New Year and thanks for chatting today. Outstanding column today on the Brit Hume Revival Hour on Fox. To me it just marginalizes Fox all the more from the mainstream media, and makes their "fair and balanced" mantra even more of a joke. You encouraged Hume to come back and apologize for insulting Buddhism...do you think that's going to happen?
washingtonpost.com: Brit Hume's off message: Have faith, Tiger Woods, as long as it's Christianity (Post, Jan. 5)
Tom Shales: I hugely appreciate your encouraging - and comforting! - words, but we should remember that Fox executives and production personnel had to have been as shocked by Hume's outburst as viewers were. I don't think in any way that what Hume said/did is something that the Fox hierarchy would look favorably on. I am giving them the benefit of a doubt of course. But it wouldn't make sense, would it?, for Fox to risk alienating so many millions of viewers. Then again, maybe there aren't that many Buddhists in the Fox "demographic." Sorry, I'm being cynical......
Washington, D.C.: Thank you for your column today, explaining why Brit Hume said what he did. When I heard him, I was appalled. I used to be an avid Fox News watcher -- and now can't bear to, in case Brit pops up, and his cohorts start to defend him. They should know, from the Washington Times that pushing an evangelical agenda is not a sustainable business model. I've switched to CNN, since I can't stand Olbermann, Matthews and their screaming either.
Tom Shales: It's getting harder and harder to find a news refuge from the nutty-folk, not that I'm necessarily agreeing with you on all those you find objectionable. And I do like opinionated TV shows now and then, just as long as I agree with them. LOL, LOL - just foolin'! (oh all right, there's a particle of truth in there, but at least I admit it). As for the Washington Times -- well -- I'm not sure they can give such great lessons in separation of church and fifth estate.
San Diego, Calif.: Congratulations, Mr. Shales. With your ridiculous article taking Mr. Hume to task for his comments on Tiger Woods and Christianity, you've managed to offend over 70 percent of Americans who call themselves Christian.
I know you're probably an agnostic or even an atheist, so you won't understand, but "proselytizing" is a tenet of Christianity. Ever read Matthew 28:19 sir?
Tom Shales: No I am not an agnostic or an atheist, and I think we've already have some comments from Christians this morning who do NOT feel I have insulted their religion or anybody's. I do think we could take a lesson from the British, who have always found clerics and other earthly religious types to be fair game for satirists and humorists, not that I have been doing any satirizing here today (it's so EARLY). I don't think we can take your 70 per cent figure as definitive though it may be accurate after all - but one of the hazards of the internet is that anyone can claim anything and a lot of misinformation slips by. Anyway, I did NOT criticize Christians for proselytizing, per se, but aren't there some common-sense limits built into that philosophy? You know what -- let's steer clear of religious discussion and stick to media. Seriously. Some people would say materialism is Americas real national religion anyway.
Syracuse, N.Y.: Hume seemed to double down on his appearance with Bill O...not only was he unapologetic, but he was more defiant and oh so sure of himself. Why would he apologize? He doesn't think he did anything wrong. Do you agree? FOX wasn't meant for my eyes to begin with, but now...now it's frightening.
Tom Shales: No one in mass media likes to say, EVER, "On second thought, I was wrong about that." They prefer not even having second thoughts. Present company has his own vulnerabilities in this area. But Hume DID do "something wrong," didn't he, merely by suggesting people should go shopping around for the religion that makes them feel the least guilt about their own actions and statements - regardless of which religion he said was jim-dandy and which he said was deficient somehow......
Rockville, Md.: Since Buddhists believe everything material is "maya" (illusion), why is Tiger endorsing all those consumer "goods"? And aren't his ex-sponsors actually being better Buddhists by helping free him from those entanglements? Just askin'.
Tom Shales: You're just askin'. But I'm not answerin'. Just passin' this one along as food for thought.
Washington, D.C.: Whether or not I agree with Mr. Hume is not the point. He is paid by Fox to have an opinion, and he presented it. I've heard far more offensive things spew from the likes of Dobbs and Coulter, but they are paid for their opinions and I treat them thusly.
Tom Shales: Okay, maybe Dobbs and Coulter have said more offensive things. Coulter for one makes a living by saying offensive things and keeping herself "controversial" and talked-about. I think she thrives on condemnations - whether she's the condemnor or the condemnee. (Condemnette? No wait, it's starting to sound like it has something to do with condoms). Maybe I was wrong about the Fox bosses likely being displeased with Hume's remarks; maybe they are tickled pink (NOT their favorite color) over the controversy and the attention it brings to the network.
Nirvana: I'm a Buddhist. I'm not sure what the big deal is? My philosophy has some transcendent qualities, but is not oriented toward salvation in the same manner that is Christianity.
I find your taking offense in my name offensive.
Tom Shales: Oh gosh, what a Mobius Strip this is becoming. But I am not taking offense in your name. I am offended MYSELF about Hume promoting himself to theological scholar or whatever he is trying to be -- spiritual adviser to the world? Or to the sports world? Or to one man, but on national television? The word "offended" is probably not a good one to use. Hume just seemed to be outrageously inappropriate in what he chose to say.
I don't know...: I just don't find Tiger all that attractive...and the Vaity Fair pics are not appealing...no sex appeal...nothing. Maybe as my grandmother would say "it must be under the hood, because it ain't on the windshield...only his harem knows for sure.
Tom Shales: Now we are really getting into a subjective area. Okay, let's debate for the rest of the hour whether Tiger is a hottie. On second thought (there, I had a second thought!) LET'S NOT.......
Salinas, Calif.: Re: Arlington. Bill Kristol may not be the brightest bulb on the marquee, but I think that even he recognized that weighing-in on the heels of Brit Hume's ill-considered comments might also have placed him atop the rhetorical gallows of Hume's making.
Tom Shales: Yes, it did seem prudent to steer clear at that point, the way one tries to steer clear of pot holes. I would not have wanted to change places with Kristol. As a friend of mine pointed out, there was an icy nervous moment of mortified silence after Hume's comment which seemed, relatively speaking, as wide as the Missouri.
Outside Boston, Mass.: Tom, great article. What's your take on the Vanity Fair issue with that thug picture of Tiger on the cover?
washingtonpost.com: Vanity Fair
Tom Shales: I'm frankly tired of their calculated outrageousness. They are trying to be what Esquire was long ago with its Ali cover, "JFK Without Tears" cover, etc. etc. I haven't read the article; VF is usually much stronger on prose than on pictures. Great magazine with notable lapses of sense.
Hume: He's a commenter (there's no such thing as a "commentator"), not a news anchor. Commentary without opinion would be as bland as a Hallmark Channel movie.
Tom Shales: Unfortunately or not, "commentator" has found its way into the language. It's sort of a majority-rule situation. Or a common-usage one. I think it is too late to take commentator out of the language; I think Eric Sevareid was identified as a commentator and that was 30, 40, 50 years ago......
Men of a Certain Age: I love this show. Hope it's around for a while...it's smart and funny and realistic...they have characters that actually look like people "of a certain ag" would look...including female roles...love it.
Tom Shales: Oh for a minute I thought you meant Hume and Woods were men of a certain age. Well they are but -- thanks for putting in a plug for this exceptional show, which I think was nominated for beaucoup Golden Globes or some other award. I think what Ray Romano has done, and the way he has graduated from sitcom-glibness, is truly impressive......
Elmhurst, Ill.: Brit needs a new show on Fox, and I've got a name for it: "Christian Hume-ility." Brit diagnoses and cures soul ailments based on what he sees in tabloids.
Tom Shales: Very good. Slogan "It's not the heat, it's the Hume-ility."
San Diego, Calif.: If we take religion out of the equation, as you suggest, then what exactly did Mr. Hume do wrong? He's not a news journalist. He now provides commentary. It was his personal opinion. He, as a Christian, believes that Mr. Woods would benefit from what Christianity has to offer. How is this any different than Olbermann or Maddow using their bully pulpit to push gay marriage or abortion-on-demand?
Tom Shales: Olbermann and Maddow seem to me to be dealing with social issues, not theological ones, not matters of religious doctrine -- rather, social issues on which religious or pseudo-religious people often have opinions. Hume would probably STILL like to be considered what you call "a news journalist." It's not a position one gives us easily or matter-of-factly. He is using his background in serious journalism as a badge of credibility even when he is spouting opinions. I think he should stick to secular issues, but you are right in that he can opine on whatever he chooses. And I can opine or whether or not I think he is talking through his Fedora.
Laurel, Md.: Happy New Year Tom! Hume is a great example of just how far out there Fox News is. You and others may equate MSNBC with Fox News, but the big difference is that for the most part MSNBC keeps its news division separate from the opinion people. With Fox News their news department gives opinions all the time and always looks to be out to make Obama, Pelosi and company look bad. That being said, I think that a great majority of Fox News viewers probably agree with him and are cheering him on.
Oh one more thing...for non-screaming sensible opinions on cable watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. She is liberal, but very fair and even has guests from the other side!
Tom Shales: Thank you, and I couldn't agree more. Okay maybe I could agree a little more -- I should avoid that phrase actually -- but you make a valid distinction. No one tunes in Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann for the pure, unvarnished, totally objective truth -- they tune in for opinion. I think Hume has set a new standard in scaling slippery slopes. Imagine if this were to become a new national pastime: deciding which religions celebrities should espouse. The whole concept is ridiculous. And no self-styled funny-person needs to write in and tell me I would make a good holy-roller. Ha Ha.
Fairfax County, Va.: I didn't get to see the Hume meltdown beyond the endlessly replayed clip of Hume himself, so I'm curious. After the icy moment of silence that you mention, what in the world did the other commenters or pundits say? Hasty change of subject? Their expressions as he spoke look like "The Scream."
Tom Shales: Good conjecture. Actually beyond the 'you could hear a pin drop and I wish one had' moment, the reaction was mostly implosive not explosive. Kristol was very brief and then as I recall they went to commercial. I do not think they stuck around to discuss Hume's philosophy.
Alexandria, Va.: I guess what I found most offensive was the idea that confession and forgiveness would make it all okay for a Tiger comeback with the subtext that his endorsers and the Tiger money train would be back on track. Since when is come-to-Jesus tied to the almighty dollar?
Tom Shales: Yes, yes! There really are SEVERAL facets to the objectionability of Hume's remark and his implications. Didn't Jesus say "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden (and I will give you rest)?" And didn't He NOT say "Come unto Me all ye who need to feel better about committing adultery and other such acts, and I will make sure you don't lose any more big-buck endorsement deals"?? Or "I will see to it that you sleep better nights without a conscience nagging you awake" ?
A New Year's Prediction: "Leno at 10" gone in 2010?
Tom Shales: Yes, and thanks for the change of topic, not that we are abandoning Hume's Folly for the moment. Industry savants seem 100 per cent unanimous that the Leno "experiment" has been a great big flop and that while he might survive ONE night at 10, the notion of giving him five per week is now almost officially extinct, kaput, finito.....
Eric Sevareid was identified as a commentator : Eric Sevareid, as opposed to Brit Hume, said things that were worth listening to.
Tom Shales: As the saying goes, you are entitled to your opinion, just as Eric was entitled, and paid handsomely for, his. Sevareid, incidentally, would not want to be associated with the kind of slap-shot, wild-eyed shouting sprees that pass for "commentary" in some media quarters today. He was a class act.
Brit Hume is still on TV?: Wow, I had no idea. He should do something to gin up publicity among his target audience...
Tom Shales: Hmmm ... but what could that be? Chris Wallace is still on too, by the way. (Okay, Cheap Shot, i take it back)
Alexandria, Va.: When you have a "commentary" program like that, just how far are the panelists allowed to go in suggesting remedies to the ills they perceive, whether it be Tiger's infidelity or the national debt? Suppose a panelist said, "You know, it would be better if we saved Medicare money by actually instituting these so-called death panels, and cut off all federally-funded treatment to someone who is judged to be in the last months of life." Would that person be fired, be forced to apologize, or allowed to continuing advocating an idea that a large portion of the audience would find extremely offensive? I think Hume's problem is actually representative of the fundamental problem of the whole journalist/advocate format of all those talking-head shows on television, whatever the network.
Tom Shales: Perhaps if the nuttier suggestions were framed as satire a la Jonathan Swift (did he write "A Modest Proposal," for instance, about adopting cannibalism to help solve the population problem - or something along those lines - and I am asking for wide latitude here - wait, no fat jokes please - well I'm sure about the title anyway). One problem with the 21st century is trying to distinguish spoofs from truths, "reality" from reality.....
AWK-ward: How do think the rest of the people on the panel with Hume felt? It seemed like one of those "cricket" moments...
Tom Shales: Yes, I haven't read interviews or quickie-quotes from any of them. I also wonder if they will revisit the embarrassment on the next show....
Dunn Loring, Va.: Since you're big on public apologies, when can your readers expect an apology for your misrepresentation of Roman Polanski's crimes and your statement that raping a 13-year-old from Hollywood is okay?
Tom Shales: Oh thank you SO much for bringing that up, Sour Puss. I never said it was okay to go around raping anyone, certainly not 13-year-olds and -- oh it's ridiculous to try and deal with this in a calm and rational way. That is one problem with discussions like this today; at least one side always seems to be hysterical, and that virtually forces the other side to up the temperature, and soon it's all heat and no light and so on. FOR THE RECORD, my comment about 13-year-olds in Hollywood was intended to be a smart-alecky remark about HOLLYWOOD, not about 13-year-olds, and how the values of Tinsel Town are probably NOT the same as the rest of the country. Anyone who thinks I would defend sexual assault is nuts or nasty or both. "Your statement that raping a 13-year-old from Hollywood is okay" -- now do you really believe I made such a statement? Sorry, the better course for me is to avoid such drivel, and I will try to get back to that higher road from this moment on.......
Sevareid Fan: I still consider his memoir, "Not so Wild a Dream," published in 1947, as one of the best I've ever read by a journalist.
Tom Shales: That is certainly worth mentioning; thank you for doing so.
Woodbridge, Va.: So according to Brit Hume if only Tiger was Christian than he surely wouldn't have gotten into such marital troubles. Hmmm. That's probably news to the wives of noted Christians like Sen. Ensign, Sen. Vitter, and Gov. Sanford.
Tom Shales: yes, to name but a few....
Chattanooga, Tenn.: I can't wait to see what Colbert does with this Hume/Tiger thing.
Tom Shales: On one hand, one wants to rub one's hands together and merrily contemplate the satirists and spoofers having a field day -- but there is indeed a sad side to the whole controversy. For one thing, there is Hume's own religious history, which he has voluntarily spoken about in public. He says he "came to" Jesus after the death of a son and that he found strength and comfort in the teachings of Christianity. That is a moving and poignant statement. But is it really the same thing as "coming to" Christianity in search of a kind of "get-out-of-jail-free" card because you yourself behaved very, very badly? It sounds almost like using religion as a drug, a "feel-better" little-yellow-pill....
Re: Hume: The problem with the Hume comment wasn't that it was inappropriate for him to offer his opinion, it was that the opinion offered showed him to be incredibly ill-informed?
1) Tiger needs to be working on forgiveness from his wife -- Maybe God, too, but that's Tiger's business.
2) There's no evidence that converting to Christianity will make him a better or more faithful husband. Many names on the "Unfaithful Christian" list can attest to that.
I'm amazed that not even one of the panelists broke out laughing or said "You're joking, right??"
Religion aside, he just looked like a simpleton.
Tom Shales: Thanks, I am trying to get in as many comments as I can.
Washington, D.C.: Andy on "The Tonight Show" couch? You promised us an answer! Also, please reassure me that Conan isn't going anywhere and will have time to grow under Comcast. Thanks!
Tom Shales: Sorry we had an outtage - and now time is up. How nice to conclude on the issue of whether Andy Richter will be joining Conan O'Brien on the guest "couch." HE already has, hasn't he? Now - what religion should Conan go to in order to raise his ratings on NBC? He's Catholic now; maybe he should get the Big Book of Religions and try to find something a little more helpful - something with lots of miracles. This is no dig at Conan, only at Brit Hume. Thank you everyone, drive safely!
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